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In recent weeks, the media have been buzzing about teen pregnancy. Much of this coverage began with a June 18 feature in Time magazine that reported on a “pregnancy pact” among a group of high-school girls in Massachusetts.

The report stated that these girls, ages 16 and younger, conspired to get pregnant and even high-fived each other when the pregnancy tests turned out to be positive. While it was later discovered that there was no pregnancy pact and many of the details reported in the story were untrue, a furor still erupted over the issue of teen pregnancy.

Adding to this was the revelation that for the first time in 15 years, the teen-pregnancy rate in the United States is rising. Hollywood, a frequent lightning rod for any controversy regarding youth, has been blamed for much of this. Last year’s award-winning film “Juno,” the pregnancy of teen star Jamie Lynn Spears and TV shows about pregnancy, like ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” have been blamed for glamorizing the idea of teens having babies.

Evidence of this can be found on the cover of the latest issue of OK! Magazine. The cover features the first pictures of Nickelodeon’s “Zoey 101” star Spears with her baby girl, Maddie. The picture of the happy new mom contains the quote: “Being a mom is the best feeling in the world!”

Dubbed the “Juno Effect,” this positive media depiction of teen pregnancy and the impact that it is purported to have has many experts and parents concerned. Among them is Jane Brown, a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Brown runs the Teen Media Project, a group that conducted a study looking at the images seen by girls ages 12 to 14. The research showed that kids who had “heavier sexual media diets” were more than twice as likely to become sexually active by the age of 16.

This is explained by the fact that as teens enter into adolescence, they become more curious about sex and are looking for answers. Unfortunately, many parents feel uncomfortable talking to their teen about sex and as a result, teens find their answers in movies, TV shows and magazines. However, what teens are taught through the media is often unrealistic and inaccurate. One example that Brown points out is the way the media approaches unwed mothers.

“This is unusual and rare that we would have movies like ‘Juno’ or ‘Knocked Up,’ or that we would now be glamorizing celebrities who are pregnant and we don’t even know who the fathers are,” Brown says.

So what’s the solution? While many have argued the benefits of media censorship and increased sex education in schools, that isn’t where the answer begins. Like most issues concerning teens, the greatest impact can be made through parents. Even in our media-saturated world, parents remain the most important influence in the lives of teens, and it is their job to protect them and prepare them for adulthood. This includes providing teens with honest and open communication about sex. Through regular conversations, you can address what your teen is seeing and hearing among friends and in popular culture, while communicating your family’s shared values and expectations regarding sex and dating.

Adolescence is a confusing time of life. During this period, young people’s bodies and brains are changing, and they are dealing with tremendous amounts of pressure from both the media and their peers. What teens need most at this point in life is clear guidance and expectations from parents as they make sense of complex and mature issues like sex, relationships and pregnancy.



Mat Anderson is the staff writer and research specialist at The Bridge in Joplin. For more information visit futureparadigm.org.

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