So, the news has broken over the last few days that the highly-controversial TV series “Teen Mom” is making a transatlantic leap, and a UK version is now in the works. This isn’t particularly news to me, as I’ve been following the production company on Twitter since they first messaged me, asking to Retweet their casting call.
Normally I’m only too happy to RT anything that gets sent my way, as long as it’s not racist/sexist/otherwise disagreeable. This time, however, I declined.
It’s not that I disagree with young parents appearing on TV. I was on “Baby Faced Mums” last summer, I’d be pretty hypocritical to say that programmes about young parents shouldn’t be made.
The difference is that “Baby Faced Mums” was pitched to me as a different kind of ‘young mum TV show’. They were looking for all sorts of mums who defy the stereotype – mums with more than one child, student mums, working mums, single mums, married mums – mums who don’t fit the mould that many people in the UK seem to think all young parents fit into.
The casting notice for “Teen Mom UK” states that it’s looking for “teen mums with attitude”. Considering the reputation, audience response and controversies associated with the US version (and the fact that the TV company are also responsible for “The Valleys”, the Welsh TOWIE/Geordie Shore) suggests that breaking down myths about young parents isn’t going to be high on this TV show’s agenda.
The US show was all about the ratings. MTV tends to be all about pulling in as many viewers as possible, and the way to do that? Sensationalism and drama. Young parents getting on with their lives and succeeding isn’t going to reel them in, is it? They’re going to want “teen mums with attitude”. Teen mums that the audience can turn into characters; forgetting that they’re real people.
That brings me to my other concern; the welfare of the girls. “Baby Faced Mums” was so well-made, and showed the honest side of being a young parent – no bumping up the drama to try and draw in bigger viewing figures. Despite that, we still got criticism online, purely for the crime of having a child at a young age. I was criticised for “abandoning” my baby to carry on with my studies. Another episode was referred to as “Fat Slags on Benefits” (charming, right?).
Whether it’s trolls or people who genuinely forget that they’re talking about real people’s real lives, those people exist, and they’re all too ready to make their voices heard. They’ll post it all over Twitter, Facebook, various internet forums – they’ll make sure everyone knows how they feel about young parents, and they’ll deliberately seek you out and make sure you know it too.
Thankfully Crackit Productions, who made “Baby Faced Mums”, were very supportive, because they were making a factual programme. Will True North, the makers of this clearly-entertainment-focused “Teen Mom UK” be the same? What sort of emotional and psychological support will be offered to the girls who end up taking part? It’s easy to scoff and say “Well, they’re making the choice to be on television”, but are they being given the full story?
Of course, it’s possible that True North will be exemplary in providing fantastic support to the girls. It’s totally possible that the UK version of “Teen Mom” will be positive and encouraging and give a great viewpoint of life as a young parent in the UK today. I still worry, however, that young women are signing up with no idea what it’s like to be on TV about being a young parent. The backlash is hard to deal with at times – very hard. With the series intending on focusing on just four young women, it sounds as though it will be very intense, with every move being scrutinised and – inevitably – judged by the public.
The US Teen Mom has featured relationship breakdowns, custody battles, hasty marriages, even hastier divorces, jail sentences, abuse and violence. Should we pretend this doesn’t happen to young parents? Of course not. Should we accept that something like this is promoted as “normal” for young parents? Definitely not. It’s not normal. That isn’t the reality for the vast majority of young parents, and it’s not too far-fetched to suggest that the intensity and media glare of being on “Teen Mom” has contributed to the endless waves of drama rocking the lives of the young women on the show.
I’m not saying they deserve to be criticised. I am saying that aspiring to be “just like the girls on Teen Mom” is a dangerous road to tread, because it hasn’t exactly been streets paved with gold for them.
I’ll be watching when it airs, and I’ll be on social media, waiting to respond to the inevitable backlash against these young women. I’ll defend young parents, and no doubt I – and many others like me – will end up sharing our own stories for the umpteenth time, in response to the people who believe the scrounging-free-council-house-workshy-teenage-mother stereotype. Even if the show is fantastic, and shows young parents in a great light the way “Baby Faced Mums” did, there will still be the critics and the trolls and the idiots who forget that it’s life. Therein lies the problem with entertainment-based TV shows about young parents.
We’re not a vehicle for higher viewing figures. We’re not living, breathing stereotypes. We’re not there for you to laugh at, or sneer at, or for you to criticise on Twitter like you can claim some moral high ground. We’re doing the best we can for our children and our families. Pregnant teenagers and young mothers need more support – not the alienation that comes from being turned into a figure of fun.
If you watch, I can only ask that you remember this post. Remember that the young women you’ll be watching are real people learning how to parent, just like any mother has had to learn to parent for the first time. Remember that they have feelings, and may not be supported or prepared for a media backlash. Remember that me and countless other young parents like me are posting every day, on social media, on blogs, on forums, proving that young parents aren’t just one big amalgamated stereotypical mess.
And if, at any point, you’re inclined to think “these are terrible mums”, or “this is car-crash TV”, remember that what you’re watching is young parents being exploited for ratings – and remember just how wrong that is.