June 4, 2009 In Part Two of my interview on The Girl Revolution, we got into the ‘Secret Life of the American Teenager’ media portrayal of a 15-year old ‘band geek’ and I realized I never got around to posting my extensive ISIS conference data and teen vs. parent point of view on that series finale…
I definitely need to uncork that discussion and continue this last one, as the behavioral portrayals and characterizations as ‘normative’ really do a disservice to all ages and stages and the script was so contrived it was downright surreal.
Nevertheless, teens seem to soak it in with zeal, justifying the sex, sex, and more sex casual handling of the ‘who’s sleeping with who’ subject matter by the gratuitous PSA slapped on the end in preach-n-teach mode that was patently ludicruous given the dialog.
‘A whole new kind of family’ is the ABC Family tagline for their channel of prime time ratings roulette hits, but I sure hope the kids go to StayTeen.org and Sex Etc.org and all the other healthcare ISIS-Inc.org links at the end to get some semblance of reality, since Secret Life certainly doesn’t provide one.
Anyway, I’ll post it soon, glad I re-read this ‘part two’ interview on Tracee’s blog and remembered I had a post set to go…as it’s an important part of the media dialog and critical thinking skills debate on Hollywood-dramarama and early sexualization. It IS amazing hearing the kids discuss the episodes in schools…a VERY dialed down demographic of kids watching the 8pm show well beyond just middle schoolers. Parents mistakenly think the name ‘ABC Family’ means ‘Disneyesque after school special’ style fare, when the brand is actually meant to rate as “PG-16ish” though there isn’t such a thing.
With the mention of the Vatican in your blog in this post, on Influencers, Accountability and the Global Cost to Youth, do you feel that a lot of parents use religion as a weapon when it comes to sexual curiosity for teens and that teens in turn rebel because of it? Why or why not?
Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Actually, I think ANY time self-righteousness trumps reality (whether it’s about junk food, kids’ choice of friends, religion, academics, you name it) the pendulum can easily swing into the exact opposite direction you’d hoped it would go. We’ve all experienced the “forbidden fruit” factor on some level.
I’d like to think people would know enough not to use god-fearing zealousness to quell sexual curiosity as it can twist minds in a big way making the ‘sex is dirty’ correlation early on.
Pent up and tamped down public perceptions of adherence to church doctrine has become an age old stereotype in itself…Think about the ‘good catholic school girl’ wink and nudge remarks or the recent reports of Utah being the #1 state in the nation for online porn.
Whenever you put two rigid platforms together with something squishy in the middle it’s gonna ooze out the sides, guaranteed…Whether it’s graham crackers and frosting or adolescent angst.
Clamping down with hardfast absolutism and dogma usually leads to reverb on some level…I mean, c’mon, look at the statistics of where ‘abstinence only’ education has left us.
I think we’re doing a disservice to kids by plopping them in a sex-saturated media culture and then doing the ‘just say no’ preach-n-teach bit. It’s insanely hypocritical.
With the recent shows and movies “The Secret Life of an American Teenager” and “Juno” – do you think the image of teenage pregnancy has been made out to be heroic or noble? If so, why do you think that is?
Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth: Ironically, I’m working on a post about this right now, as it’s a pervasive plotline that keeps rearing its head in a weird sort of fixation on the age ‘15’ for some reason too…
The L.A. Times’ “Teen Baby Mamas” slideshow gives you a snapshot of ‘fiction 101,’ the sex ed factor, and the tweaked out ‘morality’ message that seems to more often than not revolve around a simplified version of ‘yes girls, you CAN get pregnant the first time.’
—Not exactly a brain twister, ya know? This is where I wish Hollywood would get their act together on the sex ed front, because USEFUL medical and health education information COULD be embedded into a plotline.
Kaiser Family Foundation proved this in their partnership with ER, Grey’s Anatomy, etc. so it’s quantifiable.
To me, if it’s been proven media cues ARE being ingested and retained then youth advocates should have the ammo needed to hold industry accountable at a network level to “get it right” when it comes to health content, accuracy, and responsibility.
Instead there’s a huge chasm between ‘perception vs. reality.’
I’m not saying girls don’t get pregnant at 15, I’m saying it’s NOT the norm…same goes for casual sex and the ‘everyone’s doin’ it’ emblematic (and unrealistic) portrayals of baby mamas served up with whopper doses of sensationalism. (whether it’s Jamie Lynn Spears, Bristol Palin, or Shailene Woodley in Secret Life)
It becomes particularly damaging if you look at the chicken and the egg scenario of kids at this formative age trying to wrap their heads around “what’s normal” among their peers.
When media is framing this with a tweaked out lens using a ratings game motivation, then we’ve got a scenario where kids are taking behavioral cues from ‘media as super peer’ and actually deciding FOR us what’s “normative.” Unhealthy and bogus beyond words.
As for motivations?
The “Secret Life Smacks Down Gossip Girl and 90210” article is a classic example of who’s vying for the numbers game.
Some say, ‘yah, well, it’s an opportunity for teaching moments…
Media and marketing producers are doing a pretty lousy job of self-reining when they could easily use this power responsibly to ‘tell it like it is,’ and even sneak in some education into the mix. I don’t call smacking a pregnancy prevention PSA on a show cluttered with sex, sex, and more sex being ‘responsible.’ As I say so often, “the price we pay to mine their childhoods will ultimately cost us all.”
p.s. More on the spring ‘Secret Life’ finale and plans for the fall season opener in a teen vs. parent interview/note-taking analysis that gives a glimpse of ‘perception vs. reality’ as the Rolling Stone advertising campaign used to say…
Don’t miss some of the sardonic wit accompanying the visuals of LA Times’ Baby Mamas which calls out the “Fiction 101” factor, followed by the “Sex Ed” ‘lesson’…pithy.
A Few Related Resources from the ISIS Conference
- American Sexuality / NSRC
- Birds and the Bees Project
- KidsHealth.org/Teen Sexual Health
- The National Campaign
- NSRC-National Sexuality Resource Center
- Object Adjective
- RH Reality Check
- Sex, Etc. (By Teens for Teens)
- Siecus (Sexuality Info Ed Council of U.S.)
- Stay Teen.org
- I Wanna Know.org For Teens (Am. Social Health Assoc.)
- My Sistahs.org
- Scarleteen: SexEd for the Real World
- Advocates for Youth