Mama Madison: MTV provides a teachable moment

"16 and Pregnant" increases teen awareness

I've always felt there was at least a little something useful to be gained by watching reality television. The Food Network's Chopped, for example, gives me kitchen inspiration. If the professional chef contestants on that show can make a three-course dinner from pigs knuckles, eye of newt and clotted cream, I should at least be able to boil some pasta come 6 p.m., right? And five minutes of Dance Moms makes me very thankful my daughter never graduated from Fairytale Ballet.

Each and every rose ceremony on The Bachelor serves as a reminder that I am lucky to be happily married already. Ditto the Real Housewives of just about anywhere.

But evidently moms like me aren't the only ones who can be positively affected by what they watch on what is often considered the lowest common denominator of television.

As it turns out teens, fortunately, can be, too.

Despite critics who contend that teen pregnancy reality series like MTV's 16 and Pregnant and its Teen Mom spinoffs glamorize teenage parenthood, the shows, which portray the incredible difficulties surrounding youth pregnancy, may, according to new research, turn out to help teenagers make better decisions about contraception.

In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the "16 and Pregnant" series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies. In their paper, economists Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine examined Nielsen ratings, Google searches and social media conversations, and discovered that teen birth rates declined faster in areas where youth were watching more MTV. According to the research, 5.7% of the overall drop in teen births between the series' debut in summer of 2009 through the end of 2010 can be attributed to viewing 16 and Pregnant.

Each episode of the show features a different girl, her story told documentary style. But it's likely not just the pain of childbirth or the discomfort of morning sickness that serves as a screen-based form of teenage birth control.

Now as far as I know, none of my kids has watched much 16 and Pregnant or Teen Mom. We just aren't much of an MTV family; I guess I still haven't forgiven the so-called Music Television Network for no longer playing music. But there is no question, when the time is right (and she's almost 12-the time may be now), I will definitely sit down and view the series with my daughter. I plan to take every possible precaution and deterrent I have at my disposal to make sure she doesn't end up struggling like Maci (season 1), Nikkole (season 2) or Jordan (season 4).

Just as importantly though, I'll recommend that my teenage sons take a look at a few of the episodes online, too. No, they may never be the ones that will suffer from swelling, stretch mark or Braxton Hicks contractions. But the program also showcases boys who have found themselves in the emotionally overwhelming position of becoming fathers way before the appropriate time. I want them to fully understand that teen pregnancy is not just a female issue; the series can serve a cautionary tale for boys, as well.

Yes, this reality-TV-watching mom is heartened to know that there is more than just human growth and development classes and "The Talk" out there to help dissuade my kids from unprotected sex. Because I am in absolutely no hurry to become a reality-TV-watching grandmother.

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