Wednesday, July 2, 2008

OMG Yay! Teen Pregnancy!

Ever since Juno launched forth a fascination with the glamorous, sexy world of teen pregnancy, we've seen a number of knock-offs (knock-ups?) in both pop culture and, sadly, real life (see: Massachusetts pregnancy pact involving 17 teen girls).

The latest is ABC Family's "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" - an hour-long dramedy starring quick-tongued high school teens navigating their way through real-life adolescent situations. While this one, unlike Juno, doesn't trivialize the issue of teen pregnancy, I realized that it does have its own agenda.  The show is so overt with its values judgments that I first thought it must be tongue-in-cheek. Ooh, is this a TV version of the movie "Saved?" I thought. Nope.  I wish it was a parody.  But I'm afraid it's another abstinence-only policy disguised as a realistic teen experience.   

In the first episode, I encountered a hot Christian girl who convinces her jock boyfriend they have to save "what's meant for marriage for marriage," the same girl explaining the virtues of a Promise Ring with her perfect blonde parents, and intentionally misreported sexual activity statistics (the show cites that 20% of teens have had sex - while the CDC reports 47.8% of teens were sexually active in 2007). And possibly the worst of all, when the pregnant girl shares the bad news with her friends, one of them suggests seeing a doctor about "options" but is shut down at even the hint that the tragic heroine might consider an abortion. I'm not saying this is the right choice for her, but can we at least explore that scenario, considering it is a realistic choice for many teens?

Now, you might be thinking, geez Jessie, you just want TV to reflect your liberal blogger agenda. People can make do TV about different opinions n' stuff! Well, you're right. But if a program is purposely informing children's experiences with a very rigid and specifically religious dogma, with dangerous health consequences, doesn't this become a bipartisan public concern?

I think we can all agree that the goal is to not let teens get pregnant in the first place. If they don't get pregnant, we don't even have to talk about abortions. But it's how we do this that's important.

Abstinence-only education has been the primary sex education strategy pursued in the U.S. since 2001. Since then, rates of sexual activity have gone up, condom use has gone down, and teen pregnancy rates are up (check out the stats). So, you tell me if this approach is working.

I know I've discoursed on the ills of abstinence-only education before. But it really does scare me when it's veiled this way in entertainment, because the most dangerous forms of propaganda are the ones we don't consider propaganda. These are offering the most significant imprints onto our consciousness.

We need more programming that educates girls without judgment so they have all the tools they need to make important decisions, and then empowers them to feel confident about their decision-making abilities. And though I too admit I have enjoyed teen pregnancy as a plot device (cough - Gilmore Girls), and though I'm sure many unplanned pregnancies do yield happy families, we of the media have a responsibility to equip girls with the tools they need if they don't want to get pregnant. And if they do think they want a baby, as with the girls of the pregnancy pact (many of whom said they just wanted someone to love them unconditionally), maybe we need to be focusing on the difficulties of raising a child as a young mother contrasted with the "excitement" of the idea of being pregnant.

If you want a real teen experience, check out this awesome blog entry about a pregnancy scare. This girl is going to be a great blogger someday - she already writes with such an interesting adult voice.

On a happier note, Molly Ringwald is in this new show - and she's by far the best thing about it. Welcome back, girlfriend!


dadshouse said...

Nice post. I turned a blind eye to abstinence and had "the talk" with my daughter when she headed into 6th grade, mainly because local boys were persuading girls to be Monica Lewinsky-like in the school bathrooms. Here's what I said to my daughter:
She's 16 now, and not pregnant yet...

Jessie said...

Thanks, Dadshouse! Your blog is equal parts entertaining and educational. A new one for my Favorites bar.

Readers, a sidenote - you may have noticed an earlier post of mine with a link to my video "Maybe It's Time for a Baby." If you're not familiar with my comedy, please note that it is a satire. I am not actually encouraging people with drug problems or serious financial debt to use pregnancy as a solution.

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