The untold truth of 16 and Pregnant

The untold truth of 16 and Pregnant

10/01/2020

16 and Pregnant debuted in 2009, when MTV took the reality TV genre in a controversial new direction, documenting the real-life struggles of teenagers in the midst of unplanned pregnancies. From an entertainment perspective, the circumstances proved to be a natural source of drama, given the combination of teenage and pregnancy hormones, along with blindsided parents — to say nothing of the inherent challenges of taking a trigonometry final while suffering from morning sickness.

Described by The New York Times as “a documentary-style series about real-life Junos,” the show was a hit for MTV, which had long since abandoned the music videos of its heyday to embrace reality programming. As The Wrap reported, when 16 and Pregnant returned for its second season in 2010, ratings were through the roof. That season premiere, in fact, attracted 3.4 million viewers, making it the most-watched cable show of the day, even topping viewership of the Winter Olympics in the women-under-34 demographic.

A pop-culture touchstone that remained relevant even after leaving the air in 2014, this trailblazing television show, for better or worse, transformed a bunch of teen moms into tabloid-worthy reality stars. Read on to discover the untold truth of 16 and Pregnant.  

An academic study found that 16 and Pregnant reduced teen pregnancy rates

Fans of reality television were undeniably entertained by watching the lives of pregnant teens, but could 16 and Pregnant have actually lowered teen pregnancy rates? When the show exited the air in 2014, The Washington Post cited a study suggesting that’s exactly what took place over the five years that 16 and Pregnant aired on MTV.

Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing was published in January 2014, a joint study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland and Wellesley College, in conjunction with the National Bureau of Economic Research. Utilizing data culled from Twitter, Google Trends, America’s Vital Statistics System, and even Nielsen TV ratings, the study determined the show was responsible for lowering the rate of teen births by 5.7 percent.

According to the study, the show’s warts-and-all portrayal of pregnancy and birth proved to be a wakeup call that shattered preconceived fantasies teenagers may have harbored. As the study stated, “the realities of the lives of teen mothers are presented in ways that may have been unknown or difficult to imagine for other teens viewing the show.”

Another study found 16 and Pregnant glamorized teen pregnancy

Interestingly enough, whileonet study found 16 and Pregnant dissuaded teens from having babies, another study, released around the same time, came to the exact opposite conclusion. In fact, researchers from Indiana University Bloomington found that fans of 16 and Pregnant tended to believe that being a teen mom was enviable. “Heavy viewers of teen mom reality programs were more likely to think that teen moms have a lot of time to themselves, can easily find child care so that they can go to work or school, and can complete high school, than were lighter viewers of such shows,” the study authors wrote.

The researchers also shared that viewers who frequently watched 16 and Pregnant (and its ilk) were apt to develop expectations about teenage motherhood that were far rosier than reality. In fact, the study concluded that those most likely to buy into that fantasy were viewers who assumed reality TV was, well, real. Fans who hadn’t figured out that reality shows are “scripted, edited, and put together in a purposeful way to create a narrative and a drama” were significantly more likely to “hold unrealistic perception about teen parenthood.”

A mother blamed 16 and Pregnant for her daughter's tragic death

While some of the girls who appeared on 16 and Pregnant went on to happy, fulfilling futures, others became reality TV stars whose tumultuous lives were fodder for tabloids. Then there were those for whom fleeting reality-show fame proved to be problematic after the camera crews left and life returned to normal.

One such 16 and Pregnant subject was Valerie Fairman, who appeared on the show in 2010. Tragically, she passed away from an apparent drug overdose in 2015, when she was just 23. Her mother, Janice Fairman, told the Daily Mail that she believed her daughter would still be alive had it not been for her experience on the show. “She was a gorgeous girl and it all went to her head,” Fairman declared. “She thought she could pretty much do whatever she liked after the show. She was determined to get everything she wanted.”

Fairman wished her daughter had never appeared on the show. Being featured on 16 and Pregnant, she explained, “played a big part in her death. I think it messed her up big time.” Other celebrities have died before they turned 30 as well.

One 16 and Pregnant couple had their kids taken away

Joshua Rendon and Ebony Jackson-Rendon, who appeared in the first season of 16 and Pregnant, made headlines in 2011 when police executed a search warrant on the couple’s home. According to ABC News, the police report indicated a level of squalor that was horrifying, alleging that every single room in the couple’s home “had human and dog feces on the floors, walls and clothing.” The residence was also reportedly teeming with maggots, while photos taken at the home showed floors covered with “dirty diapers, cigarette butts, and trash.” Drug paraphernalia and synthetic marijuana were also found. 

The state took custody of the couple’s 2-year-old daughter. Jackson-Rendon subsequently told Hollywood Life that they don’t normally live like that, but claimed she was in a state of severe depression after suffering a miscarriage. She blamed a friend for calling police and reporting “a lot of false things,” while explaining the feces was due to a litter of puppies born within the home. She also explained that they were planning to sign over custody of their daughter to one of their parents until they could get their “lives straight.”

16 and Pregnant stars have addressed accusations the show is staged

It’s common knowledge that many reality TV shows utilize tactics ranging from creative, out-of-context editing to outright fakery in order to dredge up the drama that keeps fans coming back. In fact, there’s proof that reality TV is completely fake.

16 and Pregnant hasn’t been immune such accusations. According to some who’ve participated in the show, it isn’t, yet what viewers see onscreen isn’t exactly spontaneous either. As the Teen Mom Madness blog pointed out, season 5 star Aleah LeBeouf was asked on ask.fm if MTV tells her “what to say in some circumstances.” She replied, “To an extent — you do have to discuss the back history that you guys didn’t see.” She also revealed she was told to change clothes while filming so it would appear something was taking place on a different day.

Meanwhile, Karley Deatherage (who also appeared in the fifth season) told The Ashley’s Reality Roundup that while she “wouldn’t exactly say [anything was] staged,” producers “know what sets you off and so they will have you talk about certain things that they know they’re going to get a reaction out of you.”

This 16 and Pregnant star was arrested for stealing a pregnancy test from a Walmart

It’s no secret that some of the teens who appeared on 16 and Pregnant have gone on to have brushes with the law, such as Whitney Purvis’ 2015 arrest for beating her baby’s father with a broom.

That wasn’t Purvis’ first arrest, though. Back in 2012, TMZ reported she was arrested for shoplifting at a Georgia Walmart. According to the police report, an employee saw her shoplift a pregnancy test and conceal it in her hoodie. She then “took it to the restroom with her” and proceeded to use it. When she allegedly tried to make a getaway, a member of the store’s security staff placed her under citizen’s arrest and called the cops. Police hauled her to the station and booked her on a charge of misdemeanor theft by shoplifting. The cost of the item that wound up placing her behind bars? $15.98 — though that’s significantly more expensive than a dollar store pregnancy test.

Judging by Purvis’ Instagram page, she’s in a much better place these days, describing herself in her bio as an “aspiring writer, chef for now.”

MTV sought "outspoken" pregnant teens for 16 and Pregnant

When seeking expectant teenagers while casting for 16 and Pregnant, MTV posted a casting call on its website. The criteria was mostly obvious — producers were seeking pregnant teen girls, of course — yet also oddly specific. For example, the girls had to be 15 and older, experiencing pregnancy for the first time, and be at least five months along in her pregnancy. The casting call also specified that MTV was seeking “outspoken young women.”

One of the show’s most famous/infamous (and quite outspoken) 16 and Pregnant cast members, Amber Portwood, revealed to Cosmopolitan that a family connection landed her a spot on 16 and Pregnant. According to Portwood, her brother had been cast in a different MTV reality show, Underage and Engaged, when she was contacted by producers. “I didn’t believe them at first, but they sent me a hundred-dollar check and a little tape recorder, so I did an audition tape for them and sent it back, and, boom, I was on the show,” she recalled.

16 and Pregnant tried to educate fans so they wouldn't become pregnant teenagers

As Spider-Man’s uncle once told him, with great power comes great responsibility, a valuable lesson for anyone (and not just superheroes). For MTV, the same philosophy held true, as 16 and Pregnant‘s great ratings led the network to partner with the Kaiser Family Foundation for a sex-education website aimed at teenagers.

The goal of the site, entitled It’s Your Sex Life, is to “support young people in making responsible decisions about sexual health,” offering information on everything from STI testing to birth control. 

Additionally, the site also offers updates on some of the 16 and Pregnant cast, including a look at Catelynn Lowell and Tyler Baltierra, who appeared on the show’s first season. Other features on the site include tips on the proper way to use a condom, busting sex myths, and features on celebrities such as Ellen Page — who’s undergone a stunning transformation – coming out as gay.

16 and Pregnant spawned multiple spinoffs

16 and Pregnant was such an instant hit with viewers that MTV immediately cooked up a spinoff: Teen Mom. According to an oral history of that show for CosmopolitanTeen Mom was initially meant to be a “stop-gap” between seasons of 16 and Pregnant, keeping viewers updated on the ongoing post-birth stories of those profiled on 16 and Pregnant

For fans of the original, the spinoff series proved to be even more addictive, spawning its own spinoffs, Teen Mom 2Teen Mom 3 and Teen Mom: Young and Pregnant. In order to differentiate the original Teen Mom from all those others, it was ultimately renamed Teen Mom OG.

Meanwhile, 16 and Pregnant also spawned a spinoff that had nothing to do with pregnancy: 16 and Recovering, a four-part documentary that followed a group of students at a Boston recovery high school. There they work to graduate while struggling with issues involving substance abuse, addiction, and mental health. FYI, here are ways to care for your mental health if you can’t afford therapy.

Not everyone who appeared on 16 and Pregnant went on to Teen Mom

Several of the teens who appeared on 16 and Pregnant went on to far greater reality TV fame on Teen Mom and its various iterations. However, appearing on 16 and Pregnant didn’t guarantee the kind of celebrity status enjoyed by such Teen Mom stars as Farrah Abraham and Maci McKinney.

To update fans, OK! caught up with several of the stars of 16 and Pregnant that returned to obscurity after the show. One of these was Ashley Salazar, who made the difficult decision to put her baby up for adoption. She and the father of her child, Justin Lane, remained together after the show, and were expecting another child as well. The couple was also reportedly involved in their son’s life.

Salazar’s life after 16 and Pregnant was far different from that of Nikole Paulun, whose tumultuous relationship with boyfriend Josh Drummonds was featured in the second season. As OK! reported, Drummonds later went to prison for two years; Paulun subsequently filed for a restraining order after he was arrested a second time (via In Touch Weekly).

On reason a cast member joined 16 and Pregnant is inspiring

While some of the teens who agreed to share their pregnancy journeys with viewers of 16 and Pregnant were seeking fame and fortune, that was apparently not the case with Kailyn Lowry. Lowry, a 16 and Pregnant alum who went on to Teen Mom, wrote about her experience with the show in her book Pride Over Pity

When she was first selected for 16 and Pregnant, Lowry wrote, she “had no idea what to expect.” However, she “felt strongly” that the show would provide her with an opportunity “to get my story out and hopefully inspire other girls to make good decisions.” It makes you wonder: how many kids does Kailyn Lowry have?

In another section of the book, Lowry wrote about the criticism she’s received due to her shenanigans on Teen Mom. Despite that, she explained, “I’m also incredibly thankful to have had this opportunity to share my story and help others.”

A 16 and Pregnant revival targeted a new generation of viewers

Even though 16 and Pregnant ended its run in 2014, in 2020 MTV announced plans for a revival. According to a press release, this new iteration of 16 and Pregnant is “a newly reimagined docuseries,” launching with six episodes. 

Additionally, the new 16 and Pregnant “will follow the unexpected pregnancy journey from multiple perspectives, not just from the young mother.” This time, members of each teenager’s family will speak their minds in “intimate video confessionals,” with the intent of fully delving into “the lives of those impacted by the experience, with honesty and empathy,” while the teenagers’ pregnancy journeys unfold.

The new show, according to Nina L. Diaz, president and chief creative content officer of ViacomCBS Entertainment & Youth Group (MTV’s corporate parent), is intent on “sharing the stories of a new generation of young parents and underscoring the impact of an unplanned pregnancy on families — beyond the moms and dads-to-be — by showing authentic and intimate moments with siblings and grandparents-to-be addressing the life change.”

Why one 16 and Pregnant star warns pregnant teens to stay away from the reboot

While fans of the original 16 and Pregnant were no doubt excited to learn of MTV’s plans to revive 16 and Pregnant OG, one of the show’s original participants admitted she’s somewhat uncomfortable with a reboot.

In an interview with The Dirty, McKenzie McKee cautioned teenagers that 16 and Pregnant “was created to show viewers the struggle of what it is to become a mother at a YOUNG age, what you miss out on, and sacrifices you must make to raise your child.” The original intent, she explained, was to document the difficult experiences of teen motherhood, not serve as a kind of farm team for aspiring reality stars — even though that’s what inadvertently took place when many of the girls featured on 16 and Pregnant went on to Teen Mom. As McKee pointed out, neither she nor her co-stars got pregnant to become famous.

Teen motherhood, McKee cautioned, is “not what it’s cracked out to be,” and she’s worried that, “some 16 year old could possibly purposely get pregnant for a shot of fame.” She added: “MTV is a short time in your life and a baby is forever.”

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