While teen pregnancy rates are on the LINK decline across the United States, a prevalence in the media viewed by young people is apparent. However, experts can only predict the effects of such content in their lives based on that of previous studies.
According to Renee Botta, chair and associate professor in the department of media, film and journalism at the LINK University of Denver, the media has been efficiently glamorizing the presence of teen pregnancies for pubic figures and turning pregnant mothers into public figures, but the outcome of such influences brings a cloudy forecast.
“My daughter is 11-years-old and when she sees the headlines of tabloids about teens being pregnant she asks me, ‘Why are so many girls pregnant?’”
The truth is not all teen girls are getting pregnant. In fact, only approximately LINK 6 percent of teens are pregnant in the United States with an overall decrease in pregnancies across the country.
“While we know that the media has a very low impact, it certainly glamorizes this idea that being a teen and pregnant is cool,” says Botta.
LINK Studies show that young people who have a heavy diet of sexual content are more likely to initiate sex. With the average teenager viewing approximately LINK 4.2 hours of television per day, there is a substantial amount of leeway for sexual content to enter the minds of young people.
LINK A 2008 study also predicts that a high level of sexual content will result in young girls being 2-to-3 times more likely to become pregnant in three years.
While young people absorb these topics, both with their direct textual content and subtextual content, they’re not getting the whole picture.
Some tough discussions occur in the public eye through television shows such as 16 & Pregnant, but the traditional stigma of the young girl’s pregnancy has not been attached to these shows. Rather, the girls receive media attention, care from their families and financial support in some cases. In reality, everyone is not so lucky.
“The media is meant to be glamorous,” says Botta. “They want to sort of have that glamour and be that, so I think it’s a very negative thing to hand that to young girls when they’re not ready for it.”
Further, health communication effects experts, such as Botta, face a number of media effects theories to ponder when facing the issue of teen pregnancy’s portrayal in the media.
LINK Cultivation theory is one which fits the issue almost to a tee. Cultivation theory states that television in particular maintains people’s ideas of themselves, their world and events. Therefore, media literally cultivate a vision of the world that is similar to reality, but it is a distorted mirror of “reality.”
With this model, it’s easy to understand how young teens, especially girls, are able to believe that there teen pregnancy is an every day occurrence and very commonplace for young girls. The media has inadvertently normalized the concept of young girls being pregnant, essentially removing the stigma, difficulties and sacrifices they face in the real world.
This distorted vision of the world and what being a teen mother entails leaving young girls with only half of the puzzle pieces to make an educated decision.
“I think it’s very confusing for young girls,” I mentioned my daughter before and they are very much so encourages to be sexualized but they’re not ready to be sexualized an they don’t understand the ramifications to doing so.”
While the teen pregnancy rates are decreasing overall, some states maintain significant increases in teen pregnancy rates. LINK Particularly in the southern states, Teen pregnancy consists of at least a 10 percent increase. While there is a distinct pattern in the pregnancy rates based on geography, there are currently only hypotheses for these trends.
“It could be that abstinence only practices have increased the rate of teen pregnancies in the South due to a culture that highly values religion,” says Botta.