MTV's 'Teen Mom' Makes For Teaching Moments Reality TV can mean anything from cooking competitions to parties on the Jersey shore. But on MTV a couple of shows are getting more real than most: 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom follow young girls through pregnancy and early motherhood -- and a lot of adults think the show's message is just what some teenage viewers need to hear.

MTV's 'Teen Mom' Makes For Teaching Moments

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And let's go from end-of-life stories to stories of new lives. A couple of MTV reality shows - "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" - introduced viewers to young girls who are about to become mothers. The shows then follow the girls as they care for their new babies. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports that a lot of adults hope the shows give teenage viewers more than entertainment.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Sixteen-year-old Farrah Abraham pretty much sums up how her life has changed since she had baby Sophia.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Teen Mom")

Ms. FARRAH ABRAHAM: When I thought about pulling an all-nighter for my senior year, I was thinking parties, prom, or cramming for finals. But now, it means something totally different.

BATES: In short, it means the end of much of the carefree life Farrah knew when she was at the top of her high school food chain as a popular cheerleader.�

(Soundbite of TV show, "Teen Mom")

Ms. ABRAHAM: I was so excited when we got Sophia home, but I had no idea it was going to be this much work. My mom was right. It's exhausting.

Ms. AMY KRAMER (National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy): I've had people tell me that that show is the best birth control they've ever seen, because you see up close and you hear and you, you know, and you practically feel it yourself just how difficult the whole process is.

BATES: That's Amy Kramer, who directs media strategy for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The campaign advised MTV on both series.

Ms. LIZ GATELY (Vice President, Series Development, MTV): The issues that "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" bring right into the living room are really, really important ones that are difficult for many families to discuss.

BATES: MTV's Liz Gately is senior VP of series development. Her team worked with Kramer to make sure the show honestly depicted not only the rigors of childbirth, but how hard it is to maintain a lasting relationship as partners and parents.

Ms. GATELY: This past season, season two, all the guys left. And I think that realization - that guys are not going to stick around once this baby comes; it's much easier for a guy to leave - was really eye-opening.

BATES: Gately and Kramer make sure each episode contains a conversation about protection, as in: Were you using any? Here, 16-year-old Janelle Evans explains how she got pregnant to her skeptical girlfriend Lauren Pruitt.

(Soundbite of TV show, "16 and Pregnant")

Ms. JANELLE EVANS: Well, me and Andrew, we got in an argument, so we stopped talking for a couple days. So, when we stopped talking, I stopped taking birth control. And then, you know, of course, we got back together, and we didn't use a condom.

Ms. LAUREN PRUITT: So like, you were just completely unprotected?

Ms. EVANS: Yeah. Completely.


BATES: As 16-year-olds often say: Oh. My. God. Both series have caught teens' attention, and that's caught a lot of adults' attention. MTV's Liz Gately says all kinds of places, from the White House to social service organizations, have contacted them about using the series as a teaching tool.

Ms. GATELY: This show seem to be breaking through in ways that other programs attempted to and haven't.

BATES: For instance, the I Have A Dream Foundation of Los Angeles uses "16 and Pregnant" to keep its students college-bound with no preventable distractions, like the trauma of an unwanted pregnancy. Three 15-year-old dreamers talked about what the series taught them.

Mr. MIGUEL TOSTADO: Babies need a lot of attention.

BATES: Miguel Tostado.

Mr. TOSTADO: And especially if you're a teenager and you have a kid, it's very hard to put a lot of attention into the baby because you have like, school and all that.

BATES: Paola Viellegas focused on the sacrifices teen moms must make.

Ms. PAOLA VIELLEGAS: You have to give up a lot in life, because you're going to be a parent now. And when you're a parent, it's not about - all fun and games. It's about being serious and taking responsibilities.

BATES: And Leslie Ruelas points out the tensions that can erupt when teen parents live with their parents.

Ms. LESLIE RUELAS: It does make more drama than there already is, and then you're stressing already with the baby. And then when you have your parents on your back, it just, it sucks.

BATES: Their teacher, Elda Vallecillos, says every student may not participate in the classroom conversations she holds after each episode, but she knows they've all listened.

Ms. ELDA VALLECILLOS (Teacher): Their silence spoke louder than their words. A lot of them realized it's not just about having a kid, but it comes with a lot of responsibility.

BATES: And she hopes they'll all come to the same conclusion as Miguel Tostado.

Mr. TOSTADO: I see myself as wanting a child, but not at this age.

BATES: That one sentence shows the message of "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" - wait to have a baby until you can really care for one - is reaching at least some of its intended audience.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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INSKEEP: And you can watch some clips from MTV's "Teen Mom" at

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