Ending Addiction for Good

A Call for Greater Social Responsibility From MTV

Shows that exploit women and endanger children must end on MTV.

The most important title in my life is not CEO of the Cliffside Malibu treatment center or even husband – but “Dad.” My little daughter is the light of my world. Yes, my work helping addicts recover is meaningful and important. Yes, I love my wife and appreciate the ways in which she helps me to be a better man in every way. But when I look at my daughter, watch her play in her pink tutu and princess crown, I know that my most important role is guiding and protecting her while at the same time helping to make the world a better place for her to live in now and after I am gone.

This is why I am dismayed with MTV. I grew up with MTV, which back at its inception was a music television station, shaping my generation with images of Madonna and Michael Jackson dancing across the screen. Now, MTV’s programming is largely “reality” based, broadcasting salacious stories of down and out teens on shows like Teen Mom.

Teen Mom, in its fourth season, follows the lives of young women who give birth as teens and the challenges they face raising their families. Less a warning to young people about the missteps one might make in life or the true hardships of raising a family without the financial and educational means and maturity to do so, Teen Mom provides the viewing audience an inside look at the slow-motion train wrecks of select young women’s lives, provides lifelong documentation of the mistakes these women make by putting the footage online, and does it all while the innocent children watch.

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Recently, Radar Online reported that one of these teen mothers, Jenelle Evans, was using heroin while pregnant, and later miscarried. Horrified that this was the subject of an MTV show, I watched several episodes online. I listened to an interview Dr. Drew Pinsky conducted with teen mother Amber, from the prison in which she currently is serving a five year term. I watched screaming matches between teen mothers and estranged teen fathers with no attention being given at all to children who sat by, watching in tears. I read also that MTV is considering canceling the show because the teen mothers, like Jenelle, are too much of a liability. E! Online reported that someone close to the show said, “The way [Jenelle’s] going, she could literally die and MTV will be blamed for it.”

I am appalled! I understand the difficulties these young women face, from the too early beginnings of families they are ill-equipped to raise to the lack of support they receive from those around them. As an addiction treatment professional, I am outraged that MTV does nothing to assist these women, but instead exploits their hardships for the television audience they serve and further ingrains their trauma and hardships by making their woes public. With whom does MTV make its production contracts? Underage or barely of age girls or their parents? Are these individuals made aware that every aspect of their lives will be filmed and placed in the permanent record that is the internet, where it will forever follow them? What of the children who watch helplessly as their parents scream and fight with one another, playing up for the camera? How can they be anything other than traumatized by their experience, forever damaged by what they are forced to endure for “entertainment” purposes?

If MTV is going to exploit and exacerbate these people’s situation by putting it online and on television, they have the responsibility to help those in their “casts” to improve their lives.  The presence of the video cameras makes MTV one more aspect of the problems these individuals, particularly the children, face. They have an obligation to fix anything they worsen by their presence. These are real people’s real lives. MTV needs to be part of the solution that improves their situations and should be held accountable for harm that comes to them caused by the show’s filming.

When parents scream and fight in front of their children, it is traumatic for the child. It changes the child at his core.  These are not actors; they are people who are engaged in life-dramas and fighting in a Jerry Springer type atmosphere. They do not have the tools to understand that their children are being traumatized by this process. But for the fact that these people are on TV, there would be much less trauma to these children. The children wouldn’t be pawns in this circus of un-asked-for attention. MTV is harming infants and toddlers by filming this show.

Anyone who works with children has an obligation to protect their safety. Shows like Teen Mom do the opposite. MTV knows this. They have an obligation to provide counseling and support to the children and work to create a life for them that is healthy.  The trauma these children endure is much deeper than it appears on the surface. MTV knows or should know that this show contributes to the harm of the parents and children. Certainly with professionals like Dr. Drew Pinsky involved with the show, MTV has the professional insight available to know that harm is being done. 

As the CEO of a leading addiction treatment center, a man who respects his wife, mother, and daughter, and a father whose heart aches for the trials that face all our children, I call on you to act with me. Ideally, no one would watch these shows, ending the flow of money to them. Short of that, we must demand that MTV provide suitable assistive resources for the women and children it films on its shows. Desperate women, many of them drug addicts, deserve more than to become our real-life soap operas. They deserve treatment, respect, and the dignity that human life demands.

Richard Taite is CEO and founder of the Cliffside Malibu Treatment Center in Malibu, California and co-author of the book Ending Addiction for Good.

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