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The Phenomenon of Teen Mom

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Teen Mom II is the second incarnation of MTV's number one rated reality mini-series 16 and Pregnant. The show documents the lives of four teenage mothers as they struggle to cope with the everyday challenges, financial and emotional, a woman faces while raising her first infant child. All while trying to navigate through the journey of adolescence.

Once catering primarily to the music oriented teenage consumer of the 1980s and 1990s, MTV has since reinvented itself as a reality television repository for tweens, teens and young adults. Many of the reality shows on MTV, including Teen Mom II, consistently dominate cable ratings and have recently been breaking weeknight ratings records. Although advertisers eagerly race to gain the attention of the much sought after 18-35 demographic, many accuse the programing of perpetuating negative stereotypes without offering an educational or constructive context for its young viewers. These critics argue because of this, shows like Teen Mom II could have unintended negative sociological effects.

The debate on the effects the media has on adolescents has been occurring for many years. The Teen Mom franchise is just the latest series to enter into this discussion. In the first episode of the season titled "Nothing Stays The Same," a then 17-year-old Jenelle Evans is shown shoving her mother during a fit of rage when an argument over a custody of her son Jace boiled over. Not long after the episode aired, tabloid magazines featured Evans on the cover with the headlines referring to her as a "Star." Is this an example of the media rewarding bad behavior?

Unfortunately outlandish behavior is nothing new for the series, as multiple episodes featured frequent incidents of domestic violence, verbal abuse, and family infighting. In an episode titled "Slippery Slope," a young mother named Chelsea Houska is called derogatory names by her not-so loving boyfriend and father of her child. While on camera,he then continues to berate and degrade her by saying if she was more friendly, he "might not have" cheated on her and besides, "everybody cheats." Sadly these type of verbal exchanges between the T.V. teen moms and dads is commonplace to the point its become expected. In episode seven of the series, "Switching Gears," teen mom Kailyn Lowry, is desperate to attain some sort of independence from her child's father family and decides to move out on her own. When she makes her announcement, Jo the father of her baby, responds with cruel text messages detailing how he regrets having the baby.

The behaviors of young teen parents routinely portrayed in Teen Mom II, while horrendous, makes for great television. Martin Kaplan, a media professor at the University of Southern California school of Communication, wrote, "The appeal of these shows is that the producers and casting directors have figured out we have reptile brains, and that there is stuff that we can't resist because of the species we are." If the entertainment factor can't be denied, then should the stereotypes reinforced by Teen Mom II and the potential negative effects it may have on viewers also not be denied then? A study done by Margaret J.Hefner and Jamie Comstak titled Compliance Gaining on Prime Time Family Programing states "Individual's stereotypes, role learning, aggression and world views can be influenced by observing life on television."

On the other hand, because the show is primarily told from the girl's perspective and so often depends on inept or dismissive male counterparts as the protagonist, some argue the show may have a sort of "scared straight" quality to it. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy thinks, "The show makes for good teaching material and believes that adults who work with teens should use it as a learning tool."

However, there are others who say the show is just plain exploitative and focuses too much on one particular demographic



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