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Reality shows distort truth about teen pregnancies

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The creators of MTV's "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" may believe that the shows serve as public service campaigns for preventing pregnancy among teens but a new study proves otherwise.

A study conducted by researchers at Indiana University and Utah University and which has been accepted for publication in the journal Mass Communication and Society, found that teen mom shows actually lead heavy viewers to have distorted views of teen pregnancies.

"Heavy viewers of teen mom reality programs were more likely to think that teen moms have a lot of time to themselves, can easily find child care so that they can go to work or school and can complete high school than were lighter viewers of such shows," wrote Nicole Martins, an assistant professor of telecommunications in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington, who co-authored the research with Robin Jensen, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Utah.

The researchers surveyed 185 high-school students who were asked about their perception of reality TV and teen pregnancy. The researchers found that heavy viewers of teen mom shows are led to believe that teen mothers have an enviable quality of life, a high level income, finished college, lived on their own, involved fathers and have affordable access to health care.

Martins suggested that the desire for celebrity status afforded to the shows' teen mothers may have something to do with the findings of the study as "Teen Mom" has made some of its primary stars into celebrities.

"Maybe that's what's drawing viewers' attention: the fact that one of the teen moms, Farrah Abraham, repeatedly is on the cover of Us Weekly for all the plastic surgery that she's had. Well, a teen mom living in this country can't afford that; most unmarried teen mothers are on welfare," Martins said.

The researchers also said that while it would be inappropriate to suggest that viewing the shows causes pregnancy, they are worth considering as a contributing factor."The fact that teens in the study seemed to think that being a teen parent was easy might increase the likelihood that they'll engage in unsafe sexual practices," Martins said.

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