BET is clearly following in the footsteps of MTV’s “16 & Pregnant” and “Teen Mom,” both of which have been huge successes for the network. Beyond the ratings, though, it’s a topic of extraordinary relevance: The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention — and Black women have the highest teen pregnancy rates among all American groups.
But even before it aired, the special BET episode was coming under fire, facing familiar claims it would glamorize teen pregnancy. This is a regular complaint against MTV’s similar hit series, especially because some of the girls featured have become “reality stars” with enough fame (and histories of bad behavior) to nab the covers of tabloid magazines like OK! and In Touch.
Despite the popularity of these young moms on TV, I’ve never bought into the argument that teen pregnancy was being “glamorized.” Exploited? Maybe. (But that’s a different conversation.) I don’t watch the teen-mom shows with much regularity, only because it they’re just so… sad, really. The girls are, unsurprisingly, immature, and yet they are preparing to take on the most responsible project a woman can face: motherhood.
Sure, there are cameras rolling, but I’ve found little glamour in their lives. The few episodes I’ve seen portray the girls and their partners as woefully unprepared to handle the responsibilities of adulthood. And while these young women have the attention of the audience, they seem to be missing it from the people they want it from most — like boyfriends who don’t have free time to spend because they had to work (or look for work) to support their child. Or worse, guys who escape into video games or loafing with their boys to avoid their upcoming responsibilities. The girls seem to be ostracized by their friends, whose lives have continued on with typical teenage fare, and when they do meet up with them, often there is a vast awkwardness as they struggle to find common ground. Watching the girls look for work is equally pitiful, as they find there is very little they are qualified to do, and what they do qualify for pays next to nothing. Where’s the glamour in that?
I realize, though, that I’m looking at these situations through thirty-something eyes. As tumultuous as these teenage moms’ lives may be, they are still lives on television. For some girls, that may be glamorous enough, despite the sad quality of life that is being shown. “Reality Star” is a bona fide occupation these days, a gig that can make people celebrities despite the fact that they haven’t done anything worth celebrating. Some young women will want the glitter even if it is not gold.
Do you think these TV shows and specials glamorize teen pregnancy?
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk