Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Secret Life of the American Teenager

Okay, so while I was making fun of the One Million Moms for their protest against The Cougar, I mentioned their previous campaign against The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Even though their complaints are a little bit old news, it's still considered an active issue on the OMM site and The Secret Life's new season starts on June 22. So since we just love to make fun of them anyway, here's my take on it.

An increasingly popular TV show titled "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" combines anything and everything a mother tries to protect her children from viewing and rolls it into one soap opera for teens.

ABC Family is responsible for showing such racy content, when instead it should be adhering to its name by airing family-friendly content.

Mothers like us need to be aware of this popular sexualized TV show that won a 2008 Teen Choice Award. According to ABC Family, it's their # 1 original series of all time. The LA Times reports that the series is averaging 3.8 million viewers per episode.

"Secret Life" is brutally honest about teens and sex, so much so that it condones teenage sex, adultery and a host of other sins. The series airs Monday nights at 8:00 p.m. EDT on ABC Family (owned by Disney- ABC Television). This series includes:

* A teenage girl who becomes pregnant after a one night stand
* A "player" who takes advantage of multiple girls because of his sex addiction
* The school "tramp" who basks in her sexual encounters
* A boy who is molested by his father as a child
* Adulterous parents
* A shallow view of Christianity as portrayed through a "ditzy" blonde
* Favorable discussions of gay marriage and gay adoption

This is toxic poison to our children! Ask your children if they are watching this show, and consider making it "off limits" in your home.
The One Million Moms also linked to a review from the American Family Association Journal that further elaborated on all the reasons why the show is so bad for kiddies.

First of all, it's worth noting that the show has a TV-14 advisory. And it's also worth nothing that I realize I'm way too old to watch this show and my daughter is probably still too young to watch parts of it, but yet I still found myself sucked into a marathon a while back. (That usually happens when I can't reach the remote. Laziness!) I'm not particularly a fan of the show, although I find it oddly entertaining in an annoying sort of way (not unlike Seventh Heaven, which was created by the same person, Brenda Hampton). And not unlike Seventh Heaven, every episode of this show is full of "moral lessons".

Honestly, the The Secret Life of the American Teenager is so preachy it's almost an afterschool special. (In fact, a little google search found that someone else used almost that exact same phrase to describe it, so I know I'm not alone!) And yes, while they do touch on issues about teenage sex and pregnancy (duh), the storyline isn't even racy enough to be part of a Lifetime movie. In fact, every episode ends with a public service announcement from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy asking parents and teens to communicate with each other about sex.

The one thing the OMM is right about is that the show is relatively honest about teens and sex, at least in the respect that it acknowledges that some teens do have sex and that sex can come with certain consequences. I don't think that the show actually condones teen sex in any way. If anything, it does the opposite by only showing how much sex complicates people's lives. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it's "brutally honest" because I don't think it's really an accurate portrayal of teenagers in general. There is not one single healthy sexual relationship portrayed on that show.

The lead character, Amy, became pregnant after having sex once. Despite all the concern about how the show would glamorize teen sex and teen pregnancy, it does anything but. The only message teens will get from Amy's situation is: "Have Sex=Get Pregnant=Ruin Life". Yeah, sign me up for that fun fest!!

Magically, there are only two other sexually active teen characters on the entire show and both are portrayed as completely screwed up. The aforementioned "player" and "tramp" (lovely) are Ricky and Adrian, respectively. Ricky's character is in foster care and therapy. His father's in jail after molesting and abusing him. His mother is a drug addict who lives on the streets. He's compulsively promiscuous, pursuing anything with a vagina, often resorting to lies and manipulation. Adrian is the"school slut". She has a totally absent father and a mostly-absent mother (she's always away because of her job or because she's fucking some guy, including Amy's married father). She uses sex as a substitute for love. She has an on-again-off-again casual relationship with Ricky but often resorts to manipulation to keep him/make him jealous.

World Premiere of Disney-Pixars Wall-E - Arrivals
The Cast of The Secret Life of the American Teenager
(Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Content © 2009 Getty Images . All rights reserved.

Every other teenager on the show is magically pure and virginal (unless they're being tempted or manipulated by Ricky and Adrian of course). I mean, even the pregnant teenager only had sex once, mainly because evil Ricky seduced her. And of course, the idea that any of their classmates are having sex is totally scandalous! Now I'm sorry, but this is nothing like the high school experience that I had and that was... um... a while ago. If teenagers today are allegedly having more sex and having sex earlier than in the past, you wouldn't know it by watching this show. According to stayteen.org (which posts discussion prompts for teens and parents after each episode) about one in two teens is sexually active. But on the show, it's just Ricky and Adrian... and whomever they can bring over to the dark side for a few minutes. Not only are Ricky and Adrian to blame for everyone else's sexual mistakes... but they're obsession with sex is also the cause of almost everyone's non-sexual problems too.

The most unrealistic characters on the show (for me) are the purest ones: the church-going promise ring-wearing popular cheerleader and Amy's boyfriend who tries to marry her and raise some other guy's baby with her at age 15. I mean, seriously... what characters are they writing for Season 2... a unicorn? A smurf? How about a visit from Snuffleupagus?

According to The Secret Life, sex is either the result of problems or the cause of problems... with no room in between. That includes the sex between adults as well, who are all hypocrites. Amy's father is cheating on her mother; Adrian's mother uses sex much in the same way that Adrian does (I guess the slutty apple doesn't fall far from the slutty tree). Now I know that when it comes to stuff like sex and teens, you have to walk a very dangerous line. You don't want to encourage teenage sex, but pretending that only people with "issues" have sex isn't the answer. If the only sexual relationships portrayed are dysfunctional ones, then what effect will that have on our children's views about sex when they are adults. When my daughter is older, I don't want her to be careless about sex, but I also don't want her to view sex as something bad or taboo or dirty.

Also, everyone in town is so against abortion that they can barely even say the word. When Amy considers "doing that" or "taking care of it" her friends are so outraged and horrified that they everyone follows her down to the clinic to prevent her from making such a grave mistake. How the clinic has survived without being bombed by now is a mystery. If these were my high school peers, they would have been like "OMG, of course you have to get an abortion! You're in high school!" (For the record, I'm not promoting abortion, nor do I think The Secret Life should... I just think it's a little unrealistic that almost everyone Amy encounters - except slutty Adrian of course - happens to be anti-choice, but it's ABC-Family so I guess I'll let that one slide).

Much like my feelings about the anti-Cougar campaign, I agree that The Secret Life isn't necessarily the best thing on television, but I definitely think the One Million Moms are against it for the wrong reasons. They don't like the show because they think it's promoting or glamorizing teen sex and teen pregnancy. I disagree. I think the show is very realistic about the problems associated with teen pregnancy, but I don't like the way it paints sex in such a negative light. It's not that I necessarily have a problem with unrealistic preachy shows like this, but it definitely irks me when groups like the OMM criticize it for being "brutally realistic" about sex when it's anything but.

Overall, it again comes down to the fact that parents shouldn't let the TV raise their kids. Instead of just banning The Secret Life from your home, use it as an jumping off point to talk to your kids about sex. If you don't talk openly and honestly about sex with your children, then it won't be just the TV's fault if they make bad decisions.

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