Teen pregnancy rates drop thanks to … MTV’s Teen Mom?

Two of Teen Mom's stars. One has already starred in porn.
Two of Teen Mom’s stars. One (Farrah, left) has already starred in porn.

I was that girl in high school who rolled her eyes any time a friend declared she and her boyfriend were so “in love,” they’ve already discussed having a baby, and if it happened by mistake, they would raise that baby and be a happy little family. If that girl started picking out names, chances are I said, “Eww. Gross. Who wants a baby?”

I’m no Grinch-like baby-hater. I think babies are fine, some of them are even cute, but I just figured that a baby would get in the way of cheerleading and yearbook, or the cool college parties of my future. Why add messy diapers or a screaming toddler into that mix?

Which is why I thought MTV‘s “16 and Pregnant” and it’s more successful spinoff, “Teen Mom” were a brilliant idea. Once they showed the hardships of parenting, teens all over the United States would commit to abstinence, right?

I watched from time to time and saw the show didn’t pull any punches. Parenting was hard, expensive, and in many cases, school (high school or college) would have to be put on hold, not to mention a social life. Often, the parents of these teen moms and dads, would judge how the young parents were (or were not) parenting, and (I’m pretty sure) almost always, the new parents would break up, and tears were a plenty.

That birth rate was going to plummet.

But as the show gained immense popularity, I panicked. (And so did pro-abstinence Fox News, of course!) Teen Mom was so buzzworthy, that the show’s stars were constantly gracing the tabloids (or the monologues of late night TV), and not always in a bad way. Sometimes they got makeovers, complete with free plastic surgery. I wondered: ‘Is this going to inspire pregnancies?’

Well, apparently not. Phew!

According to NPR’s “All Things Consdiered,” a new study attributes a portion of the decline to these shows!

Melissa Kearney, an associate professor of economics at the University of Maryland, talked to NPR’s Audie Cornish about the findings. (Listen to the segment here.)

Using birth rate data in the show’s media markets, and combining that with historical data on Google searches and Twitter data, they found some patterns:

“The day that an episode airs and the next day we see large spikes in the rate at which people are searching for how to get birth control and we see higher volumes of searches in places where more teens are watching MTV,” Kearney told Cornish on “All Things Considered.

“The Twitter data was astounding. In the Twitter data we can actually see what teens are tweeting and there are literally thousands of tweets that say things like: “Watching 16 and Pregnant reminds me to take my birth control.” [And] “16 and Pregnant is the best form of birth control.” So getting that insight into what teenagers were thinking about while and right after they watched the show was really informative.”

The numbers are impressive. Kearney and her team estimate that “teen birth rates as a result of this show fell by 5.7 percentage points over this 18-month period. To put that in perspective, that is a third of the overall decline in teen birth rates over that time.”

That’s impressive. And I hope the trend continues.

(Listen to the NPR segment, or read about it, here.)

MTV should come up with more reality shows that may help youth in this country. Perhaps a more regular look at drug addiction, binge drinking, sexting and social media privacy, or rape, for instance.

Who knows? Perhaps “Catfish,” MTV’s show about the “truths and lies” of long distance online dating is inspiring young people to be cautious about who they carry on with on the internet.

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