The Secret Life of the American Teenager



Heartfelt drama tackles teen sex, pregnancy, parenthood.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The show revolves around teen sex and its consequences presented in a thoughtful way. Later seasons feature themes such as marriage, divorce, and homosexuality. 

Positive role models

The upper-middle-class characters are a realistically flawed bunch and sometimes make iffy decisions. 


Occasional mild arguments. A baby dies. A later episode features an accidental shooting. Sexual assault and child molestation are discussed. 


Topics include sex, virginity, promiscuity, pregnancy, parenthood, and other related issues. 


Words such as "laid," "hell." 

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Very occasional drinking (wine, beer). 

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.

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.

Families can talk 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?

TV details

Cast:Megan Park, Molly Ringwald, Shailene Woodley
Network:ABC Family
Topics:High school
TV rating:TV-14
Available on:DVD, Streaming

This review of The Secret Life of the American Teenager was written by

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  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 15 years old Written bysullysimey February 4, 2009

From a teen who can actually spell, and cares.

I know you all may think that your teenager is an innocent kid, but for crying out loud, get a grip! I can honestly say that about 9 out of 10 kids in my high school have either had sex, smoked pot, drank alcohol, etc. Behind their parents' backs! If you really think about it, teenagers aren't that stupid. I can say from being in high school only one semester, these kids are really thinking about sex; some freshman are even pregnant! This gives a perspective for them on how other people deal with it; and if watched appropriately, your child can learn from the mistakes of others! For example, I am a virgin and plan to be that way by viewing what Amy (the main character) is going through. Watching anything that is new and possibly offensive is all about keeping an open mind and REALLY seeing all sides of the story. Kids are thinking about sex a LOT. I'll admit that even I do. Keep in mind that the average age of the first time teens have sex is at 15! TALK TO YOUR TEENAGER ABOUT SEX! It may seem awkward, but it is necessary! My parents never did, but my boyfriends step-mother took the initiative to do so. We talked about morals and respecting each others' values and still having a strong relationship. I can honestly say that I do want to have sex, but I'm waiting until I feel mentally, emotionally, and physically ready to do so and my boyfriend completely respects that! So before you slander and judge the show, watch it for yourself. Sure the acting may not be the greatest, but if you keep an open mind you WILL see where I'm coming from. And if you aren't open minded yet, step out of the stone age! It's the two thousands! People are coming up with brilliant things EVERY DAY! Thanks for reading, and have a nice day! :]
Adult Written byAndromeda July 21, 2009

Terrible show with mixed messages, not good for anybody

To be honest, I have only seen a few episodes of this show because it's so unspeakably bad I have to leave the room rather to refrain from speaking my mind while my sister (a fan) watches the show. First, let me comment on the quality of the TV show. To say the acting is bad is a gross understatement. I can't even think of a comparison to how bad the acting is. It's just that bad. To be fair, any actor would have a hard time working with the inconsistent, unrealistic, practically nonsensical drivel that passes for dialog in this show. Watch one episode (without the kids) and ask yourself how many people actually talk like that? The story is contrived, predictable and uninspired. The character development is disgraceful. Just when you get to know a character, he or she says something completely out of character just to drive home some "point" or put someone in their place. Characters who at first were kind turn out to be just as mean and petty as everyone else. The two characters who use people the most both turn out to have unresolved "daddy issues." The writers treat the characters like they're all the same person raised in different circumstances. The writers must have absolutely no knowledge of biology, psychology, or basic human nature. This show is too bad even to laugh at. It's just that awful. Now on to the messages. Many people give this show credit for having dialog about sex. Having an honest, open, and complete dialog about sex is one thing. Filling dialog with people talking about sex is quite another. All anyone ever talks about is sex. Yes, teens will sometimes talk about sex, but not nearly to this extent, and not in this manner. The phony sex "dialog" is not my biggest complaint, however. The cruelty and immaturity of all the characters (including the adults) goes to Desperate Housewives levels. All they ever think about are their immediate needs and wants, unless they're having a conveniently placed worry about the future that's forgotten by the next scene. Worst of all, the show gives mixed messages. At the end of the show the actors say "It might seem like everyone is having sex, but they're not..." but EVERYONE ON THE SHOW IS DOING IT!!! That's as bad as if Michael Vick said "It's bad to hurt dogs" after each bloody dogfight. The hypocrisy is repulsive! The last statistic I read said that half of all teenagers have not had sex by the time they graduate high school. If this steaming pile of a show was an example, 95% of teens would be having sex, and having it in contrived, stupid circumstances. Finally, let me address the issue of teen pregnancy. Even though it's a subject in every episode, it's dealt with so superficially as to be practically useless. Maybe I missed too many episodes, but that girl had one easy pregnancy, and oh, how quickly her body returned to a size 0. How unfortunate that her baby only stops crying when Daddy is near. Could the writers not think of even one REAL health issue that afflicts babies? How unbelievably stupid! The bottom line is this show is absolutely awful in every respect. It's too inconsistent and hypocritical to be a positive influence, and it's too stupid and poorly made to be entertaining. If you want a good show about teen pregnancy, watch Juno. If you have extremely low standards and limit your activities to staring at glowing rectangles with moving images on them, watch Secret Life. No. Don't. Battlefield Earth is better than Secret Life of an American Teenager.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Parent of a 15 year old Written bymichiganmom January 28, 2010

Watch this show with your teens

I watch this show with my daughter, who is a sophomore in HS. While some of the dialogue is weak, and I don't like the way the counselors (they're on the third one now) and some of the Christians are portayed on the show, it provokes some interesting conversations with my daughter. I remember being her age, all those years ago, and most of what we talked about and thought about was sex. Not much has changed in a lot of ways. I did think the last show about masturbation was over the top, and so did my daughter. But if parents think this show is giving kids ideas that they wouldn't have otherwise, wake up. Kids my daughter knows were having sex, including oral sex, in 8th grade; by their sophomore year many have had multiple partners, and are also drinking and smoking weed. And these are the "good" kids from middle-class intact families. I think this show pretty realistically portrays how teens act and talk, and it's a good conversation starter. We talk about what kids she knows are like which characters, what does she think of the choice a character made, etc.


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