Kathryn Lopez

Seventeen magazine is a great gift to the youth of our nation. Before the magazine's February issue, our nation's adolescent girls were in danger of "accidentally" falling into pregnancy, or so their cover implies: "Shocking Ways You Could Get PREGNANT By Accident."

Last time I checked, pregnancy results from an activity that requires some effort, some decision-making. Seventeen's editors, however, don't seem to live in my reality. Instead, It buys into the same dangerous and conventional wisdom that kids will have sex -- end of conversation. So all adults can do is help them prevent disease and pregnancy.

A cover piece relates to the magazine's young, impressionable readers: "Sex is so confusing. On the one hand, you're being told not to do it (by parents and teachers) -- that it's "wrong," that there's no way you're ready, or that it could lead to diseases. On the other hand, you see (in real life, in movies, and on TV) that sex is a natural, healthy and fun part of loving relationships. You also have information about birth control coming at you from every direction: friends, TV commercials, maybe sex-ed class. You think you know how to protect yourself, but it seems like such a hassle when all you want to do is focus on those totally romantic, wonderfully tingly feelings you have about your guy!"

While the article does mention the option of not having sex, the emphasis throughout is on the safe options, conventionally speaking: Get your guy to use a condom. Know how to take your pills. "It just happened," one girl declares about accidentally getting pregnant. And, the Seventeen message to teens is: It's not that unusual. "48 percent of teen girls think it might be possible they'll become pregnant in the next five years." A young girl who couldn't "accidentally" get pregnant -- because she's choosing to spend her young days doing more innocent things -- might feel a bit left out. Seventeen also tells their readers that "studies show that girls who have a big plan for their future are significantly less likely to get pregnant." Now that's more like it. But it's not enough.

Alarmingly, a 2004 study found that teen girls look to these magazines "as a valued source of advice about their personal lives." The Kaiser Family Foundation reported: "According to a focus group of seventh through 11th-grade girls, conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited for YM, teen readers want the content in their magazines to reflect their lives, and they rely on magazines as a sounding board, fashion and beauty consultant and close confidant. Another survey conducted by Taylor Research & Consulting Group indicated that 12- to 15-year-old girls look to magazines (42 percent) almost as much as their friends (45 percent) for the coolest trends."


Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.