The social impact of reality teen pregnancy shows, and how father-daughter communication changes their effect


We’ve all heard about, and have maybe even watched, the popular teen pregnancy shows “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom.” Created with the intent to show “the honest, unpleasant truth of teen pregnancy,” the shows follow the lives of pregnant teen mothers. But instead of serving as the poster children for teenage birth control, many are concerned that the shows actually glamorize risky teenage sexual behaviors.

A study in the journal Sexuality & Culture surveyed more than 300 heterosexual female college students. Participants reported how much they watch the two shows, how often each of their parents talked with them about sex growing up, and whether or not they had engaged in sexual intercourse within that past year. Here’s what the study found:

  • The more girls watched “16 and Pregnant” and/or “Teen Mom,” the more likely they were to have had sexual intercourse within the past year.
  • This was true except for one group—those whose fathers had relatively frequent conversations with their daughters about sex.

In other words, father-daughter communication about sex seems to protect against the influence of watching teen pregnancy shows on the probability of girls engaging in certain sexual activities.

Now, I don’t know how it is in your house, but in my house, the sex talk with our daughters is a lot less uncomfortable when it comes from my wife than when it comes from me. But, research shows, as the study’s authors argue, that when dads have the sex talk they are more likely to talk negatively about premarital sex and the consequences of risky sexual behaviors, and they are more likely to talk about the guy’s perspective on sex. These types of conversations seem to help un-glamorize the life of young, teenage mothers and to help motivate girls to avoid getting pregnant at a young age.

If you read my blog at all, you’ll notice that I frequently mention the power of parent-child conversations about media content. This is just another example showing that parents need to start talking about what kids see in the media.

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