TV Series Review
Maci. Amber. Farrah. Catelynn.
For better or worse, this quartet of young mothers has become a fixture on the television landscape—first as the crux of MTV's 16 and Pregnant, and then by way of its sequel, Teen Mom. They've become celebrities in the process—their faces plastered on magazine covers, their steps followed by reality-show cameras.
So which is it? Are we better off for Teen Mom? Or worse?
Its makers, naturally, believe they've done the world a service, and many viewers would agree. About 77% of teens say that Teen Mom and other such reality shows help them "better understand the challenges of pregnancy and parenting," according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Maci has made a mini-career of speaking to high schools about the perils of teenage pregnancy (though, as her ex-boyfriend points out, that hasn't stopped her from shacking up with her newest beau). Some pundits even suggest that teen birth rates are at record lows in part because of the Teen Mom television genre.
And that's great—if true. Also a positive: For all the hardships we see these moms deal with, it's pretty clear that they all love their unexpected kiddos—even as it's sometimes painfully obvious by what they say and do that they're still children themselves. Catelynn and her eventual fiancé Tyler were "grown up" enough to understand that the best thing they could do for their baby was put her up for adoption. We can see the decision was hard, but they—and we—know daughter Carly is being raised by a loving mother and father, and that they made the right decision.
It should also go without saying that Maci, Amber, Farrah and Catelynn are to be honored for choosing to give their babies the gift of life. It was wise, moral and responsible of them. They are all going through some tough times that they most certainly were told at some point they could avoid through abortion.
But there's a paradox here. While I believe Teen Mom's makers have tried to bring its viewers the harsh realities of teen pregnancy and parenthood, they've also strangely glamorized it. The series has made celebrities out of a handful of girls for no other reason than they got pregnant when they were very young. That very celebrity brings to bear another set of pressures most teen mothers don't deal with and another set of temptations most don't face. And I have to wonder whether participating in a reality show is conducive to properly forming a new family.
And then there's the tawdry, icky, voyeuristic aspect of the series. We see the fights, the tears, the breakups and the bickering all played out for the cameras. It can be horrific—and exactly the reason so many people watch week after week.
Which brings us to Season 4, where we already know we'll see one of the stars utterly unravel before our eyes.
In past seasons, cameras caught Amber beating on her boyfriend in front of their child—assaults that eventually landed her in front of a judge. Now Amber's troubles get worse. In June 2011, she attempted suicide—the details of which are chronicled in a June 2012 episode. Then, in December 2011, she was arrested for drug possession and subsequently sentenced to five years in prison. (Charges would've been dropped had she completed a mandatory treatment program and submitted to testing, but she didn't.) On June 5, 2012, she began serving her time—leaving her daughter, Leah, to be raised for the next several years by her father.
It's impossible to say whether MTV's cameras exacerbated or tempered Amber's obviously serious issues. It's questionable that they should have been there for her private counseling sessions. And it's somewhat doubtful that even when they disappear, seeking out the next big thing, that Amber and her fellow teen moms will be allowed to raise their children in full privacy.
All of which points to the darker side of for better or worse.