"16 and Pregnant" season 4 premieres: Can show scare sense into teens?
"The biggest thing that always stayed in my mind was what if?" Sekella told HealthPop. "'What if I keep her? What if I don't keep her? How am I going to feel afterwards? What if I give her up for adoption? How am I going to feel after that?"
Sekella will tell her story on the fourth season of "16 and Pregnant," which premieres tonight on MTV. She joins other teen mothers on the documentary-style show who tell their personal tales of giving birth and raising a kid - while still being a child themselves. Many people and organizations involved with "16 and Pregnant" and its spinoff shows, "Teen Mom" and "Teen Mom 2," believe the television program is the most effective way of getting the consequences of teen pregnancy across to young men and women.
"I know and I've always known that you can't change a teenager's behavior by someone like me with white hair and a grey coat talking to them or admonishing their behavior," Dr. Drew Pinksy, an American board-certified internist and addiction medicine specialist, told HealthPop. He's best known for his work on various television and radio shows, and serves a host for the "16 and Pregnant," "Teen Mom" and "Teen Mom 2" reunion specials.
The good news is that teen pregnancy rates have been on the decline across America. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the birth rate for girls between 15 to 19 has decreased 44 percent between 1991 and 2010. Between 2009 and 2010, the birth rate dropped nine percent, the biggest drop since the 1946 to 1947 years.
But, that doesn't mean that it's time to take the topic off the table. Four hundred thousand teen girls get pregnant each year, Amy Kramer, senior director of entertainment for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, told HeathPop.
According to the Center for Disease Control, the U.S. rate of teen pregnancies is nine times higher than many other developed countries. The American Association of Pediatrics says two out of every five women under the age of 20 will become pregnant, and eighty percent of those will be unplanned.
"We are in a woeful shape," Pinsky said. "The strange thing about the entirety of the sexual revolution is that no one even thought this sexual revolution thing hoisted by adults was raining down on teenagers and young adults. It's had dire, dire consequences."
Having to raise a child at a young age isn't the only consequence. A CDC study showed that only 50 percent of teen moms will get a high school diploma by the age of 22, HealthPop reported. Pinsky said that out of all the girls who have previously appeared on the "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" series, only one - Farrah from Season 1 - was able to get close to her education goals. The rest have dropped out or gotten their GEDs much later than they anticipated.
According to Pinsky, there's one thing that girls on the show all have in common: a false belief that they and the father of the child will have a family.
"The all harbor a fantasy that the biological father of the child will stay with them, and they will have a 'perfect family,'" Pinsky said. "Even the guys who stay around don't do a good job. These are 16-year-old screwballs. They can't raise a lizard. And those that (help out) aren't a family with the mom. They're just co-parenting."
Sekella agrees. She had high hopes that her boyfriend would stay and help take care of her child, but after he fell into a cycle of substance abuse, she realized he needed to get his act together. She told HealthPop that the two were no longer on good terms.
Kramer saideight out of 10 of teen mothers won't marry the father of their child. At the time of birth, more than half won't live with the biological father of the child, and out of that group, about a quarter say they avoid each other at all costs. Another 15 percent say that even though they are not living with the father of their child, they still fight a lot and don't get along. Life isn't easier for those living with their child's father: One third of them report that they argue about relationships, responsibility and money.
"This is a very difficult thing for a young relationship to withstand," Kramer said. "Quite often they are not committed to each other like other adults that are committed to each other that decide to have a baby. These relationships rarely, rarely, rarely survive, but that's the reality of the situation."
This belief and trust in young love is part of the problem why teen pregnancy still persists, according to Pinsky. In his opinion, he believes more men and women need to be taught different priorities in relationships, most of which they aren't getting from their own family origins. Instead, these teens enter high school and college, looking to hook up with the first person they meet.
"We need this thing called courtship, a return to a period of evaluation before you become attached at the hip... before you declare to your boyfriend and girlfriend you're in love," Pinsky said. "It's been expunged and devalued, and as old-fashioned as people may call it, it's problematic without it."
Pinsky said these broken relationships often take a toll on the young mothers."This is deeply wounding to these girls," he said.
"The one thing that research always points out is having an available supportive partner is the one predictor of success. It doesn't have to be a male or father, so mostly grandmoms or grandfathers help out. They make teen pregnancy parenting possible. Without it we would be in real serious trouble."
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy hopes the show, by showing teens a story from their peers, can open a dialogue between parents and children to talk about safe sex. While Kramer understands how taboo the conversation is, she believes it is better for parents to say they would prefer their children wait - and give 1000 reasons why the shouldn't have sex - but also add if they decide to make the decision, they need to be responsible and use birth control. The problem lies in the fact that most teens don't think pregnancy can happen to them.
"It's the same reason why people don't wear seatbelts, but their teenage brains aren't developed to the point where they truly consider the consequences," Kramer said.
A recent CDC study found up to a third of teen moms did not use protection while having sex because they didn't believe they could pregnant, HealthPop reported.
Sekella understands what can happen first hand. She loves her daughter, but now has to work three jobs to support her. She'll hopefully get her high school diploma in a little over a month, but she was forced to leave school and enroll in an online program. While she has returned to dancing - her passion - Sekella's goal of owning her own chain of dance studios is further away than ever, with more pressing matters like getting her own place and buying diapers preoccupying her mind.
"That's one of the greatest things about '16 and Pregnant," Kramer explained. "It shows that it does happen and what it really looks like. It's not easy."
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