Pregnant teens remind us of the American dream
By Cody Norton
MTV’s 16 and Pregnant, a reality program which premiered in June 2009, is only one of many cultural mindfucks that has fueled a societal obsession with adolescent motherhood. Featuring high school age girls during the terms of their pregnancies, the television show documents the trials and tribulations the expectant mothers must endure as a result of the hardships associated with teenage parenthood.
According to Family First Aid, 34 percent (approximately 820,000 young women) will become pregnant at least one time before they reach the age of 20, and 80 percent of these pregnancies will be unintended. Even though teenage birth rate has shown a steady decline from previous years, the number of young girls who will become pregnant is still an alarming statistic. The apparent obsession with this issue has led to desensitization about the subject matter, to the point that it is nearly impossible to find an individual who doesn’t know someone who became pregnant as a teenager and who was particularly fazed by it.
Maybe it’s not so much desensitization, but perhaps it’s possible the maturity level of adolescents has developed to a point where they are able to effectively manage the conditions of starting a family. Upon examining the subjects of MTV’s television show, I must answer that question with a resounding no.
One episode features Amber, a young girl from Indiana who is expecting a baby with her boyfriend of three years, Gary, who works as a nurse’s assistant and plays video games in his spare time. So obviously, the next logical step in Gary’s life journey is fatherhood.
Amber, whose existential reflections expose quite the philosophical mindset, delivers this musing revelation about her eventual motherhood: “A baby is coming out of my freaking cootch, dude.” Well said, Amber, well said.
Gary, not to be outdone by Amber, has this to say about the pregnancy prevention strategies that the couple used: “We took most of the precautions.” Well, Gary, apparently not all of them.
And even though the couple is experiencing financial difficulties, Gary decides to purchase a new Playstation 3 entertainment console, costing approximately $500. Upon learning of Gary’s purchase, Amber berates her boyfriend for making such an irresponsible decision, especially since the couple has no money in their bank account. Gary, however, assures Amber, without any sense of irony, the couple has about five dollars. What a financial nest egg.
After giving birth to her daughter, Leah, Amber has a life epiphany about the challenges she will eventually face, “They don’t teach you things in high school.” Actually, Amber, they do. It’s called sex education.
In the 16 and Pregnant reunion show, Amber and Gary were interviewed by Dr. Drew Pinsky, who asked the couple to analyze their attitudes about contraceptives and unprotected sex by retrospectively examining their lives during the pregnancy. To Gary and Amber’s credit, their post-natal insight about the topics was a mature improvement from their early naiveté.
Amber states, “If we don’t have condoms, or anything, we do not have sex. It’s so hard to be young and have a baby because you don’t get to do what you used to do.” And even though Amber feels as though she may have lost some of the experiences that she could have had during her teenage years, she is grateful for her life now, even if it is difficult. “I don’t want [anyone] to think that we’re trying to glamorize teen pregnancy because it’s not glamorous.”
Although the conclusion of each episode eventually leads to a “happy ending,” there is something odd about the implicit attitudes involved with class stereotypes. One of the messages the show seems to be sending is that, for young women of the working class, giving birth to a baby has somehow become a legitimate way to build character.
The implications of what is meant are disturbing and reveal an ugly social reality that is often overlooked. Not going to college? Why not become a birthing tank and contribute a child. Don’t have the money to spend a summer in Europe on a journey of self-discovery? Validate yourself by starting a family. Prove you’re worth something. After all, isn’t that the American dream? Thank you 16 and Pregnant for reminding us!
Cody Norton is a junior sociology major. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.