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Talking to Kids About Teen Pregnancy
Jamie Lynn Spears, the 17-year-old star of Nickelodeon's tween hit Zoey 101 -- and younger sister of tabloid queen Britney -- recently gave birth to her first child. When asked what kind of message her predicament sends to other teens about premarital sex, Jamie Lynn answered, "I definitely don't think it's something you should do; it's better to wait." But in Hollywood, babies have seemingly replaced dogs as the hot new accessory.
And it's not just young, baby-boasting stars -- from Jessica Alba to Nicole Richie -- that kids are seeing everywhere. Teen pregnancy is becoming a bona fide movie and TV trend, from last year's fan favorite Juno to two new summer series. The Secret Life of the American Teenager (ABC Family, July 1) is a drama that centers on the life of a young high schooler who gets pregnant after her first sexual experience. And NBC's latest reality show, The Baby Borrowers (June 25), attempts to show teens what it's really like to be a parent. Over the course of the series, teen couples care for dependents of all ages, from infants and toddlers to teens and senior citizens. So does all of this reflect what's really going on in society -- or are TV shows, movies, and celebs spoon-feeding teens the idea that babies are simply the coolest new trend this season?
Because media is everywhere and unavoidable, kids often get introduced to situations that are too mature for their ages. But don't run away from having a discussion, because the alternative is to let your kids try to muddle through figuring these things out themselves. If your kids are interested in The Baby Borrowers or The Secret Life of the American Teenager, watch with them. Use what's going on in their media world as a teachable moment. As uncomfortable as it may feel, it's still better for you, the parent, to manage the impact of media messages.
1) Ask your kids what they know about where babies come from. If they're clueless, consider their age and maturity level before having further discussions. But chances are that kids who will asking questions are old enough to have a passing acquaintance with the facts of life. Ask what they know, and confirm that it's factually accurate. You'd be amazed at some of the theories that aren't right.
2) Talk about your family's values. Some families don't agree with premarital sex, while others feel differently. But most will agree that 17 is too young to be a parent.
<3)><3)>Emphasize that TV or movie actors and the roles that they play are separate people. Point out that all celebrities have armies of helpers organizing their lives and carefully crafting their public images. This information helps create critical thinking about all media, and it's really important for kids to understand what goes on behind the scenes. TV shows—even when packaged as reality TV – isn't real life.
4) Remember that media is a super-peer and normalizes behavior, making all sorts of actions acceptable. Some studies have shown that the more kids are immersed in sexual content, the earlier they're likely to have sex. Check the content of games, movies, music, and TV shows before letting your kids engage. Pick age-appropriate material, and make sure your kids know your thoughts.
5) For older kids, point out that most sex shown in movies and on TV is consequence free. In real life, they need to understand that unprotected sex can lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Point out that all the sex we see on the screen is fantasy and that real sex must be safe.