As I’m writing this article from the relative comfort of a padded chair in the TCU library, many teens awaken to the sounds of their second or even their third child crying out for food, or for a diaper change or because their big brother woke them up. To those teens, the truth of early parenthood is all too real. They are constantly busy, caring for their children and working to support themselves. A few of them finish school. Most do not. And yet many of them are smart young women who stay strong in their faiths and stay involved in their communities.
Lately, our society has seen a trend toward the accepted portrayal of teenage pregnancy and parenthood in mass media. Shows such as ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” and MTV’s “Teen Mom” have thrown what was once a taboo subject straight into the limelight. To what effect?
It’s easy to try and blame media for the increase in teen pregnancies. After all, 16-year-old mothers on MTV are on the covers of magazines and bringing in the money to make it work, showing every little girl in the supermarket that teen pregnancies are accepted by America as normal. But if we step back and look at the facts, it’s clear that teen pregnancies are nothing new. In fact, in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, teen birth rates were at all-time highs, peaking at 91.0 births for every 1,000 teens. According to 2007 statistics from statehealthfacts.org, the teen-birth rate for Texas is 64.2 births per 1,000, ranking us third-highest in the nation and yet following the national trend 8212; decreasing rates of births among girls aged 15 to 19.
The media we so often blame is in actuality responsible for opening our eyes to an existing trend and enabling us to have an opinion on the topic. As young parents are coming to terms with the responsibilities they’ve taken on, we as a society are opening our arms to support what has always existed: a subculture of teenage parents. And while many teenagers featured on these shows do make it big, the glamour gained is harshly offset by the realities of trying to raise a child before being fully out of childhood themselves.
According to the ones in the midst of it all, teen parents say they appreciate the efforts of these shows to portray them as more than just a stereotype. In the words of one writer for the online magazine “Teen Ink” from Ocean Shores, Wash., “Being a teen mother is hard work. I want to see more people understand and less people judge. Society is rough, but it can be a little easier on everyone if prejudice ends.”
Danika Scevers is a freshman pre-major from Abilene.