Going back to when I was a kid, there were certain rules in my house regarding television. One rule was “don’t sit too close” on the thought that an expansive view of a screen that took up my entire field of vision would somehow melt my eyes. (In retrospect, given my need for corrective lenses, that one may not be off.) Another rule involved what I wasn’t allowed to watch after 10pm, which for years I assumed was some secret cache of information that would blow the lid of the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the truth about the reality of Batman, but turns out it had more to do with swearing and lower-cut dresses.
But there was always one maxim that overruled all others; one propagated by everyone from my grandmother to my teachers to the slightly scary old neighbor woman who lived next to our house: Too much TV will rot your brain.
Silly television. That's what my smart phone is for.
The notion that watching too much television would permanently warp my development, both moral and intellectual, was taken as a given. It was rooted in a firm discomfort with the notion that this magic box was going to create a legion of unintelligent, immoral deviants that would populate the world and cause things like the decline of the church and the end of wholesome family entertainment about singing families who perform for Nazis.
It’s into this mindset that panic over the rise of reality television has really taken root in a small echo chamber of the world. (One that is, ironically, increasingly becoming accessible to people who fear that going away from The Way Things Used to Be through another temptation of modernity – the computer.) that panic scaled significant heights with MTV’s reality franchise 16 and Pregnant and the show’s three spinoff series: Teen Mom, Teen Mom 2, and Teen Mom 3. (Note to people who don’t watch this stuff – yes, those are the real titles. I was suspicious too.)
Since 2009, the four shows have followed the stories of teenage high school girls through their pregnancy and first year of motherhood, a formula that has been perfect for MTV because not only does it bring in teen viewers but it also gives moral crusaders something to scream about and those who are secretly or not-so-secretly titillated by sexually active teenage girls things something to drool over. The predictions when these shows began were dire: They would ruin society, they would make pregnancy into something that would be glamorous for teenage girls what with the promise of a TV series dedicated to your pregnancy and the attendant People Magazine cover spreads that went with them, that we’ve done wrong by Our Girls by not making them into proper ladies who knew how to keep their knees together long enough for some boy to agree to marry them first.
But guess what? It hasn’t happened. In fact, turns out the shows have led to a decline in teenage birth rates. Turns out that when teenage girls watch what happens when one of their peers gets pregnant and gets her own TV show, the tendency isn’t to emulate her but to go running to the nearest CVS to stock up on birth control. Seriously – the study in that link above mentions that upon watching the shows, girls show an increase in internet searching and Tweeting about birth control and abortion.
This is, obviously, good news. Aside from the fact that it’s just nice to know that teenage girls are more competent and capable of analysis than we collectively give them credit for, it’s also bodes well for the possibility that I may finally be able to convince my mom to let me watch TV shows late at night for once.