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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Commercial Interruption: Baby mama drama

Sometimes there’s just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email, of course — we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). Bloggers Kelly McBride and Malavika Jagannathan are admittedly hooked on MTV’s “Teen Mom,” the sequel series to “16 and Pregnant.” The reality series shows the good — but mostly the bad — of teen parenting. But can it lead today’s amorous teens to think twice?

OK, I admit it. From the time a chance trip around the dial found me watching MTV’s “16 and Pregnant,” I was hooked. I’m pretty sure I saw every episode, including the reunion show. Judge if you must and then let’s move on.

What I expected with "16 and Pregnant" was a glamorized account of teen pregnancy and motherhood, the sort of story that shows a fight or two with the baby daddy but ultimately ends up depicting the picture-perfect teenage family. And while there was a bit of that in some of the hour-long stories, I was surprised at the healthy dose of reality the show often was able to deliver (no pun intended). Moving onto “16’s” sequel series, “Teen Mom,” the day-to-day realities of young motherhood — or in one case, the absence thereof following adoption — are delivered in a starker, even more direct fashion.

The show follows the stories of four teens whose lives were interrupted by unintended pregnancy. Maci is working to raise her young son while dealing with emotionally absent boyfriend Ryan and trying to come to terms with being left behind when her friends leave for college.

Amber is raising her daughter while trying to get her GED and constantly fighting with fiancée Gary.

Farrah’s baby daddy never even enters the picture, and she tries unsuccessfully to date as guy after guy realizes they’re not ready to step into the father role. In the show’s most wrenching storyline, Catelynn and Tyler made the impossible choice to give their daughter up for adoption, and now must endure constant ridicule from parents who disagreed with their decision.

Another day in paradise, it isn’t.

I’ve found myself really rooting for these couples (well, the moms, anyway), especially Catelynn and Tyler, who are infinitely wiser and more mature than their stupid, scuzzy parents. The teens and their stories seem real, much more so than much of MTV’s reality fare (or reality TV in general). Malavika, what is it about this show that makes it so addictive? And perhaps more importantly, do you think it will actually resonate with teens and make them think twice about their actions?

Malavika: I'm hardly a reality TV aficionado, but MTV's "16 and Pregnant" and its successor "Teen Mom" have become staples in my weekly viewing. MTV is all about voyeuristic television, but "Teen Mom" is illuminating without being intrusive. As much as I liked the movie "Juno," it's not exactly an accurate picture of teenage pregnancy. With teen pregnancy rates increasing in many states, it's a timely and fairly realistic portrait of teenage momhood.

Although I suspect in some ways there are teens itching to get pregnant in order to land their own MTV show -- probably the same teens who would have done so because it was trendy -- the show does not whitewash the realities of being a teenage parent. All of them, except for Farrah, have matured in their perspective of motherhood and the unexpected changes it's made to their lives.

Farrah, who in the last few episodes has attempted to enter the dating scene, is probably the least mature of the four moms featured on the show. Partially, she's lucky enough to have a family that doesn't mind watching her baby while she gallivants around town, but so far, all her dating attempts have failed. Instead of learning from the experience, she continues to head down the same path, while ignoring the advice from her overbearing mother and sister about focusing on her child and not herself.

Arguably the most heartwrenching storyline has been the one of Catelynn and Tyler -- who I misjudged initially in "16 and Pregnant" -- but who show an intense amount of maturity for their age. Not only do they choose to give their baby up for adoption against their parents' wishes, but they continue to deal with their unsupportive parents months after they make their decision.

Tyler is practically estranged from his father, Butch, over the adoption, but they both are confident that the difficult decision was for the best.

Saying an MTV show will slow down the teenage birth rate is sort of like saying "Just Say No" was a successful anti-drug campaign, but, who knows, maybe a couple of minds will at least be swayed by watching this program. And that's probably a success in and of itself. Other than Tyler, though, there are few mature guys depicted on the show -- both Gary and Ryan are pretty much children, while Farrah's list of potential boyfriends is pretty lame. Is that sending a good message about teenage dads?

Kelly: A good message? Maybe not. But it’s perhaps a realistic one. To be fair, I don’t know any teenage baby daddies, but perhaps seeing these guys behave as they do will make teen girls think twice about the ol’ happily-ever-after scenario. I’m sure there are some good teen dads out there, but probably just as many — if not more — who act like some of the yahoos on the show. I agree that “Teen Mom” can’t change the teen birthrate, but I think you’re right in that it could make a girl (or guy) or two think twice. And even if it doesn’t, it’s still a pretty decent show.

-- Kelly McBride, and Malavika Jagannathan,

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