A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests there's a correlation between watching the show and teen birth rate

By Melissa Maerz
Updated June 15, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Maci Bookout wishes Teen Mom had been on MTV when she was a kid. Growing up in Tennessee, she didn’t get much sex education in school. ”There was one class in seventh grade, but it was mainly about STDs,” says Bookout, now 20, who’ll return with Amber Portwood, Farrah Abraham, Catelynn Lowell, and Tyler Baltierra for their final season of Teen Mom on June 12. By the time she was 16, she was pregnant with her son, Bentley. ”If I had seen the show back then, I would not have Bentley right now.”

Is watching Teen Mom an effective form of birth control? One recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests there’s some correlation between the two: During its first year on the air, from 2009 to 2010, the U.S. teen birth rate declined 9 percent, the steepest one-year drop since 1946. And when the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy surveyed Teen Mom fans, 90 percent of teen viewers said the show makes pregnancy look ”harder than I imagined,” and 72 percent said it motivates them to delay parenthood. ”There’s a celebrity aspect to it, because people know who we are,” admits Bookout. ”But people want to be Kim Kardashian. I’ve never had people tell me they want to be me.” Teen Mom works because the story pulls you in like a soap opera: Will Maci get back together with her ex-boyfriend Kyle? Will Tyler’s dad go back to jail? But these people aren’t actors, and the cameras add more pressure to their already stressful lives — especially when it comes to the tabloids, which turn everything from their breast implants to their breakups into headlines. One mom has even run afoul of the law; recently, after attempting suicide and refusing rehab, Portwood agreed to go to jail. (Her suicide attempts will be addressed this season.) Still, Lauren Dolgen, the creator and exec producer of Teen Mom, believes it’s crucial to keep filming. ”The storytelling’s not more important than the girls’ well-being, and we might back off if someone’s going through something extreme,” she says. ”But the girls want to share their experiences, because it is a true representation of their struggles.”

For the National Campaign’s Amy Kramer, Teen Mom is valuable because it shows kids that parenthood can happen to them. ”Before this show, people were talking about Bristol Palin or Jamie Lynn Spears, all these sensational stories,” she says. ”Now they’re talking about real girls with real troubles.” If that’s the message viewers take away, Dolgen’s okay with it. ”If we could never cast this show again,” she says, ”it would be great.”

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