MTV has announced that the upcoming fourth season of the original Teen Mom series will be the last one. Those final episodes won't air til later this year--giving everyone ample opportunity to reflect on what it all means--but I'd like to get the party started with my own Top Ten Lessons Learned from Teen Mom (so far):
1. Once there's a pregnancy, every road ahead is hard.
If Teen Mom has shown us anything, it's that pregnancy and parenting at a young age isn't easy and it isn't glamorous. We've seen these girls struggle in every way possible--within their families, in their relationships, financially, at school, socially, and more. That's not to say their lives would have been easy-peasy had they not gotten pregnant, but there is not a single episode of this show that has made it look like the life of a teen mother is anything but challenging.
2. Being a birthmother IS being a good mother.
Too often people assume that making an adoption plan is a cop-out, or an admission of failure, or proof that you don't love your baby. Catelynn's experience taught us otherwise and continues to be one of the most hopeful, heartfelt stories on all of television.
3. Not all high school boys have cooties.
No mention of Catelynn's sacrifice would be complete without a shout-out to Tyler, her boyfriend (now fiancé!). Despite his upbringing (addiction, abuse, divorce, academic failure, father in jail, etc., etc.), Tyler consistently demonstrates what it means to be a strong, brave, loving, caring, nurturing man. His sense of character is something more akin to a weepy episode of Friday Night Lights than reality TV.
4. A baby won't make him stay, though it will keep him in your life...long after you're ready to move on.
It started out okay for Maci and Ryan--they were living together, they were engaged to be married, and they were young parents of an adorable little boy. Then there was lying, resentment, tears, and nights he didn't come home. Breakups are never easy, but eventually most teens move on from their first love, the sadness abates, and they can remember the relationship fondly. Not so when you fight about custody and money for the next 18 years.
5. A baby won't fix your relationship.
People often think a baby will save their relationship, make everything more romantic, and keep them together forever just like a "real family." As we've seen in reams of data--and also on Teen Mom--that simply isn't true.
6. Finishing your education is a struggle when you have other priorities.
Maci was a good student in high school and expected college to be a breeze too. But finding the time and energy to study and go to class wasn't easy with a toddler around. Same with Farrah--she graduated early from high school but it will take longer than she originally thought to finish college and culinary training. It took Catelynn longer than 4 years to finish high school thanks to absences during her pregnancy, and Amber is still working on her GED.
7. Dating isn't easy when you have a child.
Just ask Farrah: Finding someone who's okay with dating a mom isn't easy. Negotiating the whole "when can I introduce my child to my guy" thing is confusing. Not to mention finding the actual time in the day to meet people, plan dates, get ready, and go out.
8. It takes a village--or at the very least, doing it alone is impossible.
Farrah's parents provide a place to live and regular childcare for Sophia. With Amber's situation, more than half the parenting of little Leah is done by Gary. Even the uber-confident, uber-capable Maci relies on her folks for support, not to mention the fact that Ryan contributes financially, emotionally, logistically, and in every other way to Bentley's upbringing. And in Catelynn and Tyler's case, baby Carly is growing up beautifully thanks to an adoptive family. Even the most mature teenager can't do this on her own.
9. What an IUD is.
Young people hear a lot about condoms, and nearly everyone knows what the pill is (even if they don't know how to use it properly...). But most teens hadn't heard about the IUD until Catelynn opted for a Mirena in the very first Teen Mom episode. Did the youth of America run out and ask their doctors for IUDs after that, the way kids in the '70s all got library cards after Fonzie got one on Happy Days? Probably not. But at some point in their lives, when an effective, low-maintenance contraceptive method seems like a good choice, today's teens won't be hearing about it for the first time and they'll have a point of view to consider.
10. When you have a child before you're ready, every struggle in your life becomes amplified.
Even if they had not become parents so young, Amber would have struggled with mental illness, Farrah would have mourned the untimely death of her high school boyfriend, Maci would have eventually grown apart from Ryan, and Catelynn's family life would have been dysfunctional-bordering-on-dangerous. The fact that there were babies involved makes coping--and succeeding--even harder.
So while they didn't set out to be teen pregnancy prevention advocates or the ones who get millions of other teens to consider the consequences of unprotected sex, that's in essence what these young women have done. They let cameras capture some of their most trying and intimate moments, and they've taught a lot of young people why it might just be better to wait.
I'll miss them.