Study authors Nicole Martins, an assistant professor of telecommunications at Indiana University Bloomington, and Robin Jensen, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Utah, said frequent viewers of the programs were more likely to believe teen moms have affordable access to healthcare, finished college and lived on their own, when in reality most unmarried teen mothers are on welfare.
Martins and Jensen said the study involved 185 high school students -- male and female teens ages 14 to 18, 80 percent white, from families with a median annual household of $52,000 a year.
The teens said they could not survey the teens about sexual behavior, but they were able to ask about their perceptions of reality TV and teen pregnancy, the researchers said.
"The fact that teens in the study seemed to think that being a teen parent was easy might increase the likelihood that they'll engage in unsafe sexual practices, because that's not a real consequence to them," Martins said in a statement.
"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," Martins and Jensen wrote.
"Our data call into question the content of teen mom reality programming. Heavy viewing of teen mom reality programming positively predicted unrealistic perceptions of what it is like to be a teen mother."
There are some individuals who believe reality TV is like real life. For them, they were the most likely ones to hold unrealistic perception about teen parenthood, the researchers said.
"As you study reality television with younger populations, you're going to find that younger children are going to have a harder time understanding that this is something that is scripted, edited and put together in a purposeful way to create a narrative and a drama," Martins said.
Industry estimates suggest the primary stars of "Teen Mom" received more than $60,000, as well as other commercial considerations, while nearly half of all teen mothers fail to earn a high school diploma and earn an average of $6,500 annually during their first 15 years of parenthood.
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