In light of my recent comments regarding images vs reality and the importance of critical thinking skills, I present you with this article from MSNBC (though they were not alone in reporting on this study). As you see, the article discussed the ramifications of sex on TV and the potential correlation to teen sex (and pregnancy, more specifically). The original study, by the RAND Corporation, can be found here, though you’ll have to connect to Pediatrics if you want to read more than the abstract.
I find this study conceptually flawed because I really don’t buy that the images on TV are themselves destructive. Does this mean I advocate showing porn to kids as sex ed (see Duff’s “Get in the Ring” post for clarification on this remark), no, of course not. Does this mean I am personally comfortable with the soft core that pretends to be teen TV sometimes? No, I’m not, but not because I think the images of teens engaging in sexual behaviors of various stripes are inherently dangerous.
Here’s the problem I’m having: certainly the study makes clear that myriad reasons undergird each teen pregnancy, but demonizing popular culture seems wrongheaded. Sure, teens can get some wickedly bad ideas from TV (or music or whatever), and if they haven’t been provided with the tools to THINK about what they are seeing or hearing, then, yes, problems can arise. Somewhere in here we need to give kids the resources and wherewithal to choose as wisely as possible, and, then, we have to step back.
Some of them will screw up, no matter what we teach.
I was one of those cases. I knew the difference between reality and fantasy; I knew how to use protection and where to get it. I just didn’t. I wasn’t trying to get pregnant, and I had no illusions that a baby would “make everything better.” I was far too nihilistic for that; in many ways, pregnancy was merely one more attempt at self-destruction for me. I am fortunate that I had the support that I did with my choices, so that I am still here, pontificating on this blog and raising a tough-guy, whose life was more difficult than was strictly necessary, since his mother was (and is) still growing up during these formative years.
Here’s what I kept thinking while reading the articles: we aren’t putting responsibility where it most strongly belongs. Parents and schools and communities must educate. Pop culture? It shapes and reflects, true, but education and critical thinking can mitigate the problems presented by pop culture, surely. Make no mistake about it; teens bear the responsibility for their choices. And they must shoulder it. I knew perfectly well what chances I was taking when I got pregnant with my son, and I accept that I was the one who made those choices, in conjunction with his father. Not our parents. Not our schools. Not the popular images we were exposed to.
TV does not lead to pregnancy; sex does.
Most of the time, teen girls get pregnant because they failed to use protection or used it improperly (wrong time, skipped pills, etc). This is a direct correlation of events…the behavior exhibited by the teens themselves. In addition to coaching teens (of all genders) on responsible use of protection, adults (parents, teachers, whomever) must teach these kids how to think! What they see on TV does not have to translate to anything other than entertainment.
Rant over. For now, at least.