Teen Moms and Domestic Violence

10.29.10: What reality TV teaches us all


Teen pregnancies are in the spotlight again; first, via the MTV reality show Teen Moms and then, via real statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. Let’s start with Amber, the abusive teenager on Teen Moms who’s facing (potentially) felony charges for domestic violence against her boyfriend (and baby daddy) in front of her daughter. For anyone not dialed in to this show (that included me until the media storm started around Amber beating the crap out of her boyfriend), Amber and Gary, parents of Leah, are in the crosshairs, struggling to raise their baby despite the odds – being teenagers, constantly filmed and apparently having the ultimate passive-aggressive relationship.

The show includes several other teen mothers, but this poor girl, Amber, is currently getting all the attention; and obviously, for all the wrong reasons. She lashes out verbally, physically and emotionally when she feels frustrated, tired and angry. Every parent knows; frustration, fatigue and even sometimes a little subsequent anger are part of the program. Most of us are at least somewhat equipped to deal with it without hurling expletives or punches. Not so with Amber.

The episode originally aired on September 28 and re-airs this Friday, October 29th. I’m not trying to drive MTVs ratings up, but if you want to check out a case study for what happens to uneducated, bored, unemployed teen mothers, after the new baby/mommy shine wears off, this is your chance. Most of us control ourselves during angry outbursts especially when someone is watching. Amber however cuts loose with some really damaging stuff despite the cameras. I hate to think what might happen if/when the cameras are off. It ain’t pretty.

I root for the underdog and Amber’s no exception. The poor kid’s a mess, bless her heart and I hope the media attention drives support and anger management classes her way. She needs re-parenting to learn how to behave as a non-violent human being. She needs an education so she can fight her way out of her depressing situation instead of fighting with her boyfriend. What a shame that has to come at her daughter’s expense. While Amber’s daughter is learning to walk and talk she’s also learning how to abuse and berate. Amber’s teaching her little girl all about it. What parents teach; children learn. I’d be willing to speculate Amber’s not a first generation abuser.

Amber’s not that unique though. Though the vast majority of teenagers (probably even the majority of teen moms) are kind, polite, smart and motivated (and therefore not candidates for reality TV), there’s been a real upswing in rude, belligerent teen behavior in the last decade. There seems to be this “I don’t care what you think, I’m hard-core,” attitude where anything goes and it doesn’t matter what happens to anyone else. I’ve seen countless teen moms in labor and postpartum berate everyone in the room and no one stops them. It’s the norm in their family. The grandparents were rude and abusive to the mother, who became a teen mom who is rude and abusive to her child, who becomes a teen mom and…the cycle continues.

Why does this happen and what’s the solution? Let’s look at what the CDC said when they released the 2008 teen birth statistics last week: Although teenage birth rates fell nationally and in 14 states from 2007 to 2008, the birth rate for the United States remains substantially higher than for other Western countries . . .Variations in teenage birth rates reflect differences in many factors, including socioeconomic factors such as education and income, risk behaviors such as sexual activity and contraceptive use, and attitudes among teenagers toward pregnancy and childbearing.

It’s all about socioeconomic factors, education, income, early sexual activity, lack of contraceptive use and a general attitude among teenagers that having a baby is cool. AARGH! The states with the highest teen pregnancy rates are among the most poverty-stricken, with the highest high school dropout and unemployment rates. They also provide their teenagers the least amount of sex education and rely heavily on abstinence-only and not enough on contraception and the realities of early parenting. Once teenagers become parents, they aren’t likely to complete their educations, develop marketable skills, get jobs, contribute to their economies and communities or be able to invest in their own children’s education, health and wellbeing. So, the cycle continues.

Maybe there’s hope for Amber? Maybe MTV is doing this generation a favor by publicizing ugly realities? Maybe a few parents will recognize themselves and think about it before they lash out at their children or at someone else in front of their children? Anger, fatigue and frustration happen to every parent. If you’re over your head, get help. Recognize how powerful domestic violence is and stop the cycle.

What can you do? Invest in education and vote for candidates who support education reform. Volunteer to mentor a teen parent through a local YWCA program, community organization or by searching online for programs in your area. Most importantly, teach your children well. They’ll learn by the way you use your voice, the words you choose, and actions you take. Please, teach them to be kind and polite by modeling that yourself. Self-esteem starts through parent esteem…and the cycle continues.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to labornurse@fitpregnancy.com and it may be answered in a future blog post.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.