16 and Pregnant: For Girls Only

Dr Drew looks at the camera on the set of the reunion showEver since it aired Tuesday night I’ve been trying to think of a good word to describe the 16 and Pregnant: Life After Labor reunion special. The best I’ve come up with is HORRIFYING. As usual it was hosted by (barf) Dr. Drew. But besides looking more Day-Glo than in previous seasons, he was also much more ruthless as he pointedly interrogated the teen moms between dramatic montages of highlights from the season. Each episode was recapped with swift interviews with each of the girls and their families, and one by one Dr. Drew jabbed them with aggressive therapist questions until they each broke down into tears onstage. It was horrible and I couldn’t finish it. The season 3 reunion episode succeeded in both turning me off the show forever and making me eternally grateful that I did not have a child when I was sixteen (that’s when I discovered and fell in love with Taco Bell Chalupa Supremes, of all things).

The safer sex message that was only occasionally explicit throughout the season was drilled into viewers’ heads as Dr. Drew plugged MTV’s sex-ed website every few minutes for almost an hour and a half. Before ending each segment, Dr. Drew made sure to have the girls verbally emphasize birth control methods, but by then I was already convinced. If 16 and Pregnant isn’t MTV’s attempt to educate its sex-saturated viewers about safer sex it certainly is their way to terrify them into it. But in the reunion show and throughout the season, it’s the teen moms who are the sex-ed mouthpieces while the teen dads are mostly silent or out of the picture altogether.

Drew talks to a crying teenagerIt’s no secret that 16 and Pregnant is marketed to women. Each episode is narrated by the teen mom, who also provides the testimonials and has the camera on her at all times. The commercials shown during the program are obviously geared toward teen girls, and the chat on MTV.com’s 16 and Pregnant page is filled with girls, mostly teen mothers themselves. As viewers we never see teen parenthood from the father’s point of view and the possible value from including their experiences is completely lost. Remember teen dad Brian from the first episode of this season? Not only is he still with his girlfriend Jordan and her baby, but he’s been dealing with their child’s diagnosis with acid reflux disease and Jordan’s strained relationship with her twin sister. Doesn’t he have something valuable to add to the show? Or what about Tyler from all the way back in Season 1? I was hoping to hear his perspective on the long, heart-wrenching adoption process that he and his girlfriend Catelynn went through, but we only got his voice mixed with the chorus of others who were not the teen mom. Aren’t these teen dads the same who tune in for Jersey Shore, or Rob Dyrdek’s this and that, or whatever else is on MTV now? Shouldn’t they be exposed to a sex-ed marketing campaign as well?

a teen dad holds his baby on cameraAnd what about those boys who do watch 16 and Pregnant? So far all the show has to say to them is “Hey, if you get your girlfriend pregnant you can stick around, or not. Either way she’ll deal with it on her own.” As it is now, MTV’s sex-ed message operates under the guise that making a baby has little to nothing to do with men, so they should just keep watching ghosts of Real Worlds past compete for cars and money. But as 16 and Pregnant proves, this limited education approach is not effective. Episode after episode each teen dad was clueless about what to expect when having a child. Sex education is for everyone, and though I don’t think teenagers should be turning to MTV for their main source of sex education, the network still has significant influence when it comes to teen popular culture. Now, I don’t pretend to know how MTV could achieve this campaign (Dad at 15? The Mysterious Adventures of the Absentee Father?). But if this horrible network got me to watch 16 and Pregnant (and The Osbournes, let’s not forget that) then they can certainly find a way to get teen boys to think about condoms. The possibilities are endless, but for now MTV leaves spreading the word up to girls.

by Ann-Derrick Gaillot
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I am a freelance writer and reporter who watches a lot of TV. I tweet at @methodann.

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13 Comments Have Been Posted

Bitch, you should do a point/counter point in the next issue.

Ok, there's a lot going on here. First of all I don't think the show is marketed towards you and they can't possibly target everyone who might watch the show-- the show is for teen girls. Period. So I mean the pouting, "Well, *I* am never watching this show again" I just don't think that matters to anyone, especially the network. They never expected you to watch the show in the first place.

Yes, the dads are not part of the show but that's because in real life, as Dr. Drew (yes, yes barf, I agree) reminds us every five minutes, teens dad aren't around at all. I think there's this fear that teenage girls will watch the show and see how much more connected these girls boyfriends are after pregnancy and then get a skewed vision of what their own teen pregnancy might look like. So the show, I think responsibly so, makes sure to drive home the point: Don't expect the dudes to be around much. There are exceptions but it's not something to be counted on. As is the proof that even the boys in the show, the boys that have national attention and pressure to stick around mostly leave. Not always, mostly. I don't know what message this sends to the young men and the safer sex campaign isn't directed to them but the harsh reality is that it doesn't need to get to them as much as it needs to get to the young women. Teen pregnancy effects girls lives much much (much) more than it effects boys lives, no matter how involved the boys are. Does MTV not target young men enough, is it really so awful to have this one, fairly educational show, targeted to young women? And I understand the argument that the shows that target young men are fun, active, silly, more rewarding versions of teen life and this show is a bit more...serious, fear-mongering, threatening but this show is providing a pretty valuable, if not overly dramatic, life lesson. So, let the boys watch Jackass and let the girls get smart. When they've pulled the stats, girls who watch teen mom are less likely to engage in unsafe sex than girls that don't watch the show. Better stats I'm sure than the boys that are watching Jackass.


Your entire comment just proves why there NEEDS to be better safer sex education for boys! A good chunk f the time, they are uninvolved in the process because they've been TAUGHT, explicitly and implicitly, that birth control, and sti prevention are not their jobs. Society tells them they don't need to think about it, don't need to worry about it, and don't have any power, or even opinion in the outcome anyway... it's not their fault if they believe such a pervasive message.

I know several teenage fathers, who have run the full gamut of involvement. Some of them even became the custodial parent. Some of them vanished. Many of them floundered, trying to find some way to step up and be a father, while being vilified for 'ruining' someone else's life. The fear, guilt, worry and shame can be completely debilitating. God forbid if he dared to suggest that the pregnancy be aborted, the baby given up for adoption, or kept and raised by the mother or both of them if that wasn't what she was already thinking! And if he is actually excited about the prospect of raising a child? Well, obviously he's just nuts... not to mention selfish and horribly inconsiderate, because... Look! Look what he did! he 'knocked her up'! Doesn't he know that teen pregnancy is the SINGLE WORST THING that could ever happen to a girl?!?!? So, they stay silent, having no voice in a decision that could profoundly affect their entire lives.

This is not to say that I think that teenage fathers are victims, or that it's all the girls' fault. By NO means. I was a pregnant teenager. My son's biological father lost interest in parenting before we were done with diapers and then skipped the country to avoid paying $50/month child support. I get it. I really, really do.

But we do everyone a disservice when we put the onus on the girls and treat the boys like they have no say and no consequences.

My son is 16 now, and I've made sure to educate him fully on safer sex choices and what HE can do to prevent pregnancy. He is under no illusion that he is less than 100% responsible for doing everything he can to stay childless until he is ready to CHOOSE to be a parent. He's expressed shock and disgust at the sheer lack of education the boys his age have in general and I'm saddened to hear from him that many of the old myths still persist in today's youth.

When no one expects the boy to stick around; when he doesn't get support to do so; when all he deals with when he tries to is anger, blame and suspicion, but the consequence of walking away is a shrug and an attitude that it was inevitable... then we are telling boys that not only don't they have to shoulder their responsibilities and become a father, but that they are nothing but a nuisance and a painful reminder. Why then, are we surprised that they flee from that potential nightmare of a situation as often as they do? ALL teen parents need supportive, loving environments to flourish, not JUST the girls. What we are seeing now is the result of years of treating teenage fathers as though they are expendable and even detrimental... a 'bad influence' not just on girls, but on their own children, and that is the shameful thing.


This is by far the best response I've seen on any of these blogs! When I read the first comment, it made me angry and I wanted to spout off a quick (and probably mean, unplanned, poorly thought out) response. Then I read your comment: well thought out, calmly and politely explaining all points of your argument and making a wonderful point about why boys need to be taught safe sex education. Thank you!!

Thanks for your response,

<p>Thanks for your response, Anonymous. While I agree that 16 and Pregnant has some valuable information to impart on teen girls, I don't think that we should condone the behavior of absentee teen dads nor do I think we should give up all together on offering teen boys sex-education. The teen boys on the show should be held just as responsible for their children as the teen girls are. As the show is now, the teen boys are excused. I also take issue with your claim that the show is not targeted to me. I am a 20-year-old girl. Is that not within the demographic for the show? Finally, I was not pouting, but merely trying to share my own perspective. I appreciate your participation in this discussion. I think your perspective is very valuable to this post.</p>
<p><strong>Ann-Derrick Gaillot, New Media Intern</strong></p>
<p><em>Check out our <a href="comments-policy">Comments Policy</a>!</em></p>

I'm really sick of hearing

I'm really sick of hearing people dismiss harmful, misogynistic media with the "Well that's just the way it is" argument. Just because something reflects an unfortunate reality doesn't mean we should allow these messages to keep being sent to us and our children; media is part of what furthers dangerous and patriarchal ideology, so can we please stop settling for "the way it is"?

Not surprised

I didn't see the show (and thanks to your descriptor probably won't) but it doesn't surprise me that even a venue as "hip and now" as MTV is still taking the old-school tactic of blaming the girl for pregnancy. She was stupid enough to get knocked up!!

Instead of taking the opportunity to educate both sexes to be more responsible sex partners, MTV has once again given the subtle message to men that safer sex isn't their problem.

Absence of dads

<p><em><strong>Yes, the dads are not part of the show but that's because in real life, as Dr. Drew (yes, yes barf, I agree) reminds us every five minutes, teens dad aren't around at all. </strong></em></p>
<p><br>This, exactly. I wish more of the young men were their for their partners and children, but the fact is that they aren't. MTV can't make them stick around any more than anyone else can.</p>

Along the same lines, tampon ads don't run during football.

Not that it's any of my business, but I'd prefer that to the misleading idea that if you’re 16 and get pregnant, it’s a great way to keep your boyfriend. If teenagers that are getting paid to stick around don’t, that sets up a pretty realistic expectation that your sophomore heart throb isn’t going to either.
If the author of the op-ed piece is grateful she didn’t have a child at 16, chances are that message might be getting through to, say, 16 year olds.
I’d like to see the version of this program marketed to boys. Call it ‘Knocked Her Up At 16 and Now My Life Is Hell’. Or, ‘How I Got Syphilis Before I Could Vote’. Or ‘Condoms or Poverty!’. But that might have to be marketed toward schadenfreude, as baby drama is gonna be a tough sell to a 16-year old boy.

Yeah but...

Will boys watch a show that preaches to them about sex ed? Not likely... they watch shows about guys doing stupid stunts, guys being funny, and guys being tough but with friends. MTV is not an education channel and the only reason it has 16 & Pregnant (one of the highest rated/watched shows in the history of television) is because girls watch it... which I think is a good thing... a network that is marketing to a female audience with "loud" female lead characters. Great.

I work with teens and the impact this show is having is one of a deterrent to teen pregnancy as well as consideration for peers who find themselves in that situation. Again... great. Also there are boys who watch the show and in Teen Mom, they paint a pretty rough picture for the Dad's too. Most of whom are really struggling to do the right thing.

I've never seen this Highlights show and it sounds truly awful and I have never understood why Dr. Drew has a job. I also agree that boys need better sex education and need to be held responsible for their behaviours, but I don't think television is the medium that will work.

It's not about what's right, what's wrong or what's FAIR... it's about what will work and I cannot conceive of a show that teaches boys the responsibility of sex that they would actually watch. If you can think of one, let me know and I will pitch it to MTV.

16 and pregnant

And how long has this been going on? Happened to me at 17, in 1967. Happened to my mother in 1948. For how many generations of women have been alone and pregnant? I blame the parents, in particular the mother who can not tell her daughter how to protect herself, because they assume the daughter will just say no, or is too embarassed to deal with reality that 16 year olds have feelings. Protect your daughters.

When it happened to you and your mother ...

... abortion was illegal. Have you ever read the book "The Girls that Went Away?" It's must reading for anyone interested in reproductive issues. I know it's been mentioned here before (Does the Bitch library have it?). I understand your sentiment, but in these more open times, blaming and shaming do more harm than good. Protecting one's daughters is easier said than done in these also economically volatile times where parents are working overtime just to avoid debt/bankruptcy. They unfortunately do not have time to talk to their teens, even if they desperately wanted to.

I am hearing that these shows are actually prompting some viewers to consider abortion an option if they were ever found in such a situation (Even Chelsea Handler, in her opinion about these shows, came out has having once had an abortion because she thought at the time she got pregnant as a teen that it was what she was <i>supposed to do</i> in response to an unwanted pregnancy!). At the same time, it is disturbing to hear that there are also those teens wanting to get pregnant just to want the opportunity to appear on the shows. In all, while there is a glimmer of hope in regard to reproductive choices as considerations of some viewers, these shows pose more problems than solutions, no matter who watches them.

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