A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the soapy teen drama The Secret Life of the American Teenager (aka Secret Life), which is produced by the creator of 7th Heaven, centers on the consequences of a teenage girl's unexpected pregnancy. It addresses the various ways that teens think about and cope with sex (including abstinence and promiscuity), pregnancy, and parenthood, all from a relatively upper-middle-class point of view. Marriage, divorce, and homosexuality are themes in later seasons. The stories can be controversial, but the heartfelt way the topics are introduced provides a solid foundation for discussing them with teens and even older tweens. Expect some mild language (words such as "laid") and specific references to virginity, Christianity, and the Bible.
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What's the story?
THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER explores the choices that today's teens are making about sex and touches on some of the very real consequences of their decisions. The series centers on teenage Amy (Shailene Woodley), who gets pregnant after losing her virginity at summer band camp to Ricky (Daren Kagasoff), a promiscuous teen with a troubled past. As Amy struggles to cope with her situation, she embarks on a relationship with good-guy Ben (Kenny Bauman). Meanwhile, other characters -- such as good-girl cheerleader Grace (Megan Park) and worldly Adrian (Francis Raisa) -- face various challenges connected to their own sex-related views and behavior. Ultimately, Amy's pregnancy affects everyone in ways they never saw coming.
Is it any good?
Secret Life introduces various points of view about teenage sexual behavior and its consequences by showing how different (albeit still fairly stereotypical) teens develop their own thoughts and feelings about sex, relationships, and growing up. It also looks at how the choices they make affect not only them but everyone around them. The fact that this family drama introduces its various (and often controversial) story lines from an upper-middle-class perspective means that viewers don't get much of the real-world grittiness you might expect when dealing with these issues. Although that's not exactly realistic, it does mean that the show's themes are presented in a relatively wholesome, heartfelt context that's both entertaining and non-threatening.
That said, despite good performances by notable actors Molly Ringwald and John Schneider, the show's dialogue often seems over-manufactured. There also are frequently moments that feel didactic, especially when parents and mentors offer contrived thoughts and advice about teens and premarital sex. But Secret Life does a good job of highlighting the pressure that many of today's teens experience while living in a society that seems to glorify sexual behavior. It also provides a foundation that parents can use to start and/or continue conversations with teens about sex, pregnancy, and parenthood. Although the subject matter isn't age-appropriate for young kids, parents may want to watch with older tweens who are preparing to enter junior or senior high school and talk to them about some of these issues.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the pressures teens face when it comes to having sex. Is it easy to "just say no"?
Aside from pregnancy, what are some of the other consequences that teens face when they choose to engage in sexual activity? What are some of the consequences they face when they choose not to?
What messages does the media send about sex and sexual behavior? How do TV shows and movies tend to portray pregnant and/or sexually active teens? Are these portrayals realistic?
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