Teen Mom may be one of television’s most misunderstood shows. Yes, the MTV reality show — which follows young couples raising the kids they had while they were still kids — has produced its fair share of tabloid headlines, from arrests and jail time to breakups and even a "sex tape" scandal. But the series has also been a force for good in the world, helping to reduce teen pregnancy rates a record 5.7 percent since debuting in 2009. And it’s precisely because producers have crafted Teen Mom as an engrossing soap opera that its message — Hey kids! Having a baby when you’re 16 is really, really hard! — continues to get through to MTV’s young audience. The latest season, Teen Mom OG, follows the four original moms — Maci Bookout, Catelynn Lowell, Amber Portwood, and Farrah Abraham — as they build new relationships (Maci), cope with life after prison (Amber), welcome new additions to their family (Catelynn), and launch a line of sex toys (Farrah). Yahoo TV met up with the women at MTV’s headquarters in New York to get our burning Teen Mom questions answered.
When I was pregnant I didn’t even want my picture taken. When you were 16 and found out you were pregnant, what was appealing about the idea of having cameras follow you around for an MTV reality show?
Amber: Nothing. I didn’t think [the show] was real at first. It was just a quick way, being young, for me to get money and to get a house… I never really believed it was going to get picked up. Me and Maci were actually the first ones to do the pilot. It didn’t even have a name yet.
Maci: We were just kind of the guinea pigs.
How much were you paid?
Amber: We only got, like, five thousand dollars but to us that was a lot at that time.
Maci: That paid for a lot of diapers… At first, I did not want to sign up. I’m like, I’ve got everyone at home judging me already — why would I want the whole world judging me? But I remember having a conversation with my mom. She was like, ‘Let’s just talk to the producers and see what way they want the show to go. Do they want it to be like crazy, trashy drama? Do they want it to be educational?” After talking with the producers extensively, I thought if I had been 16 and been able to watch myself on TV, I might not have ended up as a teen parent.
Catelynn: For us, at first Tyler started filling out the paperwork, and I’m like there’s no way — especially with us knowing that we were choosing adoption. Eventually, Tyler did open my eyes that we could impact a lot of people. A lot of people thought that adoption still was, you drop the baby off and you never see them ever again. The reason why we did it is to educate people about what [adoption] looks like today. It’s not how it was in the ’50s and ’60s.
Farrah: Even though we were going through a lot of hardships, you have to look beyond that so that you can help others. I think that’s what we were all about.
What effect has the show had on relationships with your friends?
Farrah: I definitely have [said] that my parents are more around when the cameras are there. They like to contribute their thoughts about me parenting. I feel that’s what creates a lot of arguing during filming.
Catelynn: My friends are really weirded out by it. They don’t like to be filmed, they don’t like it at all because we come from such a small town and we’re just not used to that stuff.
Maci: I still have the same group of friends that I’ve had since elementary school. My family is very supportive. Also, I could meet somebody and within five seconds I can know if they’re talking to me because I’m Maci from Teen Mom or because I’m just Maci. It’s very easy to tell the difference.
Maci, in the premiere you talk about how your son Bentley is acting up because it’s the first day of filming. For all of you, how has growing up on camera affected your kids?
Amber: We have very different stories when it comes to that. Boo-Boo [Leah] loves the cameras. She performs. She dances, she likes to watch the monitor. She’s always asking if we’re leaving, “Are the cameras following? Are they coming with?” She’s just used to it. She’s such a little diva.
Maci: Some people love the camera and some people don’t. Bentley is like, “You’re kind of just in my way.” He loves the crew, but if we’re at home filming a scene in the living room or kitchen you can’t have any music on or the TV on. So if I’m trying to have a conversation, I’m like Bentley, “Just play your Xbox while we do this scene,” but he can’t. He’s like, “We can’t listen to music in the car, can’t play my Xbox. When are they going to leave?”
Farrah: I feel that having cameras and other people being around has helped Sophia be more outgoing. I’m very happy that Sophia is not going to be the child growing up who’s scared of cameras, scared of TV. She’s also OK with some camera operators and not OK with others. So, she voices that a lot, but she’s very good with filming, very good with wearing the audio pack.
Maci, you’re expecting another baby, and Catelynn you and Tyler have a newborn now. Having gone through this once before, what will you do differently in terms of having your kids on camera?
Maci: I’m not really sure how I feel about having her on camera as much as Bentley was. Part of me is like, “That’s Bentley’s thing.” I hate to say that, but Bentley is the star. With Bentley’s parents being separated, and now he’s having a sister with a different dad, I kind of feel like the show is his thing. I don’t want to take that away from him too. But at the same time, it might be a good learning experience for him to realize it’s not all about him anymore.
Catelynn: I think when she’s older, some things are going to be more restricted. That’s something we were really nervous about coming back — we want her to feel like she’s her own person. I don’t want her going to school and having people be like, “I know you and I know your mom.”
Catelynn, in the premiere, we see you and Tyler learning that the news about your pregnancy has leaked online, and you’re both upset. But on the other hand, you’re on a reality show — you signed up for this.
Catelynn: I mean, of course things are going to leak, but it’s just upsetting when it’s somebody obviously who is close to you, and you have to figure out who that person is… You just have to figure out who’s doing it and either cut them out of your life because you can’t trust them, or figure out the reasons why it happened.
Has there ever been a time when you regretted doing the show?
Amber: Oh, yeah. My Teen Mom years when I was high.
Farrah: It’s just always watching the footage of Sophia’s dad, and our last conversations. I really wish I could have been a stronger woman at that time, because I could have helped that relationship be better.
Catelynn: I don’t think I’ve ever regretted anything.
Maci: I mean to be completely honest, when they announced that Farrah was going to be back on the show. [Editor’s note: Abraham was originally not slated to return for Teen Mom OG but signed on after filming had already begun.] I don’t have any hard feelings towards Farrah. I care a lot about her. It’s just what she does. You know, I just don’t find it very appropriate for a six-year-old to be on a show where there’s talk about sex toys and porn and strip clubs. That’s not appropriate. I’ve said it 100 times today. My very best friend could be a stripper or a porn star because I don’t judge based on that, as long as she treats me fine. I’m not going to judge her on what she does as a career but that also doesn’t mean that I’m going to involve my six-year-old son in what she does. I was definitely regretting being involved at that point.
If you hadn’t done the show, what would be different about your lives now?
Maci: Everything. I definitely don’t think I would have ever met Taylor.
Amber: I probably would still be with Gary.
Maci: I’d probably still be with Ryan.
Amber: When you actually get to watch how you are with somebody on TV, you actually see, “That looks terrible.” That’s an advantage to us, in a way.
Maci: It is an advantage. Sometimes when you’re living in a situation, especially a bad experience, you can make things up in your head to make it seem better or you can make excuses for yourself or for the other person. Or you’re so emotionally closed off that you don’t really see what’s going on in your relationship. When you can go back and actually watch it from the outside, it’s like so much clearer. So I think really my life would be 100 percent different. I definitely would not have anything going on that I do right now.
Catelynn: No matter what, I feel like I probably would have been a huge advocate for adoption even more than I am now and just staying in my hometown, which I still am, and having kids and being just a normal person. You know, I have to say that I’m very thankful for this opportunity because it’s gotten me a deal with Bethany Christian Services where I go around the country and I speak to people and educate them about abstinence and safe sex and adoption. I’m definitely grateful for the experience that I’ve had.
Amber: I’m thankful to be able to show everybody how you can go from an extreme to another. From being completely down and depressed and at your bottom to feeling like you’re almost on top of the world. I’m thankful to be able to get my name back in good terms and to get my life back in good terms with Boo-Boo and my family.
Farrah: Farrah now is way different from the Farrah then. If I was that same person, it was just finish college, open up my restaurant, live my happy life, get married to Derek and have my daughter. We’d probably have other kids, we’d stay there in Nebraska and that’s my life. I am very happy that I pushed myself to be more than that individual who I was growing up to be. I only wish others who watch us push ourselves to be more than staying in their hometown and having kids. That’s lovely, but there’s much more to life than that.
Teen Mom OG premieres Monday, March 23 at 10 p.m. on MTV.