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Lesson Plan Booster: “Teen Mom” Show and Social Norms Regarding Teen Pregnancy

This brief guide can be used to engage students and spark discussion during a student advisory period or group mentoring session; or as part of a social studies, media/journalism, health, psychology or current events class.

Grade level


Student learning objective

Thinking critically about “social norms” messages expressed by a popular television “reality show” that is aimed at a teen audience.


  • Teachers should visit MTV ahead of time to get the flavor of the “Teen Mom” show and to familiarize themselves with some of the cast members’ personal stories. (NOTE: As of spring 2011 cast members have included Maci, Farrah, Amber and Catelynn from Teen Mom seasons 1-2 and Chelsea, Jenelle, Kailyn and Leah from Teen Mom 2/season 1.)
  • Consider the concept of a “social norm.” Social norms theory says that people’s behavior is influenced by what they think is “normal” or “typical.” The problem is that we often misjudge the typical behaviors or attitudes of our peers. For example, if teens believe that the majority of their peers are getting pregnant, they are more likely to get pregnant themselves. Informing teens that the majority of their peers are not getting pregnant can set a new “social norm” and help them to avoid risky sexual behaviors. Source: Adapted March 2011 from MostOfUs.

Consider the following:

  1. The teenage birth rate declined 8 percent from 2007 to 2009, reaching a historic low at 39.1 births per 1,000 youths between ages 15 and 19. This is the lowest level ever recorded in the past 70 years. Source: Teen Birth Rate Is Declining - CDC Report Shows Birth Rate for Teenagers Is Going Down in All Racial and Ethnic Groups. Retrieved March 2011 from WebMd.
  2. [Despite recent decreases,] we have still in the United States the highest rates of teen pregnancy of any developed nation, twice as high as Canada, significantly higher than all of our European counterparts. Source: Pregnancy Pressure: Is MTV's 'Teen Mom' Encouraging Pregnancy for Fame? Retrieved March 2011 from ABCNews.
  3. We have our [“Teen Mom”] pregnant teens showing up on the cover of magazines, they're getting paid, they're getting endorsement deals and getting calendar deals. That's the message, even if MTV shows all of the hardships, they're still being supportive in so many other ways. Source: Pregnancy Pressure: Is MTV's 'Teen Mom' Encouraging Pregnancy for Fame? Retrieved March 2011 from ABCNews.

Introducing discussion to students

Let’s focus on media messages, specifically ones that teens receive from TV reality shows. I’d like you to be fully aware of what these messages are, so that you can be as smart as possible when watching these shows. The MTV show “Teen Mom” is a great example of a media product that definitely sends a lot of messages, so let’s examine what some of these are, and how we can think critically about them.

Options for student discussion questions

  • Compared to adults, are teens more influenced by what they see in the media?
  • Which aspects of “Teen Mom” communicate that the show is “entertainment,” and which aspects communicate that the show is an “informative documentary”? Is a reality show like this a combination of both? Do both forms of media have equal influence on teens?
  • If teens are viewing “Teen Mom,” are they likely to believe that teen pregnancy is increasing, or that it is widespread in the U.S.? Are these things actually true?
  • Are “Teen Mom” viewers more likely than non-viewers to perceive teen pregnancy as acceptable or even positive? Is the “celebrity” status of the cast members (the fact that teens are seeing them everywhere in the media) a factor in this? How might this influence teens’ own behavior? (Some have suggested that watching “Teen Mom” will make girls want to become pregnant in the hopes of getting famous, since some of cast member Jenelle’s friends actually became pregnant after she did.) Might a “likeable” cast member have more influence on teens than one who is perceived as “behaving badly”?
  • What effect might “Teen Mom” have on what teens consider “typical” behavior?
  • How can we correct misperceptions of what is “typical” [teacher can reference “social norms” concept if desired] in order to help prevent teen pregnancy?


Related resource

Is MTV’s ‘Teen Mom’ welcome in your classroom?


Article by Celine Provini, EducationWorld Editor
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Copyright © 2011 Education World