Saturday, January 5, 2008

Raising teens in a "Juno" world

One of the most critically-acclaimed movies released during the holdiays has been a quirky little film called "Juno." I have to admit that I left the theater last week with a boatload of concerns about this movie and what it's saying to teen girls.

Since then, I've had several conversations about the movie, one of them with a mom who used the film as a talking point with her daughter. I've also read a piece in today's paper by syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman who refers to herself as a fuddy-duddy for her own reaction to "Juno" and other films which deal with unexpected pregnancies in a fairly cavalier manner. Frankly, I don't think she is.

For those of you who've not seen the film and don't keep track of such things, Juno is a very precocious teenager with a smart mouth and more self-possession than most college grads I've run across. Finding herself pregnant, she pretty much makes a unilateral decision to have her baby, find a couple desperate to have a child and allow them to adopt her baby. She finds them in a giveaway classified newspaper, which does suggest she's not quite as bright as we're otherwise led to believe.

She's lovingly supported through this crisis by her father and her stepmother. If a single one of them worries about the emotional toll of all this, it's given very short attention on screen.

As for the teen father, he's pretty much sidelined until after the delivery, when the much-relieved Juno turns the baby over to the chosen mom, whose husband has conveniently hit the road. Juno goes back to her boyfriend as if nothing much happened, they resume playing music together and life, presumably, goes on as if the entire pregnancy has been little more than a blip in their lives . . . or a "bump" as Hollywood is so fond of saying when stars' pregnancies start to show.

We are, as Ellen Goodman mentions, a long, long way from Dan Quayle's flap over a pregnant Murphy Brown.

I'm of two minds about all this. "Juno" and the recently-revealed pregnancy of teen star Jamie Lynn Spears can provide a wonderful opportunity for parents to discuss the risks of premature sexual activity. It opens a door for discussions that are often uncomfortable and way too often delayed until it's too late, when kids have already gotten all their knowledge and values when it comes to sex from other sources. Anything that can make "the talk" easier and more timely is positive.

However, in the case of "Juno," which is rated PG-13, I worry that too many teen girls will see it on their own, that there will be no parental conversations about what it all means, and that they'll come away with the idea that an unplanned pregnancy while still in high school will be little more than a nine-month nuisance to be endured, with the resulting baby handed off without a second thought. We all know it doesn't work that way in real life.

For one thing, all parents are not as understanding and supportive as those in the film. Some might even push their teens into a marriage for which they're far from ready. In some cases, the reaction can be even harsher and more devastating. Even if that doesn't happen, having a baby and giving it up can take an emotional toll that lasts a lifetime. Despite increased sexual activity among young people at an earlier and earlier age, evidence of it -- a pregnancy -- can still turn a girl into a social outcast at an age when they're especially vulnerable. Not every teen has the self-esteem and support to weather the negative reactions of their peers . . . or their peers' parents.

As a writer of romance and women's fiction novels, I've been in the business of creating happy endings from very complex situations for my entire career. I hope, though, that I've never done that without dealing with all of the ramifications and powerful emotions involved. There's a huge difference, in my opinion, between finding happiness despite all of the complications and difficulties of a situation and glibly pretending that none of those difficulties exist. I prefer my happy endings with a dose of reality figured in.

If you've seen this movie, let us know your reaction. If you have a teenaged daughter, did you see it with her? Were you able to talk about it? Or if you've used other situations in the news, such as Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy, to initiate a conversation with your kids, tells us about that too. I'd really like to know what you think about this.

Sherryl Woods

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Blogger karende said...

I haven’t actually seen the movie, but I had a roommate years ago who had gone through something similar. She was in her senior year of high school, and when her parents found out she was pregnant, they basically threw her out - but they did let her stay long enough to finish school and graduate, first. She got herself to a different state and arranged for a private adoption. The prospective parents paid for the medical bills, paid for her upkeep, and a year in college while waiting for the birth. Once the baby came, the papers were signed and the baby became theirs. I never asked how she chose them, but she was satisfied that they could provide a happy life that was beyond anything she could do. They remained in touch over the years, and the baby, as it grew older, knew her only as an honorary aunt, a friend of the family, who made irregular visits. Everything went as well as it possibly could. But my roommate also said that she was never cut out to be a parent and would never risk it again and she had her tubes tied. She was, more than anything, afraid that if she did have another child and something happened to her, her parents would sue for custody and probably win, because they were ‘good’ people, pillars of the community. She said if she thought that would ever happen, she’d drown her baby in a bucket before she let them get their hands on it and do to it what they’d done to her.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only one I knew who’d been in similar situations.

In the case of Jamie Lynn, all I can say is “What happened to the law?” As Judge Joe Brown is fond of saying, 16 will get you 20 - meaning 16 is statutory rape. Some states allow marriages when the girl is 16, but barring marriage, it’s still statutory rape, no matter how willing she is. And she’s not even from a culture that encourages early marriage, like some of the Hispanic and Asian countries - unless being rich and famous counts as a subculture where people can do whatever they want.

January 5, 2008 11:21 PM  
Blogger mom2armybratz said...

I watched this movie from two perspectives. First, I WAS that proverbial "cautionary whale" when I had my oldest daughter during my Junior year in high school.
The other perspective is that I took my own daughter to see the movie for her birthday.
As I watched that movie I listened to the howling laughter of the teen girls in the audience while I was reliving emotions that don't often surface anymore. I shared your concerns about the message it sent to those laughing girls. They didn't *get it* that what Juno was dealing with was not something that most girls can shrug off and be brilliant about! The truth of it is that even in the best of circumstances a teen pregnancy WILL affect a girl for the rest of her life. Experiences like that are not that easily swept under the rug and forgotten.
Even today, over a decade later, I still deal with less than polite comments and in some cases an utter lack of respect. This is not because of anything that I'm doing now, it's simply because I gave birth at 16.
On a side note, the actual statute is that a girl is capable of consent at 16, meaning that it is very difficult to prosecute a man for having sex with a girl who is even one day over 16.
My biggest concern about this mess with Jamie Lynn is that she is going to present a very unrealistic image of teen parenting to the world. She has plenty of money to take care of a child with. Most 16yr old moms don't have enough money to take care of themselves, let alone a baby!
My concern FOR Jamie Lynn is that her mother is exploiting her in a major way. Now we can look forward to another generation of Spears being raised by the same brilliant woman who raised Britney and Jamie Lynn. Let's just hope this is a boy!

January 30, 2008 11:52 AM  

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