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The Complicated World of "16 and Pregnant"

Written by Sarah Seltzer for RH - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

This week, the second season MTV's runaway hit "16 and Pregnant" came to a typically dramatic end, with a young mother who had to be taken in by her boyfriend's family -- after her own mom lost interest in parenting her. A night after the final episode aired, we were treated to a special reunion show hosted by TV's favorite therapist, Dr. Drew Pinsky. Millions of viewers watched as young mother after young mother broke down, saying things like "I don't feel like a teenager anymore" and lamenting absent dads, moms, boyfriends, and a life of balancing child-rearing with making school and finances work that was harder than anything they imagined. They urged viewers not to believe that getting pregnant would convince an errant lover to stay around while Dr. Drew reminded us of the social costs of teen parenthood, statistically speaking. On the whole, the message couldn't be clearer: don't do it.

And yet, as the show ended, their newborns were paraded out by moms and partners, and the participants waved these infants' hands at the cameras while the credits rolled, returning the babies to the spotlight. So what is going on here? "It's addictive, so it must be exploitative," a friend of mine who watches "16 and Pregnant" -- and "Teen Mom," its spinoff -- joked. 

Entertainment or Education?

Combining the kind of shouting, eye rolling and misty-eyed reconciliations typical of Reality TV "wrapup shows" with a ton of pop-psychology about "changing the cycle" and poignant reflections, the Dr. Drew special exemplified the identity conflict at the heart of the show. Yes, there's a PSA or two about abstinence and contraception with every episode, but there are also ads for "The Hills" and "Jersey Shore." So what are we watching? A genuine attempt to educate the public, or a chance to offer up contestants for our consumption, dangling before them the carrot of fame? Read more

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