Allison Medeiros
COM 410
Professor Renee Hobbs
Writing Assignment #3
Media Past Meets Media Present
It can be agreed on, throughout the country, that turning sixteen is an important time in a teen’s life. For girls, turning sixteen means an elaborate party with all your family and friends celebrating with you, or so it was back in 2005. However, these days in 2012, turning sixteen could mean being a parent already. On the television network MTV, both reality TV programs, My Super Sweet 16 and 16 and Pregnant, targeted teens (including young college aged girls) and specialized in showing the lives of sixteen-year-old girls, but held very different values.

In the year 2005, there was the show, My Super Sweet 16 that focused on girls turning sixteen and having a tremendous, but sometimes over the top, celebration. Although it is assumed boys were allowed to be on the show, the episodes mostly consisted of girls. The show followed one or two girls around (per episode) as they are planning their party. The camera crew would follow the teens to hair appointments, flower appointments, shopping trips (both clothing and party accessories), meetings with the entertainment, and even when they went to school to pass out invitations. Most parties had the same type of concept; each girl needed to have the biggest, the best, and the coolest party. There was always live entertainment, whether it was a live DJ or band, there was the best food catered, and the celebration was at a very fancy or expensive location. The teens would beg, whine, and argue with their parents to have everything they wanted for their party. The show was full of drama yet excitement; many viewers watched to see the dramatic breakdowns some girls would have and because they wanted to see the outcome of the party.

My Super Sweet 16 was notorious for how the show depicted the girls casted. The show depicted the teens as snobby, controlling, uncompromising and unmanageable. Each episode had a teen girl crying or yelling if the party was not being planned to their liking. However, this showed young teens watching the show that it is acceptable to be unreasonable when things did not go their way. Also, since the girls in the show invited as many people as they wanted to their party, the show was teaching the young viewers that popularity and having the best party is the key to surviving high school. In her study of the television program (2007), Helin Siris of Boston College acknowledges this characteristic of the show, “It is through this narrative that Natalie’s motivation for having this party is revealed: ‘I want to be the top most popular girl. Nobody has had or ever will have a sweet sixteen party like this…’” (p. 25). The teen girl in the show even admits of how important being popular in high school is. Also, in the study, Siris (2007) mentions how Natalie feels that everyone knows who she is because of her party. This furthers the idea of when a teen has an extravagant sixteenth birthday party, they instantly become the most popular person in the school. During these parties there were also scenes of the teens dancing inappropriately for their age. The viewers were exposed to mild sexual content, but sexual content nonetheless. The show also depicted the parents as pushovers that did not have control over their teenage children. Letting the teens have whatever they wanted, like a new car, the huge party, live entertainment and etc., depicted the parents as weak and with no backbone. The teen viewers were getting the idea that it is easy to manipulate their parents into getting what they wanted. During this time period, it was a fear that parents were slowly losing control over their children and the value of still having an impact on their children’s lives was gradually disappearing.

Today, MTV airs a show called 16 and Pregnant, which is about sixteen-year-old girls going through pregnancy. This show, like My Super Sweet 16, follows several teens at a time, sharing their story. However, the whole season follows five or six teens throughout their pregnancy, instead of just one episode focusing on one teen. The show would follow the girls through any and every challenge they encountered; from telling their parents, friends, and the father of their baby they are pregnant to the ultrasounds and doctor’s appointments to going to school to the actual birth. One of the challenges portrayed on the show was if the girls did well in school or received their diploma while dealing with the consequences of pregnancy. Most girls on the show had to drop out or take a leave of absence to take care of themselves. Also, some girls were kicked out of their homes when they revealed they were pregnant. Those girls would either have to live on their own or at a friend’s house. Lastly, another common challenge was getting the support from the teen that fathered their child. Many girls on the show tried to stay in the relationship with the boy they were dating but had little success. Likewise, some of the teen fathers wanted nothing to do with the pregnancy and abandoned the teen girl. Although the show depicted many of the challenges the girls faced, not all girls had a rough time. Some families were accepting of the pregnancy and helped the teen girl as much as they could.

16 and Pregnant is a controversial show in whether the show is endorsing teen pregnancy or showing the reality and struggles of being a teen parent. From the online article Does TV Glamorize Teenage Pregnancy (2012), researcher Paul Wright from Indiana University states, “On one hand, the programs do show many of the difficulties teen mothers face. But on the other hand, they sometimes seem to send the message that getting pregnant was all for the best.” Those against the show think the program is promoting teen pregnancy by making it appear that the girls have an easy life, even though they are pregnant. In the study report written by researcher Tiffany Brewer (2011), participants in the study showed that they felt the show was not depicting the truths and difficulties of pregnancy in its entirety:

One resounding message was the apparent exclusion of the pains of pregnancy. “Pregnancy is not easy,
you throw up every day, your feet hurt, they skip all of that,” a participant exclaimed. Furthermore, all of
the participants adamantly stated that the show makes motherhood seem easy, besides the occasional
financial burden. (p. 22)

Since some parents in the show were helping and understanding, this may appear to the young teens watching the show that having a baby may actually be exciting and could work out for them. The viewers may have the mentality, “if she could do it on the show, than I could do it too.” On the reverse side, the show could be inspirational for those teens that have become young parents. The show may have the girls in certain support programs and educate the teen parents that were watching the program. However, depicting the different challenges could scare teens off from wanting to be a young parent. This could be seen as a negative and positive effect. When the teen girl viewers see how much the teen mothers struggle, it could increase the awareness of safe sex and taking measures to ensure there will not be a teen pregnancy. At the same time, it could also result in teens stereotyping teen moms as careless and irresponsible. In addition, the teen girls could have a negative look towards pregnancy and having a family in general. If pregnancy and raising children is depicted as demanding and hard work (which it is), then the teen girls may not want to have a family because they are afraid of the hardships that may entail.

Although the two MTV programs are similar in the fact that they both depict the lives of sixteen-year-olds, they differ in the values that drove the show to existence. In 2005 while My Super Sweet 16 was on the air, it appeared that the main concern in teens’ lives were to be accepted, remembered, and popular. The program also showed that having a great sum of money in your family was also preferred at that time. If you were in a wealthy family then you were likely to be popular and have extravagant parties. Also during this time, the extent of sexual content in the show was the teens dancing extremely close and inappropriately in front of family and the nationwide audience. For the most part parents were not too worried about their teens begging and arguing for an extreme and irrational birthday party. Still, as mentioned before, parents faced the reality of slowing losing control and importance in their child’s life.

Today, the program 16 and Pregnant, represents the commonality of teens becoming pregnant and how it is more acceptable in this time era. It is not to say that teens were not getting pregnant back in 2005, but it was more frowned upon in that time. Society would have been more appalled than accepting if there was a show about such a topic back then. However, since it is a popular topic in today’s world, the media industry took this opportunity to make a successful television program and produce mass amounts of money from it.

My Super Sweet 16 and 16 and Pregnant were both popular MTV shows in their own times. Although the two television programs are similar in type and both focus on sixteen-year-olds, the values in each differed and fitted their time era and the norms of society.

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References:

Brewer, T. (2011). Target audience focus groups: General viewing habits and feelings about the show. Exploring the Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Parents
and Teenage Girls. 22-23.

LiveScience Staff. (2012). Does TV glamorize teenage pregnancy. Live Science. Retrieved from www.livescience.com/20505-tv-glamorize-teenage-pregnancy.html.

Siris, H. (2007). Chapter five: My super sweet 16. Teenage Mutants: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Norms Established in MTV’s Dramalities, My Super Sweet 16,
Laguna Beach, and The Hills. 23-33.


This is a terrific comparison-contrast because you take two different reality shows that feature teen girls and examine how their experiences are different efforts in the timeless search to find meaning and purpose in one's life. In Sixteen, the search for meaning concerns popularity and status; in Pregnant, the search for meaning depicted as focused on the development of meaningful relationships (with boyfriend, parents, and baby). Because your citation list doe not use the correct APA format, the reader can't track down your sources. Use complete citations -- and if you can hyperlink, please do so.

GRADE: A-



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