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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Shopping for Truth: Teen pregnancy

Published: September 5, 2008
Section: Opinions

Many people probably weren’t surprised when Republican Vice Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin announced the birth of her fifth child. But they sure are now that her own seventeen year old child is expecting a child of her own.

We expect to hear that grown women are with child. We might not even be surprised to hear that young adults in their late teens or early twenties are pregnant.

It seems like I hear more and more news stories these days about the latest case of underage pregnancy or some new show about the subject, especially this past summer.

Many peoples’ initial reaction is that of surprise or judgment. Some even feel sorry for the prospective mother. But should we honestly be that surprised though when we hear that so many young people are pregnant? In a culture that uplifts outward sexuality in its impressionable youth, we really shouldn’t be. And in an entertainment culture that actually seems to uplift teenage pregnancy, it’s just plain normalcy these days.

Does the influence of the media really cause teenage pregnancy? Now in theory, this is almost as bad as saying that the sale of alcohol causes alcoholism. Of course teenagers are ultimately responsible for making their own decisions, but like violence, the influence of the media and entertainment certainly makes a difference.

Over the summer, people were shocked to hear that several teens at a Gloucester, Mass. high school formed a “pregnancy pact” of sorts. Why did so many girls in the same school get pregnant at the same time? And a better question is, why is this such a big trend these days? What started as a small town tidbit of news rapidly developed as a nationwide sensation and the Gloucester girls were soon famous. Immediately people questioned why these girls would make such a pact and what influences led them to do so. And there the entertainment industry was to blame.

For example, when the movie Juno came out, many people questioned whether the film uplifted or put teenage pregnancy into an important and educational context. I have to admit, I liked the movie even though I wasn’t lining up at the box office to see it. But I’d have to say that Juno falls into the trap that many other movies and shows do in glorifying teenage pregnancy. Sure, Juno freaks out after finding out she’s pregnant, but after a series of difficulties, deciding whether or not to keep her baby being one of them, she is reunited with her baby’s’ father and all seems to be perfect. What about the aftermath? What about when the baby comes? Does Juno continue on with school and is she able to handle the extreme pressure which falls upon a teenage mother? The viewer never sees this and in skipping this very integral part of the process, Hollywood paints a false picture.

And even though we live in a fast pace entertainment world, I’m sure you can remember the public’s reaction when Britney Spears’ sister Jamie Lynn announced that she was expecting her first child.

After the initial gossip and shock, we moved onto the next story but soon came back to Jamie Lynn upon the birth of her child, this time placing her on a pedestal fit for the entertainment community-the cover of OK magazine.

Placing her on the cover saying “being a mom is the best feeling in the world” surely makes us just a bit hypocritical, doesn’t it? We gossip and whisper about the unwed mother when she first finds out she’s pregnant, but then we ooh and ahh when we see her child. Are we to believe that Jamie Lynn truly has a perfect life and that she’s living life as a teenage mother without difficulties? Where are the photographers at 3 a.m. when Jamie Lynn is up with her crying child?

Of course, entertainment also has been making an effort to undo what it has done, creating several shows to counteract the glorification of pregnancy, such as the reality TV show The Baby Borrowers. I’ll admit it, I watched the Baby Borrowers over the summer. And I’ll tell you why. One reason was that there really wasn’t anything else on television and I found myself with a bit of extra time on my hands. Another reason is, I find it interesting to watch how extreme some of these scenarios are that reality television places people in.

For those of you who didn’t hear about the show, teen couples claiming they’re ready to have children sign up for a summer experiment in which they get a crash course in parenthood. Living with and caring for infants, toddlers, teens, and even the elderly, these teens get a taste of what they claim they are ready for. Needless to say, all of the teens quickly realized that parenthood wasn’t so easy after all and said that the experience taught them that they should wait to have children. But the thing is, these teens walked away unscathed from the experience and could go back to their normal lives.

Then there were the promos for the show The Secret Life of the American Teenager. This show depicts a situation not too different from Sarah Palin’s daughters’. A teen gets pregnant and deals with the aftermath.

So the big question is, do shows like The Baby Borrowers and The Secret Life of the American Teenager accomplish what they set out to do-prevent teenage pregnancy, or do they glorify it? And does our culture contribute to the influx of teenage pregnancy?

Surely shows like this wouldn’t be necessary if we didn’t glorify the issue in the first place.

So, how will we follow Bristol Palin’s pregnancy? Will the media create a sensation that is followed by marveling over a newborn child once it is born like it does in so many other cases?

News is news, entertainment is entertainment, and the whole story is the whole story. So perhaps we should show the whole story and not just the prologue.