I have something to admit to you.
I am not the sophisticated individual you think I am. (Did you ever believe that? On the off change that you did, I’m about to smash your illusions.) I have a secret – a shameful secret that only a few of my closest friends know. But it’s time for me to admit to the world that I have a problem.
MTV lured me in with 16 and Pregnant, which is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a reality show about pregnant teenagers. Each show was an hour-long peek into these teenagers’ lives, and there was a pretty basic formula: teen gets pregnant + teen is sure she’ll be with her skeezy boyfriend forever + parents do not approve of skeezy boyfriend + teen haves baby and discovers taking care of it is harder than she thought + skeezy boyfriend flakes out + teen is left all alone with a baby + teen drops out of school and laments for her lost youth.
Every now and again, you’d have an anomaly: the baby daddy would actually stick around, or the teen would go back to school and graduate. More often than not, though, they would end up sad, alone, and plus one baby.
Teen Mom spawned (ha!) from 16 and Pregnant: MTV chose four of the twelve-ish teens to feature on their own spin-off show. The viewing audience got to see what it was like to be a teenager trying to raise a baby and all the (inevitable) drama that comes with it. Teen Mom has since been followed with Teen Mom 2 and 3, but it was the original that sucked me in.
So why did I watch? Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I started watching around the time I moved to Minneapolis. I lived in a tiny studio apartment/former garage, and I worked three part-time jobs so I could pay rent/eat/complete my unpaid internship at the art museum. I was barely eking by, but Teen Mom showed me that it could always be worse: at least I wasn’t living in a studio apartment with three part time jobs with a baby while trying to finish high school. Sure puts things in perspective.
I also watched because their lives were so different than mine. They were going through things I will never experience – “never” is a strong word, but I can confidently say that I will never be a teen mom (because I’m 26) and I will never have to try and raise a baby while in high school (because high school is far behind me).
I kept Teen Mom a secret for months – James didn’t even know I watched it, and we lived in the tiny studio together. The first time I admitted that I watched Teen Mom was to one of my fellow interns (who shall remain nameless just in case she doesn’t want the world to know that she watches Teen Mom). I don’t remember how it came up, but it was a “you watch Teen Mom? I watch Teen Mom!” moment. We bonded instantly.
We watched Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, and we compared notes after each show. We were always amazed at the amount of screaming and cursing, and we shook our heads at some of these girls who just couldn’t let go of the deadbeat dads.
What made Teen Mom 2 especially interesting to us is that one of the teen moms lived in Sioux Falls. My friend’s dad lived in Sioux Falls, so she was also familiar with the area. It was always fun when we recognized the place where the SD teen mom was eating or what part of town she was in. One day, my friend was visiting her dad when they noticed a film crew at one of the houses down the street – turns out that the teen mom and my friend’s dad were practically neighbors! Small world.
We knew that the teen moms had to be getting paid to be on the show, but it became significantly less fun to watch when all their money started showing. At the beginning of each Teen Mom series, you saw the real struggles: how to pay for diapers, what to do with the baby when you have to get a job, how to manage going back to school, how much to rely on your parents, etcetera. However, when the money rolled in, all you saw were the teen moms fighting with their baby daddies and whining about they never get to go out (but go out all the time anyway). They were no longer typical teen moms – they were buying fancy cars, living in huge apartments, getting boob jobs and elaborate tattoos… and almost none of them even held a part-time job. A couple of them started to go to college, but some dropped out – it could just be MTV’s editing, but it seemed the drop-outs left school because they just didn’t feel like putting in the work.
This is where MTV caught some flak for Teen Mom. Its critics argued that it made teen motherhood look too easy. I wouldn’t say it looked easy – as someone who doesn’t have the foggiest idea of how to deal with children, any interaction at all with a baby qualifies as hard work in my book – but it certainly wasn’t a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to have a baby when you’re a teenager. Your average teen mom isn’t going to be able to hop in her brand new BMW and eat out all the time and pay hundreds of dollars for her back tattoo – but that’s exactly what the MTV teen moms were doing. Their personal lives were still a mess – two of them spent time in jail/rehab, one of them got divorced six months after she got married, etc – but the real-life financial problems had all but vanished.
The original Teen Mom has reached its end, and I’m not sure what the fate of Teen Mom 2 will be. If they come out with another season of Teen Mom 2, honestly, I’ll probably watch it – if only to see what places I recognize in the Sioux Falls teen mom’s segments. I started to watch Teen Mom 3, but those teen moms are the whiniest bunch to emerge from MTV’s schedule, so it didn’t take me long to give up on them. Even I have standards.