When the data showed a decline in teen pregnancies, teen abortions, and teen sexual activity, the mainstream media barely noticed. Almost nobody heralded that landmark accomplishment which coincided with more widespread abstinence programs in schools and community programs. However, now that the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported a slight increase in teen births, it is making headlines.
Let’s get one thing straight at the outset: the increase in teen births was primarily in the 18- to 19- year-old group — in other words, primarily college students who have entered an alcohol-and-hook-up saturated environment where only the strong can stand up against the peer pressure, rampant promiscuity, co-ed dorms, and anything-goes culture. It brings me no satisfaction to make that point; these 18- to 19-year-old young women are still teens, and their well-being is just as threatened by pregnancy and STDs from promiscuous, too-early sexual activity as it is with the younger teens. Nonetheless, the images most formed in people’s minds when they think of teen pregnancy are of 14- to 16-year-old high school girls.
Is the rising popularity of teen pregnancy any wonder? The media is trumpeting the notion that out-of-wedlock births are all the rage these days. The stories and images targeted to impressionable teens that are being broadcast through various mass media are shaped in ways that glorify the idea and simplify the issues surrounding the pregnancy of a young teenaged girl.
A new family-time show on ABC promises to depict “a new kind of family.” The soap opera-type show called “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” averages an astounding 3.5 million viewers. The program features a 15-year-old high school student who discovers that she is pregnant. Supposedly, the drama gives the audience an opportunity to glimpse the trauma as a young, middle-class girl deals with her surprise pregnancy. A California media professor praised the show for breaking stereotypes and claimed, “It can happen to anyone.” Oh? Not exactly. Only a girl who has engaged in sex can get pregnant.
A major goal, said one critic, is to show that pregnancy does not just happen to the “slutty girls,” though it is hard to say in today’s world of rampant casual sex what is considered “slutty.” Media programmers cited Bristol Palin and Jamie Lynn Spears as examples of the range of socio-economic backgrounds of teenaged girls who become pregnant.