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Monday, November 10, 2014

"Teen Mom" Reality Shows and Harder Access to Contraception = Teen Pregnancy Encouragement

"Heavy viewers of teen mom reality programs were more likely to think that teen moms have a lot of time to themselves, can easily find 
child care so that they can go to work or school and can complete 
high school than were lighter viewers of such shows."

-- Nicole Martins 

(Nicole Martins and Robin Jensen. "Study: Heavy Viewers of 'Teen Mom', 
'16 and Pregnant' Have Unrealistic Views of Teen Pregnancy."  
Mass Communication and Society.  January 09, 2014)

The creator of MTV's "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" said the shows have been called "one of the best public service campaigns to prevent teen pregnancy." A new Indiana University research study finds the opposite to be true.

Nicole Martins, an assistant professor of telecommunications in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington, and Robin Jensen, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Utah, did the research. Their paper, accepted for publication in the journal Mass Communication and Society, presents findings that such teen mom shows actually lead heavy viewers to believe that teen mothers have an enviable quality of life, a high income and involved fathers.

Of course, the research does not contend that viewing these programs causes teen pregnancy; however, it does consider that doing so might be "a contributing factor." Heavy viewing of teen mom reality programming positively predicted unrealistic perceptions of what it is like to be a teen mother.

The data calls into question the content of teen mom reality programming. Frequent viewers of the programs also were more likely to believe that teen moms have affordable access to health care, finished college and lived on their own.

Younger children have a hard time understanding these reality shows are scripted, edited, and put together to achieve a narrative drama. Yes, some youth believe the programs are real life. "They were the most likely ones to hold unrealistic perception about teen parenthood," says Martins.

In fact, the researchers believe it is possible that teens desire the celebrity status afforded to the shows' teen mothers, which makes a larger impression on their perceptions of the teen mom experience than does the real-life narratives being broadcast.

MTV announced that "Teen Mom 3" was not renewed for this season. However, the more successful franchise sequel, "Teen Mom 2," returned with a fifth season. Both programs spun off from an earlier series, "16 and Pregnant." They have been among the network's highest rated shows.

Heading the Right Way Despite Unrealistic Reality Shows

Studies show there has been little change in teens' levels of sexual activity in recent years.

But ...

The good news is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in 2012, a total of 305,388 babies were born to women aged 15–19 years, for a live birth rate of 29.4 per 1,000 women in this age group. This is a record low for U.S. teens in this age group, and a drop of 6% from 2011.

Birth rates fell 8% for women aged 15–17 years, and 5% for women aged 18–19 years. While reasons for the declines are not clear, teens seem to be less sexually active, and more of those who are sexually active seem to be using birth control than in previous years.

The Guttmacher Institute's senior researcher Laura Lindberg says, "There are a few key factors driving the long-term declines in teen pregnancies." Lindberg credits the following:

* It is now the norm for teens to use contraceptives at first sex, which creates a pattern of continued contraceptive use down the road. 

* Teens increasingly use the most effective birth-control methods, including hormonal methods and long-acting contraceptive methods like the IUD. 

* Fewer doctors now require teenagers to get full pelvic exams (which many girls view as frightening) before they will prescribe birth control. New federal guidelines say a woman doesn’t need such an exam before she’s 21, even if she is sexually active.

According to the Guttmacher studies, the decline in teen pregnancy is "almost exclusively"  a result of more contraceptive use, according to Guttmacher. Birth control use is up to 47 percent of sexually active teens, while teens’ use of both condoms and hormonal contraception rose from 16 percent to 23 percent  in recent years.

“We think that’s lowered what we call the psychic barrier to getting prescription contraception methods,” Lindberg said. 

And, Lindberg explained that several new policies have helped ensure teens have better access to birth control including the following:

* Encouraging doctors to prescribe long-lasting forms of contraception, 
* Removing cost barriers to birth control with new Obamacare rules, and
* Easing guidelines on some of the hurdles to obtaining a birth control prescription

States with the highest rates of teen pregnancy have something in common: They have poor sexual education in schools, and consequently tend to have lower rate of contraception use among teens.

New Mexico, the state that tops the list, has sex and HIV education in public schools. However, the sexual health information is not required to be medically accurate, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Contraceptive use is lower for New Mexico high school students too, at 60.5 percent  compared to 75 percent nationally. Other states with higher teen pregnancy -- Arizona, Texas, and Arkansas -- do not require sex ed at all, and if it is taught, schools are required to stress abstinence.

In the lowest-ranked state, New Hampshire, only 33 out of 1,000 teens became pregnant, the data revealed. Vermont, Minnesota, North Dakota and Massachusetts followed with similarly low rates.

By the way, Kentucky had the 19th highest teen pregancy rate (per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19) at 71/1,000, West Virginia was the 24th highest at 65/1,000, and Ohio was the 28th highest at 62/1,000.

So, it appears addressing reality, not viewing reality shows, is the best sex education for teens. Teens need proper, clinical sex education; they need to understand teen pregnancy creates many hardships; and, most of all, they need easy access to contraception and to use it the first time and every time they have sex.

Don't get me wrong. I don't encourage any young person to begin having sex with all its tremendous responsibilities and possible medical and social problems. But, I do encourage parents and their children to face the real world and not assume strong conviction alone will help all teens achieve abstinence. And, I don't want young people to get the wrong picture that teen moms are the norm or that they have a relatively easy, enjoyable time having a baby early in life.

Almost half of teens in the United States report being sexually active. According to the Centers for Disease Control, (U.S. high school students surveyed in 2013): 

* 46.8% had ever had sexual intercourse
* 34.0% had had sexual intercourse during the previous 3 months, and, of these
* 40.9% did not use a condom the last time they had sex
* 15.0% had had sex with four or more people during their life

And ...

* Sexually active teens that do not use contraception, have a 90 percent chance of becoming pregnant within the next 12 months. (,

It's about time we make even more progress with this controversial issue by understanding the solutions and the negative influences with more clarity. Fewer teen pregnancies make everyone happier.

“She looked over the colored boxes of smiling women holding plastic sticks. Why isn’t there a box showing a terrified teen?” 

--Natalie Corbett Sampson, Game Plan

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