I have a new addiction, it’s The Secret Life of the American Teen. Yes, I’ll admit it, it’s not a very good show. The characters are somewhat one-dimensional (at least some of the time) and the plots are often quite unbelievable, if not plain old stupid. But yet, once I realized it was on NetFlix streaming, I started watching and got hooked.
If you aren’t familiar with the plot line of this ABC Family series, the series began with the focus on Amy Jurgens, a 15 year-old who discovers, at the very beginning of the first episode, that she is pregnant. The first year follows Amy as she decides what to do with the baby – keep or adopt – and also as she deals with the father of the baby, her new boyfriend, her best girlfriends, the Christian good girl at her school, the school slut, teachers, parents, her sister, and so on.
I actually saw the first episode when it first aired in 2008 and couldn’t watch more than that first installment. I found it didactic and boring.
But yet, now I’m hooked, and I’ll tell you why. The Secret Life of the American Teen does a great job at showing how important it is for adults to be a part of teen lives and to have real and straightforward conversations with teens. In every episode there are lots of conversations between teens and adults and the adults talk with the teens directly about sex (the show really does revolve around sex), making good decisions, and personal responsibility. While at times the conversations seem forced and too didactic, they are conversations nonetheless. I love that!
The other thing that really draws me to the program is that the teens and adults talk about all different aspects of sex. Whether or not it should be fun. If oral sex is sex. If masturbation is a way to manage a teen’s sexual desires. Responsibilities of fathers and mothers to their children. And more. The topics covered are topics that teens are curious about and that adults should be talking about with teens.
As I watch I think about all the reasons why all adults aren’t having these types of conversations with the teens in their lives. The reasons include fear and risk. It’s a risk to have straightforward conversations with teens about these topics because it’s not clear where the conversation will lead. One might be fearful of having to give away a bit of their own experience and past when talking about difficult topics. Or fear that the conversation will lead a teen in a direction that isn’t what the adult would desire for the teen. But, really, the lack of conversation is more frightening and risky as teens could end up making decisions without the benefit of adult experience, wisdom, and support.
Of course conversation isn’t all that it takes to keep a teen safe and smart about the decisions he or she makes in life. Conversations however can go a long way to helping to guarantee that teens have the skills they need in order to make good decisions about life. Every teen has to have those conversations. Every teen should have the opportunity to have these conversations. As teen librarians we can help to guarantee the conversations happen by having materials available in libraries that support teen decision-making. We can also help parents and other adults in teen lives understand the importance of straight talk with teens.
By the way, a documentary available on NetFlix streaming, and of course via other means, that demonstrates the power of high-quality conversation between teens and adults is The Education of Shelby Knox. I highly recommend viewing this movie to see another model of the value of adult/teen open and straightforward conversation.
Great post, Linda! I think another main reason adults don’t have frank conversations about sex with teens is simple embarrassment. And worry that teens will ask “Well do you do that?”
Good point Sarah, I think you are right and actually they handle that pretty well on The Secret Life. For example, the first time masturbation came up the mom of Grace, the Christian girl who is talking to her mom about sex, was up-front and honest about her own life and whether or not she does masturbate. There they are sitting at the kitchen table having this frank conversation and the mom doesn’t blink. She simply answers the questions without embarrassment and tells the truth. That’s the way it should be.