Kailyn and her newborn, subjects of a recent episode of While there may be more teen moms on television, there are fewer than ever in reality. This week, the National Center for Health Statistics announced a record low in birth rates for U.S. girls aged 15 to 19. The survey, based on 2009 figures, is even six percent lower than the 2008 record low.
Some speculate the recession played a factor in the date, since the overall birth rate has decreased as Americans tighten their belts. But another theory is that sex education's impact has grown. Abstinence and birth control awareness programs may be partly responsible. But could the media also be having an effect?
In 2008, during her mom's vice presidential campaign, Bristol Palin's pregnancy took center stage. Politics aside, no one could argue that the high schooler's situation was brutal. Every step of her journey from her child's birth to her custody battles, were chronicled at times without any sugar coating. Teenagers who followed her story saw that a high school boyfriend, however popular, isn't always the best child-rearing partner. That same year, "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" first aired on ABC Family. While the show glommed on a "7th Heaven" gloss to teen pregnancy, it did track some of the daily struggles of raising a kid as a kid. It also opened up the conversation among fellow teenagers, as opposed to strictly in educational or P.S.A. settings.
In 2009, came "16 and Pregnant" and its spin-off "Teen Mom", the much-criticized MTV reality hit. While the series has helped erase the stigma of teen mothers, it also doesn't shy away from the dark side of young unplanned pregnancy. For the first time, viewers saw the reality: not all parents are supportive, not all boyfriends want to stick around, not all schools will help you graduate and not all babies are born healthy.Even the subjects in the show who have loving homes or partners still have serious financial and emotional struggles on a daily basis.
Their misfortunes may have informed a wider audience about the difficulties of raising a kid so young. A well-meaning parent might warn a teenager not to get pregnant "because you won't finish school." If you were ever a kid, you know school is hardly a dangled carrot. In contrast, reality TV has provided more nuanced reasons why getting pregnant in high school is a bad idea. In short, it's really hard. If teen birth rates are any indication, the message is starting to stick.
Related stories on Shine:
Teen pregnancy health risks
Teen Dad pregnancy facts
Is Bristol too young to be a mom?
Teen Mom: why are we obsessed?
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