By Ann Tatko-Peterson
Wednesday, June 25th, 2008 at 6:05 am in Baby Borrowers.
The provocative and somewhat controversial new reality show “Baby Borrowers” hits NBC tonight at 9 p.m. Tongues started wagging — mine included — even before the episodes were released to anyone for viewing. The premise: Take five teenage couples contemplating parenthood and give them a first-hand, albeit fast-tracked, look at raising real babies, toddlers, preteens, teens and even elderly “parents.” The shock value: Real babies! What parents would actually allow their living and breathing children to be part of a televised experiment? Believe me, that idea left me unsettled, too. Feeding, bathing and watching babies 24-7 for three straight days isn’t exactly babysitting.
But in the months since learning about “Baby Borrowers,” I changed my tune in a hurry. Jamie Lynn Spears got pregnant (and had her baby). “Juno” became a major hit, putting teenage pregnancy boldly in front of adults and teens alike. And recently, news hit about a possible pact between teenage girls at a Massachusettes high school that resulted in 17 of them getting pregnant. Maybe it’s time to find a way to smack teens over the head with this very serious issue. What about the well beings of five babies placed at the center of a reality TV show? Well, what about the well beings of all those babies born to teen parents each and every day? Maybe the only way to reach teens is through reality TV, even if the reality is skewed.
And make no mistake, I’m not holding up “Baby Borrowers” as an absolute accurate portrayl of teen parenthood. Teen moms who live the life daily attested to that in a Times article by our TV critic Chuck Barney. “Baby Borrowers” drops these would-be teen parents into spacious, fully furnished houses in suburbia. They have nice cars, jobs that pay them $100 a day, and they have each other. In reality, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, more than half of first out-of-wedlock births are to teens. And 78 percent of these children born to teens live in poverty.
All those particulars aside, however, “Baby Borrowers” provides a glimpse into what teenage parenthood might look like. Having seen the first episode (check back here tomorrow morning for more on that), it’s pretty clear that it’s not all hugs and kisses. Surprisingly, it’s also not all crying babies, dirty diapers and tired teenagers either. The show takes precautions. The babies’ actual parents monitor their children via video monitors from close by and can intervene at any time (and in the first episode, that’s exactly what happens). A licensed nanny also is on hand to intervene in an emergency. Sure, if it were my kid, I’m not positive that would be enough to put my nerves at rest. Then again, at 17, I was babysitting an 18 month old and 4 year old while their parents went away for the weekend — and the closest I came to having a nanny on hand was my mother living five miles away.
Even one of the mothers who allowed her baby and toddler to be part of this experiment understood its worth. (Read more in Chuck’s article, “Woman who loaned children to show has no regrets.”) Natalie Nichols was 17 when she got married and pregnant — on purpose. Her insight and reaction to the teens “raising” her 6-month-old daughter, Etta, speak volumes in the first episode. There are a lot of life lessons to be learned, even in three short days. Sure, “Baby Borrowers” will have its moments of hyped up drama, but at least this is one reality TV show that — as its narrator notes — won’t end with anyone winning prizes or being eliminated. The reward is in the message.