16 and Pregnant: Parents Matter

May 25, 2011

Teens

MTV's 16 and Pregnant (Season 3) - MTV Shows

The children of teen mothers are more likely to be born prematurely at a low birth weight and to suffer from poor development (PDF). Teens are also less likely than older mothers to receive timely and consistent prenatal care. On this week's episode of 16 and Pregnant, Kayla faces unique challenges when her struggle with anorexia makes it difficult to maintain a healthy pregnancy.

As a recovering anorexic, Kayla can't cope with the weight gain of her pregnancy. The average woman gains 25-35 pounds in a healthy pregnancy, an amount that is devastating to a person with an eating disorder. To limit her weight gain, Kayla cuts out meals, a habit that eventually lands her in the hospital at 7 months pregnant. After that, Kayla's boyfriend, Mike, her friends, and her doctors have her on strict watch to make sure she's eating enough for her and the baby. Only Kayla's mom, Deb, seems unconcerned with her determination to stop gaining pregnancy weight. Deb even argues with a nutritionist who advises her to eat meals with Kayla instead of leaving her home alone.

Deb, also a (former) teen mother, is conspicuously absent throughout the episode. Though Kayla says they were formerly close, she feels abandoned by a mother who has no interest in providing comfort or support. It's important for teens, and especially pregnant teens, to have an adult they can trust and depend on. Kayla's feeling of rejection does nothing to help her cope with the psychological traumas of pregnancy and anorexia.

Without a supportive boyfriend and loyal friends, Kayla and baby Preston might have faced serious health consequences. Still, teens need the support and guidance of a trusted adult--if not a parent (or two), then a teacher, family member, or faith leader. Parents and youth leaders are also a vital resource in providing accurate pregnancy prevention information. Teens have said that parents are the #1 influence on their decisions about sex--more than peers or the media (PDF). Turns out parents matter not just for teens who have to face the challenges of early parenting, but also for preventing teen pregnancy in the first place.

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Kate Meroski is an intern for The National Campaign's Entertainment Media and Audience Strategy department. Kate is a senior at George Washington University, studying journalism and sociology. She loves theater and cooking, and she eats mashed potatoes every single day.

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