Posted: Sep 07, 2012 10:00 AM
As parents, we have to determine whether reality shows demonstrate the harsh realities of teen pregnancy or glamorize the stars and stories they feature.

For generations, parents have lived in fear that their teen daughters might become pregnant. But gone are the days of sending away a pregnant teen -- today we feature teen pregnancy on reality TV and turn teenage mothers into celebrities. Has this cultural shift had a positive or negative effect on the rate of teen pregnancy in America?

Teen pregnancy statistics

Incredibly, there were fewer teen moms in 2010 than in any other year since 1946! According to a new report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the average teen birth rate has reached an all-time low of 34.3 births per 1,000 teenage girls (ages 15 to 19).

The CDC credits prevention messages and increased use of contraception -- particularly birth control pills and condoms -- for the decline in teen pregnancies. Despite this promising trend, however, some disturbing statistics remain:

  • The number of teen moms in America is nine times greater than other developed countries.
  • The annual cost of teen pregnancies is an estimated $10.9 billion.
  • Teen pregnancy carries an elevated risk for both the young moms and their babies.
  • Only 50 percent of teen moms will obtain a high school diploma by age 22.

The reality TV impact

Our culture has become obsessed with a new breed of celebrity: reality TV stars. Beyond the likes of Kim Kardashian and Tori Spelling, there is a set of regular young women who became household names when they allowed TV cameras into their lives.

MTV has found a huge following for its reality shows featuring pregnant teenagers and teen moms. Girls like Amber Portwood and Maci Bookout have made a little bit of money... and a lot of headlines. Experts are divided over the impact this type of publicity has on the teen pregnancy.

"My experiences 20 years ago were much different than what is being played out on the popular TV shows now. I faced many dirty looks and hardships without the community support that has been created for current teen moms. No one was celebrating my motherhood." Vicki M. James

What experts say

Psychotherapist and teen coach Didi Zahariades believes shows such as Teen Mom and 16 & Pregnant are positive tools to use with her clients. "The shows show teens that pregnant life is not glamorous," says Zahariades. "They open a door for conversation between teens and parents."

Ellen Pober Rittberg, author of 35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You So I Will, disagrees. "Putting these teen moms on magazine covers is a bad thing," she says. "Glammed up in fine clothing, the best makeup, good lighting and child in hand like some adorable ornament, these moms send the message that having a baby may lead to fame."

A parent's role

While the teen pregnancy rate is dropping, there are still more than 400,000 teenage girls getting pregnant every year -- half used contraceptives, half did not. Researchers suggest that of those who used a birth control method but still got pregnant was likely using the contraceptive incorrectly.

The 50 percent who opted to not practice contraception, on the other hand, cited the following reasons:

  • I did not think I could get pregnant the first time I had sex.
  • I did not think I could get pregnant at the time (i.e. based on menstrual cycle).
  • I did not have access to birth control.

Fortunately, this is something that good parenting and education can impact. Discussing safe sex with your child is uncomfortable, but not as uncomfortable as facing an unplanned teen pregnancy. Do your part and talk to your daughter... today!

More help for parents of tweens and teens

5 Rules to keep your dating teen safe
3 Things your tween daughter wants you to know
5 Signs your tween may be entering early puberty