According to stayteen.org three in 10 girls in the United States will get pregnant before their 20th birthday. That shocking statistic adds up to approximately 745 thousand teen pregnancies each year. Knowing that, the “talk” that parents dread having with their children becomes more and more of a necessity.
Our precious little girls grow up idolizing the princesses out of their favorite storybook fairytales. They play dress-up; insisting on wearing a tiara for special occasions and leaving a trail of “pixie dust” wherever they go. As they mature and grow into young women, their role models change as well. In the past, some looked up to a relative or a famous woman in history like Jackie O or Eleanor Roosevelt. While that still holds true today, reputable role models have taken a back seat in this generation; one that puts magazine A-listers and reality TV superstars on a pedestal.
Britney Spears’ younger sister Jamie Lynn stunned the world when she announced her pregnancy in December of 2007, a few months shy of her 17th birthday. Bristol Palin made headlines when (during her mother, Sarah’s, Vice Presidential campaign) she announced that she would become a mother at 18 years old. New mother Beyonce Knowles’ became an aunt when her younger sister Solange Knowles gave birth to a son when she was 18 years old.
These young girls were already in the public eye when they announced that they were expecting, but soon teen pregnancy would be a primetime and box office hit with the show, The Secret Life of The American Teenager and the Indie movie, Juno. With their success, it was only a matter of time before reality television would capitalize on the teen pregnancy epidemic and over glamorize the issue, sending the wrong message to teenage girls
In response to the reality television phenomenon, MTV debuted Sixteen and Pregnant; a show featuring teenage girls and their challenging journey from their carefree adolescence towards being thrust into motherhood. After the success of the first season, MTV then decided to create a follow-up show called Teen Mom which focusses more on the tumultuous relationships between the new mothers and fathers, and the difficulty of going back to school, finding jobs, all the while taking care of a crying, and sometimes sick child. Soon, these teen mothers gained their own celebrity; making the front pages of popular magazines, being followed by paparazzi, and gaining a mass following from their fans on their Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Their pregnancy made them famous and, while some may argue that they’re turning lemons into lemonade, many teenage girls could possibly see this show as an easy way to make a name for themselves.
That’s where Dr. Kenneth Ryan comes in. I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Ryan, a former marriage and family therapist, and ask him about his views on these controversial, yet popular, young women and whether or not he believed that shows like Sixteen and Pregnant and Teen Mom were glamorizing teenage pregnancy. Ryan calls it incredible that a television show could turn teenage mother hood into something that appears glamorous and that it’s a,”huge cultural disservice to turn these troubled girls into role models.” Ryan’s advice: if your children are going to spend the time to watch shows like these, take advantage of the opportunity to have a conversation with them about sex.
Ryan’s no stranger to “the talk.” A father of three girls, he credits his strong relationship with each of his daughters by using everyday conversations to “build the bank of trust” as his daughters matured. In his experience as a marriage and family therapist he recounts that “money may be the number one problem in marriages, but sex is a close second.” In his new book, Finding your Prince in a Sea of Toads: How to Find a Quality Guy Without Getting Your Heart Shredded, Ryan stresses the importance of saving sex ’til marriage in order to protect your heart from confusing sex with love.
Dr. Kenneth Ryan’s book, Finding Your Prince in a Sea of Toads is available on Amazon.