The other day, when I saw Jamie Lynn Spears' primped image on the cover of OK! Magazine, clutching her adorable newborn baby, I had to ask myself, "What sort of message does this send? Is this glamorizing teenage pregnancy? Do teens know better than this?"
Absolutely it glamorizes teen pregnancy and, absolutely, most teens know better. But there are always the vulnerable, impressionable few who don't, and they're not the ones getting the rumored $7 million deals for full exclusives and first pics on the cover of a celebrity magazine.
You just have to look at how well-made up she is in that picture. How can anyone believe it's not glorifying teen pregnancy? Instead of it being something inappropriate and kept under wraps, this girl is set for life. There are no negative consequences. One of the final episodes of Zoey 101 had triple the ratings when the scandal broke. But Jamie Lynn doesn't even need to work for Nickelodeon anymore. She's got her check.
I draw a distinction between this example, and the example of the movie Juno, which has been getting flack for a mini-spike in teenage pregnancies across the country. Britney's little sister is a real life example, and Juno is fiction. I don't think we should be comparing what happens in movies and what goes on in real life. People blame Juno for those 17 girls who got pregnant in Gloucester High School in Massachusetts. But there's clearly something else at work here.
I call it Warholism -- the belief that every teen holds that fame is a possibility for them at some point in their lives. Whether it's movie star fame or YouTube notoriety, they believe it can happen to them.
Teens are so exposed to celebrity culture these days that they want to be a part of it. Jamie Lynn's story is just an extreme example of this trend. She's plugged into the same cycle as all the other celeb moms, like J. Lo and Angelina Jolie, who sell the first pics of their babies to the highest bidder.
But there is a spillover effect. Those pregnant high school girls wanted their 15 minutes of fame and guess what. They got it. They got their turn on the Today Show, and all the other network and cable news shows. They got talked about, written about and blogged about. Their story was the media feeding frenzy of the moment, and no doubt several more bad decisions will result among a segment of misguided, poorly-parented youth.
Whatever the reasons their high school principal gave, and however much they try to deny there was a pact between them, these girls were high-fiving each other and planning group baby showers when they found out they were underage and expecting. A few of the young women even got themselves impregnated by the same 24-year old homeless man. And the girls who didn't get pregnant were upset. They felt left out. They didn't get to be a part of the notoriety. They weren't in the Warhol club.
Other factors were no doubt at play. A poor fishing town in New England with limited funds for education about family planning is one. The desire for love and acceptance is another. But you can't tell me that what they were exposed to in the media didn't influence these girls.
This day and age of Warholism certainly complicates the discussions even the best parents and teachers can have with their kids about sexuality and behaving responsibly. Not to let neglectful parents off the hook, but there is no denying that kids are so much more exposed to what's happening in the media than even five years ago. Back then, I couldn't have even imagined a cover like the one on OK! glorifying teen pregnancy.
So how does Warholism work, exactly? Youth know they can have their 15 minutes of fame with the click of a mouse. All it takes is a little creativity, a video camera, and an Internet connection. Just look at what's happening on MySpace, YouTube, My Grammy Moment, and reality TV in general. There's also Twitter, which gives up to the minute news about their lives with its, "What are you doing now?" platform. TV blogs allow kids to post clips of anything, and MySpace Music enables them to publicize their own music. In the case of a few average kids and their computers, it even leads to record contracts.
Add to the mix the homes where both parents work, a kid's desire to keep up with his or her peers, and the fact that parents just don't seem to be able to monitor what kids do 24/7 on the Internet, where things are far worse than anything you can see on television. It's a disaster waiting to happen.
The good news is that most teens are smart enough to know the difference between posting a music video and doing something crazy just to get fame for fame's sake. Most of my 9,000 BuzzSpotters are not impressed with the Jamie Lynn story. In fact, they find her utterly tragic, and the term "trailer trash," has been thrown around a few times. They know there is a difference between a celebrity girl getting pregnant and using the baby as an accessory. These kids are too smart for that. Like Meryl Streep, they find the trend of famous and infamous people using their babies as commodities in a voyeuristic age, "totally disgusting."
But there is always going to be that girl who's naïve enough to be drawn in by the hype, and desperate enough for some kind of validation. For her sake I hope the media has hit bottom with this latest magazine cover. Unfortunately, I think there are more depths to plumb.
The whole thing just makes me gasp and wonder, "OK, what's next?"
Tina Wells, 28, founded Buzz Marketing Group when she was just 16. A leading consulting company that specializes in the latest youth trends, Buzz clients include St. Martin's Press, SonyBMG, Sesame Workshop and Time Inc., to name a few. A trailblazer in her field, her list of honors include Essence Magazine's 40 Under 40 Award, Billboard's 30 Under 30 Award, and AOL's Black Voices Female Entrepreneur's Award.