One of the recurring miniature arguments my wife and I have is about the age at which things like marriage and child-raising are appropriate. Why we have this argument is unclear, since we are both far past the age when such things might be questionable. I think it has something to do with trying to figure out what we’re going to tell our own kids about sex and marriage and all the rest of it. I tend toward the side of “Well, you get married young and your parents help you out and then you go out and find your career,” while my wife thinks it’s better to grow into your full emotional maturity before trying to teach another person how to live.
But one thing we both agree on is that 16 is way, way too young to start having kids. So we’ve decided that when our little Lentil reaches puberty, we’re going to show him or her all six episodes of the fantastic MTV show 16 & Pregnant.
I work in reality TV at the moment, because a relative was kind enough to find me a job. It’s terrible — you feel the nation’s IQ tumbling down a staircase every time you go to work — but it’s okay money and and pretty easy work compared to other PA-level positions I might be able to get right now. So I do my job to the best of my ability and try to ignore the ethical implications of feeding people’s appetite for moronic misbehavior.
But not all reality TV is terrible. Some of it — usually the stuff that takes a more documentary, hands-off, less-constructed approach — can actually stimulate thought.
You have to hand it to MTV — they’re completely blunt about social trends. When porn-inflected faux bi-lesbianism and MySpace “celebrity” briefly became national fascinations, MTV boldly rolled out A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila, because, really, why let good taste stand in the way of ad sales? Sure, you can make fun if you want, but the unashamed and ruthless pursuit of The Next Big Thing periodically brings you something excellent. Just ask Joe Jackson. And with publicly-acknowledged teen pregnancy fast becoming just another lifestyle option, leave it to MTV to accidentally come up with a sensitive, even-handed look at the rapid maturation it takes to become a decent teenage mom.
So. 16 & Pregnant follows six girls — one girl per episode — from some time early in their pregnancies through the birth and the first few months of parenthood. It excludes girls who make the difficult and terrible decision to have an abortion, which is perhaps slightly dishonest, but even MTV knows the boundaries here. So that leaves two options: keeping the baby, or giving it up for adoption.
Five of the six pregnant teens decided to keep their babies. Of these, four had some sort of hormone-addled sperm donor in the picture; none had anything approaching husband material. This is, perhaps, the real lesson to be learned about teen pregnancy, and one that I want to stamp upon the brain of any future sons: Some girls that age might actually be ready to be moms, albeit with a lot of help from their parents. But NO BOYS ARE READY TO BE DADS AT SIXTEEN.
Here is a typical example: Ebony, who had dreams of joining the Air Force and seeing the world, got pregnant by Joshua, who also claimed to have dreams of joining the Air Force, though my wife and I suspect that may have been something he said to Ebony to sleep with her, and then in a comical and nightmarish turn of karma was forced to live out for the rest of his life. The terror-stricken look on Joshua’s face when the Air Force recruiter tells them that they can’t both join (and that it’s probably going to have to be him who carries the burden of military service) pretty much says it all.
Joshua is the kind of kid who, under normal circumstances, would do one enlistment in the Air Force as a “petroleum specialist” and then get out and work at AutoZone and smoke pot and tell his friends dull stories about refueling planes. Ebony, on the other hand, seems like if she hadn’t gotten pregnant she would have put herself through college with the G.I. Bill and gone on to be a spectacular and capable officer.
Here’s the whole episode (sorry about that — MTV.com doesn’t break them down into clips). I find it heartbreaking, because while Ebony is taking charge and making a plan and thinking about the future, Joshua is playing pranks with socks and screwing off during study time.
Joshua, sadly, isn’t the worst of the bunch — that title probably goes to Ryan, fiance of Maci, who is 21 years old and shows even less interest in manning up and taking responsibility for, you know, having gotten a teenager pregnant. If I were her dad, I’d be tempted to have a serious talk with that guy — “Get a job and support your child, or you can do some time in the pokey” — but maybe that’s the wrong approach. You get the feeling (and this feeling does not abate by the time of the “reunion” show) that both Ebony and Maci would be far, far better off by themselves.
The best boy, by far, in this bunch is Tyler, boyfriend of Catelynn. These two kids come from terrible, dissolute families, but they’ve been dating since the 7th grade and somehow they’ve kind of raised each other to be serious, responsible teenagers. You can see Tyler in this trailer — he’s the one pushing back against his moronic dad who insists that “all that baby needs is love!”:
Tyler and Catelynn, with no family support, find a sweet, lovely couple to adopt their baby, carry the child to term, and bravely hand her off, telling the new adoptive mom that they look at this as “giving a gift” to their daughter. The moment where the adoptive mom brings out a set of matching charm bracelets — one for Catelynn, one for herself, and one for baby Carly — is, um, unwatchably sad. But if you enjoy a good cry, here’s the full episode.