MTV may not go down in history as the network that best encouraged young viewers to make wise choices and live responsibly. But two of its most popular shows, 16 and Pregnant and its Teen Mom spinoffs (TM2 premieres tonight), just might be promoting—ironically and unintentionally—a few moral lessons after all.

You're not likely to hear MTV preaching abstinence any time soon; "safe sex" and/or "responsible sex" are more likely the network's unwritten mantras. But by letting the cameras capture the gritty and difficult consequences of teen pregnancy and motherhood, these popular reality TV shows are certainly delivering a message. But is it a good one? Depends who you ask.

Bristol Palin—a teen mom herself and a fellow reality show star—insists that Teen Mom doesn't "glamorize teen pregnancy" but illustrates "how difficult it really is." The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation praise the show. But other critics, including the Parents Television Council, say Teen Mom normalizes, or even romanticizes, teen pregnancy and parenthood.

While the pundits dispute its merits, the world watches. Teen Mom attracted close to three million viewers every week and six million for the season finale. Teen Mom 2, with an all-new cast (featuring the girls from Season Two of 16 and Pregnant), expects similarly high ratings. The shows' producers don't have to look very hard for subjects: According to the Centers for Disease Control, 435,000 infants were born to teenaged mothers in the U.S. in 2008.

Tabloid fodder, poignant scenes

Before the two seasons of Teen Mom (watchepisodes), Amber Portwood, Catelynn Lowell, Farrah Abraham, and Maci Bookout composed the cast of 16 and Pregnant. ...

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