I Want My MTV (for social work purposes only)

11 08 2011

Say what you will about MTV, and the fact that they have apparently forgotten what music is. They do some quality documentary television. I could not make it through my time at the gym without True Life ,(you’re in a polyamorous gay relationship and still live with your parents? OK!) I Used to Be Fat, (greatest name for a TV show since Howdy Doody) and, of course, 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom.

You would think I get enough of this at work. But somehow, I don’t.

I like working with teen girls. That’s my passion. Which is cool, because I used to be afraid of teen girls. Especially when I was one. And teen pregnancy is a subject I’ve learned more about, since working with pregnant teens, as well as parenting teens and young moms.

I used to fall into the trap of only learning about teen parenthood through fiction. And not good fiction, like Juno. (Which, let’s face it, got slammed for not punishing a girl enough for having sex and getting pregnant.) Shitty scare stories on Ricki Lake, about 11 year olds desperate to get knocked up by anyone who will have them. I recently got into an argument with someone who quoted a pregnant 15 year old from a Lifetime movie at me. (Hint: don’t do that.)

When I actually started interacting with pregnant teenagers, I realized that there was a lot more to them. So when I’m not getting my fix at work, I get it through MTV.

A lot of people, mostly people who have hardly watched the shows, are shocked that I love them. It’s so exploitative! It glamorizes teen pregnancy! Those children should all be taken away!

To which I say: wrong, wrong, shut up.

I recognize that it’s not entirely realistic. I don’t know exactly how the pay scale works. I don’t know exactly what role the cameras and producers play in daily interactions. But I also know that this is a pretty good depiction of teen pregnancy and parenthood, that a lot of people never get.

What do we learn from all this?

  1. Go to court. You think you don’t need to. You think you’re special, that your love will last forever. If not that, you’ll at least be able to be civil. The non-custodial parent will at least always pay child support!

    Odds are, no. For one thing, teenagers are by nature impulsive. They get angry first and think later. (Trust me. I once saw a girl throw a futon out a window.) For another, the world of love is fraught with tension. (Translation: one of you will start doing someone else. The one not being done will get pissed. The more they say they’re not pissed, the more pissed they are.)You need someone else saying how much time the child spends with each parent, who pays what, where the kid gets dropped off and picked up. I know court is unpleasant. You have to wait in long lines, people are rude, and lord knows where the bathrooms are. But go now. Thank me later.

  2. Talk to your kids about sex. I know it’s awkward and uncomfortable. I have had to explain what oral sex is to rooms full of teenagers. And answer the inevitable “Why do people do that?!” from the one naïve girl in the back. I’ve also had kids who I used to babysit and change diapers for tell me they lost their virginity. But the talk needs to happen.

    Every kid on these shows, and who I meet through my work, say the same thing. “I wish someone had talked to me about birth control. I’m going to talk to my kids about it, starting now.” Not to say that teens who experience good sex education don’t become pregnant. But Schoolhouse Rock was correct–knowledge is power. They can’t make good decisions without this knowledge. And my girls who get dragged to the clinic for their Depo shot every three months? They might not be perfect. But they’re not pregnant.

  3. Date the good guy. Note that I didn’t say “nice guy”. Nice guys are the ones who talk about how nice they are, and how girls don’t like nice guys. Those guys are idiots, and they’re not all that nice. But then there’s the good guy.

    Tyler is a ridiculously sensitive and insightful teenager who divides his time between making sure his girlfriend feels special and loved, encouraging his family to get into counseling, and calling his mother regularly. Kyle dotes on a toddler that isn’t his, and is more involved in caring for the child than most biological fathers. Kayla’s boyfriend Mike stayed home with her, trying desperately to get her to eat despite her anorexia, and paid rent to that horrendous mother-creature of hers, just to be with his girlfriend and child.

    Ryan, the pretty boy with the motorcycle? Calls the mother of his child a liar and a bitch, often in front of said child, and lets his parents do the vast majority of child care. Looks fade, but shitty parenting lasts a lifetime. And don’t get me started on Chelsea’s boyfriend Adam. He’s alluring, because he’s a bad boy. I mean, really. Verbal abuse also lasts a lifetime. How Chelsea’s father has allowed Adam to live is beyond me.

  4. Consider adoption. So many young parents don’t even see it as an option. It’s not the only answer. Often, it’s not the best answer. Adoption is messy and complicated. But it’s also wonderful. I’ve seen it in my family, and I’ve seen it on the show, with Caitlynn and Tyler, and then again with Ashley.

    It’s also shown us the importance of support–one does not just walk away from adoption. Caitlynn had support from her ridiculously awesome (and adorable, come on) boyfriend, a great social worker, (what what) and an adoption support group. Ashley’s family thought they could handle it with just a lawyer, and Ashley suffered because of it.

  5. Consider abortion. Several girls have talked about this crossing their mind upon discovering that they were pregnant. Having an abortion does not make you a bad mother. Deciding you can’t be a parent right now, and possibly being a better parent later, is not a selfish decision.
  6. Your boyfriend is not going to grow up. What someone is giving you now, they will give you once the baby is born. Babies are not magic. Ryan was an idiot before Bentley was born. He seems like the type of guy who would think a burping contest it a sweet way to bond with your dad at a family function. When his child was born, what did he do? Got the baby a mini-motorcycle, tattooed his son’s name on his body, and refused to change a diaper or support the mother of his child.

    The same goes for immature women. Amber was selfish, in her own world, and at a loss for how to control her anger before the baby. Guess what she’s like now?That’s not to say there isn’t hope. I’m in the business of hope. But we’ve seen what counting on, “He’ll change once he sees the baby” leads to.

  7. Listen to your parents. This one comes with a qualifier–if your parents are on meth, and in and out of jail, and can barely take care of you, you might want to ignore this piece of advice. Caitlynn and Tyler did the right thing for themselves and their child by ignoring the guilt trip Caitlynn’s mother and Tyler’s father (who married one another…yeah) and putting their daughter up for adoption.

    But then there are the others. Jenelle’s mom might be a shrew, but she was right in telling Jenelle to stay home with her child, and think less about boys and partying. Jennifer’s parents knew Joshua was not good for their daughter. She saw how disrespectful Joshua was to her parents. But she didn’t really get it until Joshua kicked her out of his car on the side of the road, and took off with the passenger door open and their twins in the backseat.

    Sometimes, parents know what they’re talking about.

  8. Pregnant teenagers, and teen parents, are people. They’re kids. They have to grow up, but they’re young, and they will make mistakes. Like all parents. They need help and support. Shame and blame helps no one.
I’m not saying everyone will love it. I’m not saying that it’s flawless. But there is value to these shows, because, if people are willing to watch, they show us that there’s value to these kids.
So stop judging me for watching.
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9 responses

11 08 2011
SocialWrkGirl (@SocialWrkGirl)

AHH SJ, Love. And jealous. I’d love to work with these fine young ladies too. I hate having my hands tied by school/agency standards about what you can and cannot discuss with teens. Last year at my school internship, my best most regular client came to me. She was abused, had gotten pregnant, gotten an abortion, and decided to try and take some control. She made a gyno appointment on her own (at 17!) with Planned Parenthood. She wanted to talk about it, to know what to expect, and to call to confirm. My sup said I could let her use the phone, but that was it. Because lest the school know their MSW Intern and Student were discussing *gasp!* protection… I could have trouble…

16 08 2011
socialjerk

It’s such a weird delicate balance in terms of what you can and can’t do or talk about. What I’ve learned is that my supervisors generally want to know as little as possible. I feel like they are usually confused about we can say as well.

11 08 2011
Shanna Katz

Followed my partner here. As a sexuality educator partnered with a social worker, we watch these shows for similar reasons. I don’t have background with teens — I tend to work with college students and adults of all ages. Seeing the show, understanding how/why youth make the choices they do (even if I don’t understand or agree) has helped me become a better educator.

Are they perfect? No. I think that bringing Amber back for season 2 is glamorizing relationship violence (Gary is pretty textbook for a survivor of relationship abuse in wanting to come back over and over, and that is never discussed). Do I think that *some* teens will see this, and miss all of the above lessons you’ve listen, and just think it’s awesome to have a kiddo when they are 16? Sure. However, overall, it’s working hard to take sex out of the dark/closet/never talk about it area, and encourages discussion around parenting/abortion/adoption, birth control, relationship violence and more.

Sex education (and education in general) doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I once taught a lesson on intimate partner violence to a group of teens based on the Twilight series. Why? Because lots of them are reading the series, and lots of them haven’t paused to look at the implications of the relationship between Edward and Bella (and Jacob). The lesson went over much better than just lecturing about respect. Same goes for using MTV as a jumping off point for talks about all of these important issues.

Thanks for writing this!

16 08 2011
socialjerk

Thanks for reading and commenting, and for sharing the awesome Twilight idea! That relationship is all kinds of dangerous, I might have to steal that. Because something good must come from Twilight…it just has to.

17 08 2011
SocialWrkGirl (@SocialWrkGirl)

Ok… I’m going to be a big dork here. Because SJ know’s I’m a team-Edward twilight dork. I’ve accepted it.

Yes, there are things which come accross problematic but the important part is that you see them have open communication. Bella doesn’t just sit back and get bossed around or “stalked” and “abused” as some people view it. She and Edward discuss what their boundaries are, and supernatural powers aside, they work together to mutually build those boundaries and compromise.

Yes, there are implications of stalking when your “never need to sleep” Vampire boyfriend watches you sleep. But then again, at no point does she mention feeling unsafe with him there. As a matter of fact, despite HIS protestations that he’s a souless monster, she views him to the contrary.

I’m just not a fan of the ways Twilight is twisted negatively. Talk about the fact that they have open communication! That everyone has a comfort zone (Edward won’t have sex til marriage and he has to talk about it with his girlfriend!) (Edward believes in abortion when Bella’s pregnant with the half-vampire baby and she doesn’t want to, so they have to decide on what’s best for Bella/her body) (Edward and Bella don’t USE protection and she gets knocked up in the first place! Because they didn’t think he COULD knock her up)

11 08 2011
Elizabeth

Totally right on and did not disappoint. Yes I think if anything as far as reality shows go at least this one can have some good teaching points. I don’t work with teenage girls but I am always shocked at how much misinformation regarding sexual matters is out there (my clients are all adults, at least age wise).

I also think that the domestic violence issue is not really explored as much as I’d like to see especially since so many people get their information/education from shows like this. I know a few clients who could have benefited and are now the ripe old age of 18 ::sigh::

16 08 2011
socialjerk

Definitely right, they could do a much better job regarding the domestic violence. I think Dr. Drew really often drops the ball and says the wrong thing when they do their wrap up shows.

And I’m glad you weren’t disappointed! 🙂

14 08 2011
Weekly Social Work Links 28 « Fighting Monsters

[…] And SocialJerk explains the educational value of MTV for a social worker. […]

17 08 2011
socialjerk

@SocialWrkGirl Unfortunately, I just can’t agree on the Twilight love. I’m glad that it’s been a positive influence and experience for you, but for me…there’s just too much of an underlying Mormon/purity message. I feel like that’s not good. I know lots of people disagree with me on that one, and I certainly recognize that you know Twilight much better than I do. But I still see the Bella/Edward relationship as primarily negative. Hopefully in your work you can use those books in a positive way!

Personally, I want my girls, and my niece to look up to Hermione 🙂

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