Learned Helplessness and Lassitude: Teen Mom 2
To better learn about the issues facing teen mothers, including their education and parenting, I watch the MTV show "Teen Mom 2". For an hour a week, I put my aging and tired brain on hold, often commenting to myself, "I can't believe I am actually doing this..." And, each time, I am floored anew, to the point of penning this editorial piece, which I emphasize is strictly my own personal opinion. These girls courageously raised their babies - and incomprehensibly somehow didn't get the memo that medicine figured out a few years ago there are ways to avoid an accident happening again. Almost to a person, each one has had yet another baby out of wedlock. And some of them, a third baby out of wedlock. Some if not most of these girls have actually giggled about "hooking up" (what an unfeminine, female-bashing term) and being too lazy and in persistent denial about birth control).
What I have observed in this program, is that to a person, not one of these girls talks about the quality of life, including spiritual, emotional, of their growing babies. What they do talk about instead, and quite disturbingly, is the love and nurturance they hope their baby will bring to them.
Girls, please hear this if you hear nothing else here - it is never a baby or child's responsibility to nurture you or make you feel less lonely or to make you feel loved. It is a parent's job, whether that parent is 17 or 27, to bring love and attachment, security, safety, to that child. Not one of these girls seems to have ingested that message yet. Thank you, MTV, for not once confronting or clarifying this.
Instead of using their largesse, and creating a plan (you need a PLAN. A dream without a plan is nothing but a dream), they have instead seemed to crawl further into a hole, redolent with themes of learned helplessness, lassitude, cognitive dissonance, arrested emotional development, laziness, defeat, a growing sense of entitlement.
The ostensible original intent of MTV, we are assured anyway, was to document the hardships and hard lessons, of being a single, struggling teen parent. Basically, a baby raising a baby. And that's why I started watching it; I had considered some aspects of it for my dissertation and for my work.
What even MTV didn't anticipate, however, was that it broke the cardinal law of journalism (as well as quantitative research as well...) ….. to try not to make an impact on the process or the outcome by the observation and documentation of basically the process or the outcome.
MTV has profoundly done that, instead. It has encouraged these girls to fight with each other by documenting their silly disagreements and jealousies , with less emphasis on any hardwon successes. It also allows some of these girls to be downright abusive to its own on-air producers, in order to add spice to the content for the week. It has also paid these girls exponentially more what they could ever count on earning without a television camera in their homes. These girls seem to a person to believe this is going to be consistent income for years into the future, similar to what Kate Gosselin assumed. Falsely lulled by a sense of "security", some of these girls have purchased expensive and loaded vehicles, large houses, tens of thousands in new furniture, $2,000 purses, and NOT gone to college or tried to find meaningful work that doesn’t even have to remotely involve a college degree, or created any plan for the future, and not merely economically.
They also have rarely, if ever, stated anything on camera about starting college funds, significant savings, any kind of educational programs, for their children or themselves. Only one girl out of a group has graduated college, albeit with no less than 3 children out of wedlock with 3 different fathers.
MTV, when hosting a "reunion"-type program or event, gives these girls special treatment. They are not special. They are notorious. They are too vacuous to even realize they are not very respected, but only curious objects to an oogling public that MTV and its sponsors make a lot of money off of. And what has occurred, is that no one taught these girls to remember the sage quote, "Never believe your own press"....they actually believe they are celebrities, because they are treated like it. Girls across the United States are now having babies (over a simply staggering 40% of children today born in the United States are to an unwed parent) and many of them, when interviewed, have categorically stated they hoped to become a celebrity like the "girls on Teen Mom". No one has taught them a simple lesson in statistics...the probability of that happening is quasi-astronomical at best.
These girls receive the celebrity treatment, which they've come to expect. They storm angrily out of temperamental meetings, they yell threats at each other. They forget or never cared they are setting an example to impressionable young preteen girls (thank you, MTV). They are feted with red carpets, velvet ropes, autograph signings, dressing rooms, 2-hour makeup and hair artists, champagne-infused cross-country flights. For a few days, they are treated like royalty, complete with canned applause on-air. They believe they have changed the world. They go on air for an hour to bicker with each other, or worse, bicker with an overburdened parent who has assumed the legal guardianship as a single parent themselves of one of the girls' children....they complain about all the comments they receive all over social media, when this is the direct result of their so-called "fame": And then, the final coup de grace, they trot out their small children for the audience to goo over, and giggle about how toddler #1 might find a girl/boyfriend in toddler #2.
It has become alarmingly apparent to me that these babies, children, are not regarded by their emotionally immature mothers as differentiated, individuals in their own right, with emotional, spiritual, social, needs of their own. Instead, they are extensions of these girls. They are, in effect, teddy bears, cute toys, of these girls to play with, hide behind, use as human excuses for being the reason these girls cannot or will not create productive, meaningful, lives of depth and purpose and self-respect.
Their children are still usually fatherless. Or if a father is in the home, it is usually sporadic and replete with daily angry coparenting issues that involve repeated court appearances and restraining orders. They have the term "restraining order" on speed dial. These girls have outlived their own fame and celebrity. They are living the Kardashian Principle in living color - be outrageous and vacuous enough, and you just might get seriously paid for being outrageous and vacuous.
Not one girl has, if only rarely, talked on camera about their children's futures. Not one has talked, if only exceptionally rarely, on camera about their future goals that don't involve a new boyfriend or a new car or having yet another baby. Not one has, only rarely, talked about saving money or learning a trade (higher education or not) or earning a degree or having a career. When one half-heartedly does attempt usually community college, it becomes painfully clear they did little advance planning or organization and some have dropped out in tears of frustration in the context of a culture where they only have about a 2% chance of earning a college degree or a 50% chance of a high school diploma. Thanks, MTV, for not once urging education or a culture to step in to encourage young teen moms or to confront school systems that throw millions in funding to athletic programs while closing school daycare centers.
One girl, who has had her 2nd baby, completely disregarding any birth control, still lives at home with her hardworking single mother and her older sister. They are all cramped into an apartment where there are chronic tears and yelling. As I have watched this play out, I am always struck by a question - -
Where are the men?
There are none, unless they are on the periphery, circling like hungry sharks.
This girl, instead of using her MTV earnings to earn a skill and start a productive and respectable life for herself, instead used it for breast augmentations and plastic surgery. That was probably enough to pay much towardsher first year in college. Meanwhile, her infant has a lifethreatening cardiac illness. Guess who's most likely paying for that. Mostly the taxpayer. This girl, when another boyfriend broke up with her, said, "Who's going to take care of me?" It still hasn't occurred to her she could learn to take care of herself (and her 2 children).
Make no mistake - these girls have long since surpassed being naïve, doe-eyed 17 year-old ingenues. Most of them are already developing the telling, flat affect, the defiant glint in the eye of giving up too early, or perhaps being overwhelmed by a life that almost seems over before it really began. They are all in their mid-twenties, when countless young women of this or younger age have by now already graduated college, and/or have begun respectable careers, pay their bills, have savings, are independent and autonomous, know how to delay gratification for hard work and responsibility first, understand that life requires a certain amount of paying dues, and have created solid plans for the future, take responsibility for their sex lives and for contraception and are not still lying on mom’s apartment sofa with two crying toddlers, unemployed, no education, and no income other than what a TV producer throws at them for permission to make a painfully-public laughingstock out of them. It's almost a form of social prostitution.
It is, quite frankly, shameful and embarrassing. This is a microcosmic reflection of a larger culture that rewards this level of lassitude, apathy. This is what the Sexual Revolution created?
Almost every one of the girls always finds the money and resources for tattoos, expensive haircuts, expensive cars, state-of-the-art phones, vacations, a pair of shoes that probably costs more than a semester of my textbooks. Their girlfriends? Also single mothers of babies. Some of them have effectively destroyed their parents' lives.
One girl at least has a head for profitable business. She parlayed her earnings into creating her own pornography business that she incongruently refuses to call “pornography” while meanwhile, her little girl is a four-alarm eating disorder waiting to happen and she herself is a walking DSM-V personality disorder cluster. When she can manage to keep out of the headlines, she histrionically threatens MTV when, in a rare moment of integrity, it gave her the choice to either stop the porn business while being on a program marketed to the teen and young adult demographic, or leave the show. She interpreted this, in her unfathomably narcissistic brain, as being "fired", her right to pursue free enterprise supposedly squelched by MTV, and promptly sued MTV. MTV, and her sick, sick family, created a veritable monster.
It is the children who will suffer. Long after this controversial program has ended, and it will sooner or later, where will these girls - and importantly, their children - be then? The "TV money" will be gone then. And they will be royally stuck with massive mortgage payments they won't be able to afford a third of. Who will get the brunt? Their families. And systemically, the taxpayer. Society gets it. Not one has comprehended, and certainly MTV isn’t exactly motivated or interested, in the statistically-documented fact that every one of these innocent children are at pronounced risk for everything from lifelong attachment issues, learning deficits, crime, their own teen pregnancy issue, domestic violence, depression, poverty, lack of education, ad nauseum.
Hardly one of these girls is today systemically better off emotionally, economically, socially, relationally, professionally, academically, than they were as young teen girls a few years ago. That's the real tragedy. This could have served as a pivotal step to educating today’s confused youth. Or, for these girls, paying for an education which is one of the single-most important factors to changing not one life but an entire generation of lives (yes, really), to create secure futures for their children. And what has it become? A show about angry, disappointed, lonely, dejected and chronically rejected, sometimes addicted and emotionally-unhealthy girls who chronically get left by equally unfocused and character-devoid boyfriends, and about parents who are emotionally exhausted from having to assume the care of a grandchild they never expected and years before they had the right to expect could happen.
It is an absolute entirely-avoidable tragedy. MTV is a tragedy. It has "taught” nothing and instead rewarded lassitude, casual and unprotected sex and a hookup culture. If you think this doesn't have devastating effects, keep your eye on these children as they grow up. In about 10-15 years, this is what gives we family therapists job security. These children, sadly, are open to all forms of trauma and devastation. That alone, is enough to shame MTV for.
MTV has yet to issue any disclaimer that I am aware of disavowing itself, as if it could, from any negative, learned-helplessness message this program sends to girls.