Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Episode Follows Teen Couple Through Infidelity, Violence

This week's “16 & Pregnant” cranked the drama-dial back up  with Florida senior Markai and her boyfriend James. When not dealing with financial struggle, infidelity and relationship violence, the intense episode was punctuated with warmth, humor and a little insight into odd-pregnancy behaviors. Markai eats soap and carries around a Pringles can to spit into because she says pregnancy has caused her to create too much saliva, but those things are revealed in passing.

Her mom Sarina isn’t happy that James doesn’t have a job, car or many prospects. Even though Markai is pregnant, her mom doesn’t want James to spend the night. When her mom asks the couple why they didn’t use condoms since she really emphasized how to use them and how to insist on them, James explains that condoms just got in the way. Wait… Isn’t that the point of using a barrier method? It is easy to see where her mom’s frustration comes from.

After reading a baby shower card from a friend talking about the possible jobs her unborn daughter might one day do, Markai talks to her mom. Her mom says, “All I could think was, I had those same dreams. And I just hope your daughter is not pregnant at 16.” Ouch. Through it all, even though she gives a lot of tough love, Sarina is supportive. She lets James move in after baby Za’Karia is born because she says it isn’t fair for Markai to be the only one who is exhausted from taking care of the baby.

On her first day back to high school, Markai leaves in tears after finding out that James had unprotected sex with his ex-girlfriend at the beginning of their relationship. I doubt MTV will be developing a show called “16 & I got a sexually transmitted infection because I trusted my boyfriend and didn’t want a condom to come in between us,” but I think this is a wake up call moment for Markai (and hopefully viewers!) to what else could have happened. Blindly trusting your high school boyfriend or girlfriend isn’t an effective way to protect yourself against STIs or pregnancy.

After finding out about the cheating, Markai gets into a fight with James. She stops the car and gets out, but when James gets out to talk to her, she punches him. He is able to restrain her and she quickly dissolves into tears in his arms. Though the scene was probably less than 30 seconds long, it is enough to spark more conversation about teens relationship violence.

As they did with the Amber/Gary violence on “Teen Mom,” MTV added relationship violence PSAs for during commercial breaks. James later jokes about the incident, saying he must really love her to put up with her after she hit him. The couple laughs about it on the show, but it is hard to imagine the same dialogue happening if the violence were reversed and James was the one throwing punches.

On the after show, Markai seems somber about that incident and says she doesn’t use hitting to deal with her arguments with James anymore. She says she can already see how Za’Karia reacts when her parents are fighting and that is enough motivation to find other outlets for frustration. Despite the hardships, she says she and James are both working, focusing on education and living in their own apartment now.

By Elizabeth Benfield, graduate assistant at the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, MPH student at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health
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