It all started with Jamie Lynn Spears, didn’t it? Back in 2007 Jamie Lynn was the good Spears sibling with a sterling reputation and hit Nickelodeon show. Then with an interview in O.K. Magazine it was revealed that little Jamie Lynn was expecting (coincidentally, after she saw Knocked Up). Bye bye Nickelodeon show, so long sterling reputation, hello teen pregnancy epidemic.
The truth is that Jamie Lynn was just part of a growing trend. After 15 years of steady decline, the teen pregnancy rate spiked 5% between 2005 and 2007. Today, 3 out of 10 girls in the United States are pregnant before age 20.
As maternity wards became filled with teen mothers, TVs and movies began featuring pregnant teens with more frequency.
First out was Juno. The film was a huge, somewhat unexpected success, garnering Ellen Page an Oscar nod for being so gosh darn quirky and hilarious. But this was still the early, infant, if you will, stages of pregnant teens on screen for the new millennium. The movie’s only message about teen pregnancy seemed to be, “whoa, this is unexpected, coyote ugly. Guess I’ll talk on my hamburger phone and my tic-tac toting boyfriend and I will deal.”
But we all loved Juno! We loved that teen pregnancy was brought up and in a smart/fun way! Regardless, this didn’t sit well with parents or researchers. In that same year several studies were published, some in Newsweek and TIME, showing that sex in film and television lead to teen pregnancy. As you can imagine, that only made teens want to watch Gossip Girl and 90210 more.
This brings us to ABC Family and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. The show’s ads featured a pregnant teen touching her baby bump (and the name “Molly Ringwald” in big letters, which is funny because Molly totally played an underage mom in that movie For Keeps.)
The show opened to huge ratings, it’s one of ABC Family’s biggest hits and it’s credited for starting the teen focus on ABC Family (if that’s really true, I take back my hatred for the Secret Life because it gave me Make It or Break It).
But when something works on TV and at the movies, execs think to themselves, “Selves, we should like totally keep putting pregnant teen chicks on TV and in films because that’s what the people want!”
The show was compelling – why not have more?
So MTV made 16 and Pregnant, which was ridiculously successful for them. MTV made 16 and Pregnant in partnership with The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, an organization dedicated to educating the nation about about teen pregnancy with the goal of discouraging potential teen moms.
The goal of the show was to show teens that being 16 and pregnant isn’t cool or romantic or sexy, children are not pets. This was an interesting change from The Secret Life, which doesn’t really tell you that being a pregnant teen is going to make your life difficult, unless your life is a dramatic series of falling in and out of love with random people in your reoccurring cast and never sweating.
Anyway, execs were like, “these ratings are awesome! so let’s keep going!” So then we got Teen Mom. Now that show was tough and educational and addictive. Another hit! Another show that was compelling, which we rarely get on TV.
But then something terrible happened – being preggers on TV just went too far!
On Glee, Quinn Fabray got pregnant and lost her spot on the cheerleading team while wobbling in baby doll tops, singing “Papa Don’t Preach” with show choir (let’s not even talk about the pregnant dancers in her rendition of “This is a Man, Man, Man’s World”). Lifetime introduced the film, The Pregnancy Pact, based on the real life story of teens actively trying to become young mothers (which was terrifying because 1. the story was true and that’s terrible AND 2. the movie was just downright awful and terrible). Even dramas, like Private Practice, added teen pregnancy to their plot.
I don’t know about you guys, but I just can’t take it anymore. I think it’s great that some of these shows work with The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy to spread a message. And it’s been proven that seeing a person or character struggle on TV makes teens think twice about unprotected sex. But I’m tired of feeling like EVERY show needs a “pregnancy plot.” Am I the only one who just don’t want anymore pregnancy on TV unless some nuance can be brought to the subject?
I’m not alone. According to Nielson, this season’s ratings per episode for The Secret Life are the lowest ever! Maybe that’s because every time I turn on that show some other girl is pregnant. By like the same two guys! Is this commentary on the issue or just an added twist? Either way, you’d think after the number of pregnancies in this town that someone would introduce the word “condom” into their vocabulary. (And maybe, while they’re at it, they could also introduce some better lighting and camera-work because it looks like The Secret Life was filmed on an iPhone that projected a fluorescent light by a man who was shaking nervously, hoping that he could make it home in time to DVR Pretty Little Liars).
Let’s not even get started on Bristol Palin’s life or guest appearence on The Secret Life or hopes of abstinence and public speaking because it’s so sad and funny that it would take an entire post on it’s own. However, I will ask – was Bristol actually there to spread a message or to cash a paycheck and bring in some ratings for the show? (We know she wasn’t there because of her acting chops)
Georgina on GG is possibly pregnant (I say possibly, because last I checked, she and Lonely Boy never had sex.) Why is this a story line? Unless Georgina is secretly smuggling crystal meth from Russia in a round container she keeps under her dress to stop the Russians from killing her, I’m not really sure why I should care. We know there will be no lesson learned here. Dan Humphrey being fooled into thinking he has a kid will just be brutal to watch, not in a good way (almost as brutal as this baby in a stroller and V’s weird clogs)! And we already had a pregnancy for ratings on this show – isn’t Dorota’s baby enough?! (I can see it now, Dorota trying to help Miss Blair steal Chuck Bass’s cane while juggling her little infant.)
And tomorrow night we have the premiere of a new season of Teen Mom. No offense, but one season was enough for me. Their lives were difficult and it was really upsetting and powerful, which is the point. But I don’t think I need a second season of these girls. Especially with one of them possibly being pregnant again and another [allegedly] getting punched in the face by her mother (which is another upsetting and serious issue all on its own). Maybe I’d be more into a season 2 if there were new girls. Maybe then I’d feel like I was seeing the full scope – then maybe people watching it would see there are TONS of pregnant teens, this isn’t just these few girls, this isn’t just drama for TV ratings, it’s real and raw.
What do you think? Now that Forever 21 has launched a maternity line, I feel like teen pregnancy is only growing bigger (no pun intended) and there’s no end in sight for these shows! (God I hope Beth doesn’t come back on Glee!)
Are so many teen shows/shows in general putting pregnancy into the plot to educate or simply because it’s dramatic? If it’s the former, OK, but the latter – please spare me- it’s been done!
My biggest fear is that this “pregnancy plot” thing will go waaay over the top and soon we’ll all wake up to an episode of iCarly called, “iPreggers,” which would be a controversial smash!