Friday, December 21, 2007

The Pregnancy of 16-Year-Old Jamie Lynn Spears

The news of Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy came with something of a shock around my house.

Good Morning America was on the tube Wednesday morning while I was getting ready to take my oldest son to school. The Disney Channel and Nickleodeon are on almost 24-7 at our place, so when my boy casually remarked, "Jamie Spears is pregnant," I did a double-take! "What are you talking about? She's the wholesome side of that family."

But it turned out to be true. I thought about writing on Spears after seeing
this Philadelphia Inquirer editorial, but I thought, "nah...well, maybe if it makes the front-page at the big national papers..."

since Spears' pregnancy is covered in a lead story at today's New York Times, here goes:

Talk about teachable moments.

In schools and shopping malls and around the dining room table, the subject of teenage pregnancy and sex was suddenly and uncomfortably in the air as mothers and daughters and fathers, too, talked about — or tried not to talk about — the pregnancy of 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, who plays the perfect, well-liked and, it is understood, virginal teenage girl on “Zoey 101” on Nickelodeon.

High school girls here wondered aloud on Thursday why no one was talking about contraception. Parents across the country, on the other hand, commiserated over the Internet about how, thanks to Ms. Spears, they were facing a conversation with their 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds about sex.

“Nowadays, nothing’s safe, not even cartoons,” Diana Madruga, who has an 11-year-old daughter, said as she wrapped up her shift as the manager of a Dunkin’ Donuts here in the Boston suburbs.

Shopping at American Girl Place, the doll store, in Manhattan, Sharon Carruthers said she had used the news as an opportunity to talk about the dangers of teenage pregnancy with her 10-year-old daughter, Yasmine. “I want my daughter’s mind in the real world,” said Ms. Carruthers, who is from Deptford, N.J. “But this is not what my daughter is going to do in her life. She knows better. She knows right and wrong.”

Yasmine shook her head. “I never expected her, of all people, to do this,” she said, referring to the girl who in her mind is both Zoey and Jamie, the actress who plays her. “She’s supposed to be the good one in the family.”

High school girls who had already had their hearts broken by the all-too-public life of Ms. Spears’s older sister, Britney, known as a hard-partying mother of two, worried that their younger sisters would be devastated by the news — or, worse, that their sisters might think it was “cool” to be 16 and pregnant.

“She’s the idealistic little girl,” Alicia Akusis, 17, said of the television character Zoey between classes at Concord-Carlisle High School here. “She does perfect in school. Boys like her because she’s pretty, but she doesn’t deal with boys. She’s really smart, she’s really cool, she’s an empowering girl character.”

Ms. Akusis said she hoped that her younger sister and stepsister, who are both 11 and love the show, would not find out about Ms. Spears. “I don’t even want to bring it up with them,” she said. “I don’t want them to be disappointed.” It would be like their discovering that Santa Claus was not real, she said.

Ms. Akusis’s friend Mikala Viscariello, 16, was less concerned with shielding the young than with facing the realities of modern life. “There is no excuse for not using contraception,” Ms. Viscariello said.

Ms. Akusis shot back, “I don’t think she should have gotten pregnant in the first place.”

Perhaps the news of Ms. Spears’s pregnancy should not have been so surprising in what has seemed to be the year of the unwed mother in popular culture. First there was the movie “Knocked Up,” in which a 24-year-old entertainment journalist accidentally gets pregnant in a drunken evening. Now there’s “Juno,” about a 16-year-old who confronts an unplanned pregnancy and decides to have the baby.

But Nickelodeon has won wide acclaim as a sanctuary from the hypersexualized youth culture. That is what burned up Matt Younginer of Columbia, S.C., who was shopping with his 9-year-old daughter, Ansley, in Manhattan.

“She loves ‘Zoey 101,’ ” Mr. Younginer said. “It’s usually Britney Spears who would do that stuff, not Jamie Lynn. She was supposed to be one of the good, clean actresses for girls to follow after. I think it just sends an awful message for the young girls.”

Dan Martinsen, a spokesman for Nickelodeon, said Thursday that “Zoey 101” was one of its most popular shows among viewers 9 to 14.

“Nothing about the content, characters or the storytelling on our air has changed at all,” Mr. Martinsen said. He said that Nickelodeon was discussing a special on the issue with Linda Ellerbee, the television journalist who is the host of “Nick News.” “Whenever an issue becomes so prevalent that it’s inescapable,” Mr. Martinsen said, “her show is where we turn to help kids navigate and interpret and understand it.”

A teachable moment? My first thought exactly, and frankly it's good to learn that parents of children younger than my son are talking to their kids about pregnancy and childrearing.

I think the comments above by Sharon Carruthers about her daughter knowing "right and wrong" pretty much sums up a key issue for me. I simply had my son think about how a 16 year-old teenager might care for a baby. How would she (or he) be able to continue with her education? What about college?

I asked my wife if she'd heard the news. She mentioned that Lynne Spears, the mother of Britney and Jamie Lynn,
was putting on hold the publication of a parenting book. Well, that might be a good idea, come to think of it!

Photo: New York Times