With reality shows about unplanned pregnancies dominating MTV's 2012 schedule, someone has finally conducted an official study on the shows' audiences. Ever since 16 and Pregnant and its spinoff Teen Mom premiered in 2009, there's been a debate over what kind of influence the shows have had on the network's young viewers. Some believe they glamorize teen pregnancy, while others say the shows help prevent it. A new study suggests that both are true.
Paul Wright, a professor at Indiana University who conducted the study that will appear in the journal Sexuality & Culture, found that the shows indeed sent mixed messages to young female viewers. "On one hand, the programs do show many of the difficulties teen mothers face. But on the other hand, they sometimes seem to send the message that getting pregnant was all for the best," says Wright. "The hypothesis driving our study was that the family background of the viewer might determine whether they focused on the negatives or the positives."
Collecting data from 313 female undergrads, Wright looked specifically at the girls' relationships with their fathers. ("This doesn't mean that mother-daughter communication is irrelevant. There are other studies showing that the more moms communicate about sex, the less likely it is their daughters will either have sex or engage in risky sex.") He found that those whose fathers communicated openly with them about sex were more likely to "attend to the negatives of being a young mother depicted on 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom."
In other words, parents have way more influence over the way their children understand the world than reality television does.