Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why Girls Shouldn't Watch Teen Mom 2

These are the reasons you haven't heard.

Tonight, MTV airs the finale special, a.k.a. finale-after-the-finale-reunion show, a.k.a. Check Up with Dr. Drew (seriously, pick a name, MTV) episode of this season's Teen Mom 2. Whether or not you watch it is irrelevant. You're a grown up and it most likely won't affect the way you view the world or the way you live your life. But what does matter is whether or not your daughter (if she happens to be under 18) watches Teen Mom 2. No, I don't think young girls should watch Teen Mom 2. And it's not for any of the reasons you think.

That's right: This isn't another duplicated rant about the same old reasons why Teen Mom is bad for girls, i.e. that it "glamorizes" teen pregnancy and motherhood (incidentally, I don't believe the original Teen Mom is quite as detrimental to the young female psyche. More on that in a subsequent post; this one is long enough). Instead, this is a quick overview of the reasons Teen Mom 2 is not my go-to show for mother-daughter bonding (and if it's yours, I don't judge. Repeat, ladies: I don't judge. But you may find these points thought-provoking).  

Reason #1: It may not "glamorize" teen motherhood, but it sure as hell normalizes it.

Whether it's Leah Messer getting pregnant by a second man less than one year after she and her twins' father divorced, or the vast majority of Chelsea Houska's circle of friends showing up on camera with their own babies in tow (seriously, what's going on over there in Sioux Falls?), Teen Mom 2 gives viewers the impression that having a baby at 17 is "the new normal" (most of the moms are nearing 20 now and the babies are only 2-3 years old, so technically few if any of them were actually "16 and pregnant"). And the more something is portrayed as the new normal, the more accepted it becomes by the public at large (in this case, substitute "public" with "girls under 18"). Think that's too harsh? When did the slang term "baby daddy" start to become part of the mainstream American lexicon? Answer: When it made the jump from casual conversation to media catch phrase. Now, it's not uncommon to see a reference to celebrity "baby daddies" in major publications, because it was sold to us as the new normal.

Reason #2: No one knows how "real" reality is, and Teen Mom 2 is no exception.

In Teen Mom 2 season two, viewers weren't aware that Leah was bathing (or "bath-ing," in her words) her twins in a dirty downstairs basement until at least eight episodes into the current season (not that Leah and Cory's double wide was anything to get excited about regardless, but the stark reality of their living situation was glossed over until then). Viewers weren't sure whether Kailyn Lowry was really living with her boyfriend Jordan or not, since the couple was decidedly vague about their arrangement on camera, first saying that he didn't live with Kailyn - and then, Jordan "took all his stuff" upon their breakup. Sounds like living together to me. Viewers weren't clued in to how often Janelle Evans was meeting up with ne'er-do-well boyfriend Kiefer, and while they may not have cared, knowing how often these two were actually sharing the same oxygen would give viewers the impression that their scenes together were as "real" as possible. But since MTV doesn't seem to know how to do a reality show without a crapload of edits per episode, and doesn't mind insulting viewers' intelligence by showing footage of babies that look months older than they did just minutes before, no one knows how "real" the show actually is. That's an excellent segue to the next reason why young girls should not watch Teen Mom 2.

Reason #3: The Teen Mom 2 time/space continuum is so very, very bad. 

These days, we like to get our news in what's called "real time." But in Teen Mom time, everything you see happened approximately one year before the episode aired. That means that young girls see a smiling Leah and Cory, hear Leah's voice-over drawl about their "happy family" and shed supportive tears over their determination to beat the odds while parenting their girls as a married couple - and meanwhile, the couple in question has actually been divorced for more than six months. Think there's hope they'll get back together? Not when the heroine (as she's often portrayed, anyway) is already "engaged" to another guy, has gotten pregnant and miscarried all in that very brief time. During the first few episodes of the season, I allowed my daughters to watch with me. I thought what many of you think: It shows them how hard it is. It shows them they shouldn't get pregnant until they're married, stable, older. And then, my 14-year-old said:

"At least she has a husband who loves her and supports her...they look really happy together. Good for them!"

No, she doesn't spend much time looking at the cover of US Weekly.

So what's my point? That the Teen Mom 2 time discrepancy misleads less informed viewers. And while you could say that it's my fault for not bringing my kid up to speed....do you really want your daughter to be well-versed in the cesspool narrative of reality star drama? No thanks. And so I made the decision to pull the plug for her.

And how about Janelle Evans? Viewers saw her going to a posh Malibu rehab in last week's episode (something an ordinary teen addict would not have the opportunity to do). No doubt, the scenes involving Janelle sweetly explaining to her son Jace that she was "going to get her life straightened out" were moving. Young girls may have even rooted for Janelle after seeing those (heck, I did). But learning that this Teen Mom 2 cast member was arrested again after her rehab stint is enough to make a grown adult cynical about drug treatment, much less a child.

Reason #4: Girls who could be role models aren't, at least when it comes to dating relationships.

I get the argument that Teen Mom 2 is a great commercial for not getting pregnant. But how about the argument that it's a glowing endorsement for perpetuating the cycle of abuse? Chelsea Houska has gone back to absent, abrasive and appalling Adam Lind an inordinate number of times and it does not appear she will ever learn her lesson for good. Kailyn Lowry showed some promise, but has now reunited with the knight in shining armor who had an affinity for calling her a "piece of shit," Jo Rivera (or is it Nick B...or is it King Douchebag of the Keystone State?) If girls begin to think this is acceptable, then how long will it be before verbal abuse becomes the new normal - because we shrugged our shoulders and rolled our eyes at it while our daughters innocently soaked it up? No matter how "smart" my daughters are, I know that the more something is sold to them as being the norm, the more likely they are to believe that it is. Because I was a girl once too.

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