But We're Not Like the People on TV: A Qualitative Examination of How Media Messages are Perceived by Pregnant and Parenting Youth

Matern Child Health J. 2016 Mar;20(3):684-92. doi: 10.1007/s10995-015-1868-x.


Objectives: The media has long been established as influential in the formation of youth attitudes. It remains unknown, however, whether popular media depictions of teenage pregnancy and motherhood shape the meanings pregnant and parenting youth (PPY) construct. This study explored PPY's perceptions of media messages portraying PPY.

Methods: Five focus groups were conducted at three urban centres that service pregnant youth and young parents. Convenience sample of 26 participants was recruited across sites. Focus groups were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and analyzed thematically.

Results: Participants were a mean age of 18.7 years. Participants felt that the storylines in television reality programs featuring PPY were highly incongruent with their lived experiences and that these representations glamorized teenage pregnancy while failing to capture other realities, such as financial hardship. Further, it was felt that such representations informed public opinion and created a double standard for teen parents. Participants felt that healthcare providers were not immune to media messaging; some participants reported withdrawing socially and others delayed accessing health services because of what they perceived as negative media-fuelled public views.

Conclusion: This study highlights the need for heightened awareness of the influence of popular media on the portrayal of PPY. Acknowledging and challenging stereotypes of teen pregnancy, as well as initiating dialogue with youth about the impact media has on their lives should be encouraged as a means of facilitating ongoing engagement with health care services.

Keywords: Adolescent parenting; Adolescent pregnancy; Media.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Media*
  • Parenting*
  • Parents
  • Perception
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Adolescence*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Urban Population