The Secret Life of The American Teenager is No Secret After All

On Tuesday night the new drama, The Secret Life of The American Teenager, appeared on ABC’s Family channel, a one-hour drama created by 7th Heaven’s own Brenda Hampton and includes actress Molly Ringwald. So what? That’s what I thought when I first heard about the show, but it’s since become a hot topic for conversation.

“Secret Life” is meant to demonstrate the effect of behavioral choices on teens and those around them, including a public service announcement midway through the premiere urging parents to talk to their kids about sex, although Ms. Hampton has been quoted as saying, “I don’t have anything to say about the issue of teen pregnancy, I’m just telling a story about a girl who happens to get pregnant.” What a shame.

The Secret Life of The American Teenager follows 15-year-old Amy (played by Shailene Woodley), who learns she is pregnant following her first sexual encounter at band camp. No surprise there either. The show includes the stories of Amy’s family and friends, with Ms. Ringwald playing the part of Amy’s mother.

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen pregnancy rates are on the rise for the first time in more than a decade, and teen birth rates have risen 3% between 2005 and 2006, after declining 34% between 1991 and 2005. That’s not good news.

The increased media attention on teen pregnancy, including that of the Gloucester High School Pregnancy Pact (later debunked) has made the topic of teens getting pregnant fertile ground for the networks. NBC’s “Baby Borrowers” has also drawn widespread praise for showing the work required to parent a child. I still say creators of Baby Borrowers should have targeted much younger teens than what is currently depicted on the show, but whatever.

Some reviews of “The Secret Life” include the Los Angeles Times:

“The tone of the pilot careens between an after-school special and “American Pie,” with a bit of “Pretty in Pink” grabbed along the way. It is almost all about sex — and a little bit about family, but the subject there is largely sex, as well, and why it’s not for the young. The sexually active kids we meet are either made unhappy by having it, or they’re having it because they’re unhappy. (Ricky’s compulsion to sleep with every girl who crosses his path is shown to spring from his having been molested by his father.) Amy confides of her deflowering: “I’m not even sure it was sex. It wasn’t fun and definitely not like what you see in the movies.”

The New York Times:

“For a generation of young viewers raised on “The Simpsons,” “South Park” and “Degrassi Junior High” (not to mention reruns of “Sex and the City”) this kind of earnest, sound-out-all-the-syllables agitprop is almost comical, a parody of an after-school special. The occasional lapses into portentous symbolism are inadvertently hilarious. While Amy sneaks into the bathroom to take a home pregnancy test, her mother, played by Molly Ringwald, reheats Amy’s supper in the microwave. At the exact moment that the oven timer rings and reads “End,” Amy stares at the test results that will end life as she knows it.

That part is kind of fun. “Secret Life,” however, actually tries at times to be funny, and that makes it painful to watch. The peripheral presence of Ms. Ringwald, once the teenage heroine of John Hughes classics like “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles,” is almost taunting, a reminder that these teenage morality plays have been made many times before, much better.”

The Baltimore Sun:

“How to be very, very popular: Get pregnant. Do you know what happens to teen girls who become pregnant? They suddenly become the center of the universe, and everyone cares about them like never before. What a great way to instantly be popular and even loved: Get pregnant.That’s one of the core messages in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, a new drama premiering tonight on the ABC Family channel.

This is not to say that Secret Life has only one message. Hampton offers an array of images and role models in the pilot.Grace (Megan Park), the pretty and popular captain of the cheerleaders, defines herself in large part by her Christianity and a commitment to celibacy until she finishes medical school. And while the writers do go for some laughs in the reaction of her football star boyfriend to her abstinence, they do not mock Grace. She is generally depicted as being every bit as nice and smart as Amy. But here’s the difference: Grace was always popular, whereas Amy is transformed into being popular, loved and adored only after she becomes pregnant. It’s troubling to see its Hollywood storytellers spinning such an attractive tale about teen pregnancy.”

And finally, Variety:

“ABC Family’s latest original drama wants to be a slow-motion version of “Juno” but settles for being an obvious, stereotype-laden teen soap, albeit more “North Hollywood, 91607” than the story of what happens in flashier, better-known SoCal zip codes. Series creator Brenda Hampton made family drama with religious underpinnings a long-running success on “7th Heaven,” but teen pregnancy — especially on a youth-oriented network — is too important a subject for such shallow, ham-fisted treatment. The topic may find a receptive audience, but based on first impressions, The Secret Life of the American Teenager should probably stay a secret.”

Personally, the whole premise of the show leaves me yawning from sheer boredom, and I have no intention of wasting my time parked in front of the television watching shows that appear to depict most if not all teens as having sex, sex, sex on their minds. I’m very grateful that my kids are already past the teenage years and I don’t have to worry (anymore) about having to deal with the issue of teenage pregnancy in my house. Whew.

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8 Responses to “The Secret Life of The American Teenager is No Secret After All”

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  1. Michael says:

    Well one thing is for sure and that is probably the main thing on teenagers minds lol… at least when I was a teenager…

    The part where she says that “she doesn’t have any views on teen pregnancy she is just telling the story of one who got pregnant” is a pretty ignorant statement. I know TV is about education, but when you make something dedicated towards kids, you need to have a deeper message…

    My 2 cents

  2. This show certainly doesn’t look enticing to me. I’m with you: yawn. Who watches this stuff?

  3. April says:

    I have no desire to watch that show or the Baby Borrowers. When they come up with a more realistic “reality” show that shows a teenage mom on her own, living in her parents’ basement, and buying formula with food stamps, then I’ll watch.

    And that one review was dead-on when they said that pregnancy = instant popularity. Kids seem so obsessed with getting attention these days. Like the girls who videoed themselves beating up the other girl. Its all about being famous, even if it is just among their peers. Look at how common phrases like “drama queen” and “attention whore” have become?

    But what happens when that 9 months of drama, attention and popularity comes to an end? Where does that leave the child? Where does that leave the teen mom? All of a sudden her “friends” have disappeared and she’s got this screaming infant to take care of.

    This whole subject just breaks my heart, it hits too close to home, and I don’t see anything “entertaining” about teen pregnancy so why make movies and TV shows making it look like “fun”?

  4. Lin says:

    It really bugs me when I hear about television or movies that are about teen pregnancy, as more often than not, it’s presented in such a way that can give teen/tween girls the idea that having a baby is their ticket to popularity and feeling like “someone to love me” should come in the form of an innocent life.

    It’s also unfortunate that many teens go see these movies on their movies with their friends out of sight from parents, so parents are often unaware of what type of information their teenage daughters and sons are receiving.

    Then again, the statistics I’ve read about the number of parents who actually talk to their kids about sex, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases etc is rather low. Guess who ends up having to carry most of the responsibility of taking care of these babies? The parents of the teen. I’m so glad mine are past that age, as there is no way I’d be put in that position of taking care of and raising a baby all over again. I’m done with all that.

  5. Ashley says:

    I’m not sure why all these comments say that this show is saying that becoming pregnant leads to popularity. Amy has people talking behind her back every day, and even one of her friends knows it’s a possibility that her parents won’t let her speak to Amy anymore. That’s what really happens in high school. In no way is Amy becoming more popular by her pregnancy.
    She’s facing that struggle that any teenager who becomes pregnant faces: making the choice of what to do with her baby, the possiblity of losing friends, the difficulty of telling her parents. This show really does portray an accurate account of what high school is like today.

  6. Lin says:

    Hi Ashley, it’s a well known fact that many teens that became pregnant thought getting pregnant would make them more popular in school. Or, pregnancy was a way of making the teen feel “loved” by someone, and the reality of how difficult having and raising children really is seems far-fetched for many teens. I don’t watch the show, so I don’t know what is or isn’t currently going on with the teens on the show. I’m just not interested in it, nor The Baby Borrowers.

  7. Bee says:

    it doesnt make it look fun it just shows you what a teenager would go through if she happens to be pregnant at that young age…..alot of stress on her shoulders.

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