NBC Drops the Ball on Teen Sex

NBC had a great opportunity on Wednesday night to start a meaningful discussion of teen pregnancy, but squandered it.

Today co-host Hoda Kotb and psychiatrist Dr. Drew Pinsky hosted a townhall special called The Baby Borrowers: Lessons Learned, about the controversial summer reality series, The Baby Borrowers.  NBC gave five teenaged couples who thought they were ready for parenthood a crash course in parental responsibilities.  These couples cared for people in all stages of life, from infants to senior citizens, over the course of three weeks.  NBC tagged the series as “not TV, it's birth control.”

This followup special allowed viewers to hear what the teens learned from their experiences about parenting, and provided a segment about the causes of the rising teen birth rate.   The special also included a discussion with teen moms and pregnant teens from Gloucester, Massachusetts, the town that made news earlier this summer over a now-disputed pregnancy pact among high school girls. 

NBC first dropped the ball in a discussion of abstinence.  One of the biggest criticisms of the The Baby Borrowers was that it sent a mixed message.  On one hand, it claimed to show teens how difficult parenting is, but on the other hand it essentially condoned premarital sex by allowing the unsupervised teen couples to share beds during the series. 

Kotb confirmed that none of the teen couples minded being shown sleeping together on national television, before asking abstinence educator Mark Tatum what “the big deal” was.  She then failed to allow the one couple, Sasha and Jordan, who insisted they were abstinent, to explain how they came to the decision to refrain from sex.  The general take-away was that abstinence is not feasible for teenagers. 

HODA KOTB, host: And welcome back, everybody. I'm Hoda Kotb here with Dr. Drew Pinsky. We are talking with the baby borrowers who borrowed babies for a trial-run of parenthood. They were playing house and not just in the nursery. All right, seeing the couples in bed shocked a lot of people and the viewers have been talking about it on the Baby Borrower's blog at NBC.com. One viewer asked the show to stop showing the couple sleeping together saying quote, "it's just wrong in so many ways." Guys, let me – let me just open it up to you. Alicea and Cory, I mean, what did you think about this part of your life being shown on television?

ALICEA: I didn't think anything about it. I didn't think it was a big deal.

KOTB: You didn't think it was a big deal?


CORY: We're 18 years old.

KOTB: Sasha and Jordan, did you guys think it was a big deal to be shown in that way?

SASHA: Not really.

KOTB: Really? Raise your hand. Did anyone think it was a big deal to be shown in bed together? No? Richard, let me ask you, because some say this is sending a mixed message. I mean on one side you're saying maybe this show will sort of help prevent teen pregnancy and on the other side, you've got kids, 18-year-olds in bed together.

RICHARD MCKERRON, Creator and Executive Producer of The Baby Borrowers: Well I don't think it's realistic to legislate people over 18, that they can't have sex. What the show promotes is that you should have healthy responsible sex. So--

KOTB: Some people don't think you should be having sex. We have an abstinence advocate in the audience. Where's Mark Tatum? Hello, Mark. What do you think about this being shown on television? Big deal or not?

MARK TATUM, abstinence educator: I think it is a big deal because in society today, we're getting a lot of pressure to hook up and to be in relationships and even to go to bed. I mean, we hear it in songs. We can find it on the Internet. Aside from also the internal pressure that we face.

KOTB: Mark, let's ask these guys, when you hear people say be abstinent, guys like Mark and people from those groups, do you guys listen? Cory and Alicea, is that something realistic?

CORY: I mean, yeah.

ALICEA: Yeah, for some cases. For some people.

CORY: It would help some people.

KOTB: Sasha and Jordan back in the back.

SASHA: Well, like on the show, we actually said that we were abstinent, like we were celibate. You know we didn't sleep in the same beds.

KOTB: Oh, you didn't.  

SASHA: No, we slept in separate rooms.

In her discussion with Amanda Ireland, a Gloucester, Massachusetts 18-year-old who became pregnant at the age of 13, Kotb pointed out Ireland's “adorable” 5-year-old and that Ireland earned her diploma, but failed to ask specific questions about how difficult being a teen mother truly is. 

KOTB: Amanda how old are you now?


KOTB: You're 18 years old. Who's raising this baby? Are you raising your baby?

AMANDA: I'm raising her.

PINSKY: There's one other thing. It's got to be in the viewer's mind, Amanda, at 13, what were you thinking? Were you just not thinking? Did someone coerce you? How did pregnancy become an option for you at 13?

AMANDA: Getting pregnant or just when it happened?

PINSKY: The whole process of that happening, yes.

AMANDA: The whole process.

PINSKY: You weren't thinking? Did you plan, did you understand that pregnancy was a possibility?

AMANDA: I definitely did not plan it. Yes, I understood that it could happen. I mean, that's how babies are made.

PINSKY: 13, I'm not sure all 13-year-olds really -- .

AMANDA: I was very young. And I still don't think it's right that I had a child at such a young age because I gave up so much of my teenage life.

KOTB: And we should point out that you're doing very well with your little daughter Hailey. Hailey's in the audience. Where is she? Hi, Hailey. Can you wave to us? Okay, I got to say Hailey is adorable. And and- 

AMANDA: Thank you.

KOTB: -raising her has been more difficult or less difficult than you anticipated?

AMANDA: No one knows what it's going to be like even when they're pregnant no matter what age what it's going to be like raising a child.

PINSKY: What is it like from a teen perspective?

AMANDA: Well, from a teen perspective? I had to be a full-time mom, a full-time student and a full-time daughter.

PINSKY: Painful, overwhelming?

AMANDA: All of the above.

KOTB: All of the above. Amanda, why don't you give teens at home advice? They're watching this and some may be sexually active and wondering. What is the advice that you have for them?

AMANDA: Well, if you are not sexually active, then I would stay abstinent and if you are not, you have to use proper birth control because that's very important. If you become pregnant, the best thing is to stay in school. I knew that I was going to stay in school because in order to make a better life for my daughter, I was going to get my diploma. That's very important.

KOTB: You got it.

AMANDA: Yes, I did.