America's Glamorization of Pregnant Sixteen Year Olds

America's Glamorization of Pregnant Sixteen Year Olds

By Dr. Sari Locker

December 20, 2007

From Jamie Lynn to Juno, how is the media glamorizing teen pregnancy, and will this affect real teens?

By Dr. Sari Locker

It was a far cry from the representations of teen pregnancy that I saw on After School Specials when I was a kid. The announcement that Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney's 16 year old sister, is pregnant did not come via a somber television interview, or even a whispered rumor. It was celebrated on the cover of tabloid magazine OK with glossy glamour shots and a reported one million dollar payout. Entertainment Tonight flashed file footage of dolled up Jamie Lynn walking a red carpet as they proclaimed, "It's a baby for Jamie Lynn!" Pregnant Jamie Lynn was elevated to a level of fame far beyond where she had been one minute before the announcement. December 2007 will go down in history as the month when teen pregnancy was glamorized in America.

In addition to Jamie Lynn's press blitz, the hit film Juno opened to rave reviews. Juno, sixteen and pregnant, is clever and creative, and her pregnancy is portrayed as a humorous quirk which adds to her wise cracking personality. Throughout her pregnancy, she is faced with few problems, because her parents, friends and school support her unconditionally. Juno makes teen pregnancy look cool and totally desirable. After she has the baby, she even gets the guy!

Could these "role models" negatively affect American teens? Teens may notice that Jamie Lynn's pregnancy has gotten her a world of attention, something that many girls and boys crave. Teens may wish that they were as funky and loved as Juno. But more likely the answer is that these distorted, alluring images of pregnancy will not influence teens. Celebrities and movie characters are not true role models.

According to a 2007 study conducted by Weekly Reader Research, it was found that 68% of American teens believe that parents are the most important role models in today's society. After parents, they said their role models are teachers and coaches followed by siblings, religious leaders, athletes, and in last place: celebrities. When I think of my own development, I agree that the media had little or no impact. I was good kid, because the influence of my parents led me to use good judgment, not because I watched the "very special" episode of Diff'rent Strokes.

So when a teen sees Juno, and feels a pang of desire to have a baby to become the hippest kid in high school, if that teen has been raised in a family that has taught her to use birth control, she will most likely not be influenced by the movie. Her Juno fantasies will be fleeting and insignificant. 

I wonder what influenced Jamie Lynn Spears. For years, I and other TV psychologists have said that Britney Spears is a bad role model for girls: From Brit's seductive innocence in her early days to her peek-a-boo crotch shots. In hindsight, I see that for most teens Britney served as a pop icon to mock, not to mimic. However, it's safe to say that she was a role model for her sister. Jamie Lynn saw the person who she's closest to in genetic make-up using sex in all the wrong ways.

When I appeared on CNN last night to discuss 16 year old Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy, the host, Rick Sanchez, asked viewers to vote online for, "Who is responsible for Jamie Lynn's pregnancy," 1) Her parents 2) Hollywood 3) Herself. Of course, 16 year olds who choose to have sex are fully capable of using birth control pills and condoms. It is one's own fault and one's partner's fault if they fail to protect themselves.  We can not place blame anywhere else than on Jamie Lynn and her boyfriend. But we also can not deny the influence that others might have had.

Maybe Britney's influence had something to do with it. Perhaps her mother was too busy managing her career to talk to her about protection. Maybe Jamie Lynn got pregnant because she never received proper sex education. (Louisiana is one of the states that received government funding for abstinence only sex ed, and research has found that teens need comprehensive sexuality education which is prohibited by abstinence funding.) Or maybe Jamie Lynn chose to become pregnant for a shorter path to tabloid super-stardom. This was her first major cover story, after all. On the cover of OK, pregnancy must look glamorous to her. 

Written by Dr. Sari Locker
Copyright (c) Sari Locker, Ph.D. 2007, 2008

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