When Jamie Lynn Spears, the sixteen-year-old star of Nickelodeon’s tween hit Zoey 101 and younger sister of tabloid queen Britney, revealed that she was three months pregnant and that she planned to raise the baby in Louisiana, she was asked what kind of message her predicament sent to other teens about premarital sex. Spears answered, “I definitely don’t think it’s something you should do; it’s better to wait.”
Because media is everywhere and unavoidable, kids often get introduced to situations that are too mature for their ages. But don’t run away from having a discussion, because the alternative is to let your kids try to muddle through figuring these things out themselves. As uncomfortable as it may feel, it’s still better for you, the parent, to manage the impact of media messages.
So what do you say to your ten-year-old who loves Jamie Lynn’s character Zoey? Here are some tips:
1) Ask your children what they know about where babies come from. If they’re clueless, consider their age and maturity level before having further discussions. But chances are that kids who will ask about Jamie Lynn will be old enough to have a passing acquaintance with the facts of life. Ask what they know, and confirm that it’s factually accurate. You’d be amazed at some of the theories that aren’t right.
2) Talk about your family’s values. Some families don’t agree with premarital sex, while others feel differently. But most will agree that sixteen is too young to be a parent.
3) Be sure to remind your kids that Jamie Lynn is an actor playing the part of Zoey. Emphasize that her character and the part she plays are two separate people. Point out that all celebrities have armies of helpers making them look beautiful and carefully crafting their public images. This information helps create critical thinking about all media, and it’s really important for kids to understand what goes on behind the scenes.
4) Remember that media is a super-peer and normalizes behavior, making all sorts of actions acceptable. Some studies have shown that the more kids are immersed in sexual content, the earlier they’re likely to have sex. Check the content of games, movies, music, and TV shows before letting your kids engage. Pick age-appropriate material, and make sure your kids know your thoughts.
5) For older kids, point out that most sex shown in movies and on TV is consequence free. In real life, they need to understand that unprotected sex can lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Point out that all the sex they see on the screen is fantasy and that real sex must be safe.
By Liz Perle