Study, UNF Professor Agree, MTV Affecting Teen Pregnancy Rates

Jan 17, 2014

A recently released report says a reality television show that depicts the lives of pregnant teenagers may be preventing teen pregnancies across the country.

A study released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births in the 18 months after the premiere of the MTV show 16 and Pregnant.

The figure accounts for one third of the overall decline in teen births in the United States during that time period.

Credit MTV

Dr. Jody Nicholson, assistant professor of developmental psychology at the University of North Florida, explained that the show clearly portrays the many difficult obstacles that can come along with having a child at such a young age.

"From my analysis, I do think that the program is giving a good representation of the challenges of teen pregnancy," she said.

"It's showing the viewers that these teens are trying really hard but there are also a lot of challenges in terms of continuing education."

One of Nicholson's main focuses is the importance social support.

"It is very common that when teens get pregnant they'll risk losing their friends and that they see this happening on the show," she said.

"We're seeing the moms in these episodes losing contact with their friends and that can be very hard for adolescents."

"So, it's just showing across the board that this is a really difficult and challenging time and seeing this, hopefully will help teens to better weigh the consequences of risky sexual behavior."

Nicholson feels that it is important to educate teens about the many responsibilities and obstacles that come along with having a baby.

"We need to design programs to build the skills and goals of these young women so that they more likely to take the necessary precautions to make sure that they don't get pregnant," she said.   

Nicholson is an author of the book Teen Pregnancy and Parenting: Rethinking the Myth and Misperception, which is currently awaiting publication.

The NBER study compared Neilsen television viewing ratings to trending search data from Google and Twitter.

Spikes were recorded in Twitter mentions and Google searches about the show when new episodes aired with "birth control" and "abortion" among the search terms.

Results showed that the exposure to 16 and Pregnant was having a major impact on teens thinking about birth control and abortion.

You can follow Cole Gordon on Twitter @CaGordon33Cole.