MTV's Teen Mom juggernaut (which includes Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, along with the 16 & Pregnant series that inspired the follow-ups) is a treasure trove for sociologists. It often shows the inter-generational transmission of poverty (particularly powerful you see it unfold before you); linked to this is much about education, health, technology, and drugs in the lives of today's teens and young adults.
I've been speaking about a few Teen Mom-related stories in the press lately, which highlight some of these issues. More importantly, this shows how pop culture (like TV shows) and the media can be used to help students learn sociology. It's more powerful when it's something students already watch, but can then observe and analyze in a new way.
For example the troubled Teen Mom 2 star Jenelle Evans makes headlines both for what she does on the show and for her real-time life. While reality TV shows have sped up the air dates of some shows, for some reason both Teen Mom series have aired on such a delay that the audience often knows that much has changed since the episode was filmed (unlike other shows that do reunions, like Bravo's Real Housewives franchise, even the Teen Mom reunions are taped well in advance). Thanks to Twitter, fans follow the daily dramas of the MTV reality stars in real time. Evans, who has been engaged/married/divorced in a blink of an eye on Twitter exemplifies this trourth end. Click here to read the story, and my comment, on why we follow Evans' soap opera life.
While Evans' series is still airing (with a fourth season to come), the first installment of Teen Mom has officially concluded. But some of the "stars" of that series manage to stay in the news. Farrah Abraham raised several eyebrows last month (pun intended) when she revealed she tried to wax, and ultimately tweezed, her three-year-old daughter's unibrow. This led to an NECN appearance where I spoke about what types of beauty treatments are (un)acceptable for toddlers and young girls.
On a more serious note though, it's possible that reality-TV starlet Farrah would have done this to her daughter anyway-- but you can't help but think that her experience on TV, and having her daughter on with her, impacted her decision. Sophia is now used to being seen and she knows that image matters. This is not really the primary lesson you want to be teaching young girls (or anyone for that matter).
Let's hope that Farrah saved some of her television money and invested some of it for Sophia's education (I don't think the kids on the show were compensated separately, like other reality TV kids, but I'd love to hear I'm wrong on this). If not, at least Sophia might have the option to use a website like Seeking Arrangement. Haven't heard of it? It's a relatively new "dating" website that connects wealthy adults with younger, attractive dates. It's usually sugar daddies, but some sugar mommas are on there as well. I was interviewed for a great NECN news segment on this growing trend in the Boston area among college students.
At least Sophia and the other Teen Mom kids are used to showing their own faces on camera already...