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Is MTV’s ‘Teen Mom’ Welcome in Your Classroom?

The success of television shows like MTV’s “Teen Mom” may leave educators wondering whether popular culture has a place in the classroom.

Ellen Morgan, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said television shows like “Teen Mom”can certainly open the door to frank discussion with youth about important health issues.

“Reality shows can spark conversations in that students may want to know about things they see on TV, but a reality show would never be a core component of any health class,” Morgan said. “When we look at curriculum, it needs to be either standards-based or research-based to be in our schools. It also has to be medically accurate and up-to-date.” 

While it is no surprise that schools are not creating whole classes around “Teen Mom,” somewhat unexpectedly, a solid majority of American teens say the show, and others like it, are helping curb their risky behavior.

According to a poll of young people between the ages of 12 and 19, commissioned by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 79 percent of girls and 67 percent of boys agree that when a TV show or character they like deals with teen pregnancy, it makes them think more about their own risk of getting pregnant or causing a pregnancy and how to avoid it.

A separate evaluation commissioned by the Campaign revealed more positive findings.

  • Ninety-three percent of those who watched an episode agreed with the statement: “I learned that teen parenthood is harder than I imagined.”
  • Eighty-three percent said they learned new things from discussion of an episode.

A nationally representative telephone poll of 1,008 young people conducted by Social Science Research Solutions echoes these sentiments, with nearly half saying they have discussed the topic of risky behavior with their parents because of something they have seen in the media.

Dr. Seth Ammerman, clinical professor at Stanford University, said that while those figures are encouraging, they don’t necessarily reflect every group of teens in the country.

“I tend to work with a more at-risk, high-risk population in my clinic,” Ammerman said. “I haven’t noticed a significant change in that group. I do, however, think that kids are getting a message that you can wait to have sex until you’re really ready for it, but if you don’t, be safe.”

Ammerman warned that shows like “Teen Mom” can have both a positive and negative impact on teens. He argues that while they only play one part in a teenager’s decision about whether to engage in sexual behavior, it is a key part.

A recent EducationWorld poll revealed educators were split on this issue—almost half thought “Teen Mom” helps prevent teen pregnancy, almost half believed the show sends a mixed message to teens, and a few thought the show’s effect is primarily negative in terms of “glamorizing” teen pregnancy.

“Teen pregnancy is a very complex issue in terms of the influences coming together and kids deciding to become pregnant or not,” Ammerman said. “If shows tend to glamorize the situation, they could have an impact on teens in that they may think it is a cool or fun thing. On the other hand, if they show the reality of the situation, teens may think it’s not as fun as advertised.”

Related resource

To help guide discussion in your 7th to 12th-grade classroom, check out:
Student Engager: ‘Teen Mom’ Show and Social Norms Regarding Teen Pregnancy.


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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Copyright © 2011 Education World