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Family TV Guide: 'The Secret Life of the American Teenager'

by Jane Boursaw, posted Jun 14th 2010 6:00PM
The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Cast Photo
Mon., 8PM ET on ABC Family
FCC Rating: TV-14, D (for intensely suggestive dialogue)
Jane's Rating: OK for kids 11+, as long as parents talk with them about the show

ABC Family's tagline these days is "a new kind of family" and, apparently, that includes families where the teenagers are having sex. Whether that mirrors real life or not, the network definitely seems to be going for an edgier vibe lately, leaning more towards The CW than the Disney Channel.

My daughter is about to turn 13, and she's watched 'The Secret Life of the American Teenager' since the show premiered in 2008. But not all her friends are allowed to watch it, which is understandable. Every other word seems to be "sex," and it's a challenge to keep track of who's sleeping with whom. Keep in mind that most of the characters on this show are teenagers (although their parents seem to have fairly active sex lives, too).

Maybe kids are having lots of sex, and that's why the show has struck a chord with viewers. The first episode that aired in 2008 featured 15-year-old Amy Juergens discovering she's pregnant after losing her virginity to Ricky Underwood at band camp. But even with that first episode, it wasn't just about the teens of Grant High having sex. We learned that Ricky had spent time in a foster home thanks to his abusive dad, and that Amy was getting close to Ben, which whom she still has a relationship as of last week's season three premiere.

Although some of the dialogue is a little contrived, none of these characters, including the parents, are one-note. Life is complicated and messy. People make mistakes. Sometimes things happen that we wish hadn't happened. But, like the folks on this show, you dust yourself off and figure out how to move forward.

Having baby John has certainly made life more complicated for Amy and Ricky. Amy wasn't even sure she'd keep the baby at first, but things seemed to align themselves and she decided to keep him after all. And Ricky is no absentee father. He makes a point to spend time with John, stopping by to say good night and doing his best to be a good dad. It's not a perfect situation, but few things in life are perfect.

Because of all that, I don't mind that my daughter watches 'The Secret Life of the American Teenager.' Let's face it -- our society seems to glorify sex, and teens feel pressured to do it. I would hope that it's helping girls her age to realize that actions have consequences, and maybe sleeping with a guy when you're still in high school isn't the best decision. Getting pregnant not only has a major impact on the teens, but also everyone around them.

I would also hope that the show opens a window for discussion between parents and kids about sex, pregnancy and parenthood. The show is shown from an upper middle class perspective, so you don't get the dark grittiness of, say, a film like 'Precious,' but that's OK. 'The Secret Life of the American Teenager' is presented in an entertaining way, which is partly why it's enticing to kids in the 11 to 14 age range. The show also includes a public service message involving teen pregnancy.

This season is gearing up for worldly Adrian's own pregnancy issues, and young Ashley wanting to go on birth control pills. In last week's episode, she convinced her dad to take her to the pediatrician, despite the fact that mom Anne was against the idea and didn't know about the doctor visit. It's a tough choice for a parent. Allow the birth control pills, and it looks like you're encouraging your daughter to have sex. Don't allow them and risk your daughter getting pregnant. Ashley says she doesn't want to have sex during her high school years, and she's seen how disruptive and devastating that decision has been for her sister Amy. Still ... it only takes one snap decision to change your world forever.

All that said, I think 'The Secret Life of the American Teenager' is fine for kids aged 11 and older who are entering middle school -- as long as their parents talk with them about the show, the pressure kids face to have sex, the consequences of having sex and possibly getting pregnant, and the fact that it's OK to just say no.

What are your thoughts? Do you let your kids watch the show? At what age do you think it's ok for kids to watch it? Do you use the show as a foundation to talk with your kids about sex?

Do you think 'The Secret Life of the American Teenager' is ok for kids aged 11 to 13?
Yes, they know about sex at that age, and the show offers a good foundation for discussion between parents and kids. 159 (48.5%)
No, that's too young for a show that's all about teens having sex. The show is rated TV-14 for a reason. 160 (48.8%)
It's complicated. I'll tell you in the comments.9 (2.7%)

(Follow @jboursaw on Twitter.)

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ok think about. first they already know all about sex. probably for a VERY long time. plus there are other shows that have that stuff in it that they watch. yes this show does REVOLVE around sex, but its not fair to say its a bad show for children because its not TEACHING them about sex. and its not telling them sex is good. they already know. obviously the message of three girls getting pregnant is not the sign that sex is the best option. and shouldnt you want them to learn this early. AND without the uncomfortable conversation just saying think about it

November 27 2010 at 12:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As a parent of a 17yr & 10yr..i support the show..this is how it really is in jr high & high school. the things that i see & hear from my children make me wonder, where are the parents of there friends, but the sad note is that there parents have no clue what they are doing in school.and some are to busy working to support there familys, you can be the best parent in the world & protect your child but in this day in time, there is so much persure on these kids & sex is one of them & as parents we should talk to them about sex & trust me if you dont they will find out in school & sometimes its to late. everyone is intitle to there opinion but an 11yr old that is in jr high will learn more then what they show on the show.

June 16 2010 at 12:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't support kids under 13 watching this show, but not because of the "it's all about sex" thing. Because, I don't think that's the main focus of the show. I don't see a reason for pre-teens to be watching any teenager shows that young. Even something as "wholesome" as Saved by the Bell I don't always agree with letting the younger kids watching. I think I would've been in for the shock of my life if I had watched Beverly Hills, 90210 when it first aired. I'm glad I didn't start watching it until later. I just don't really support watching shows that are "too old" for you. Melrose Place wasn't something I should have watched in high school, even tho I did once in a while.

June 15 2010 at 2:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Honestly, for a show that's trying NOT to glorify sex for teens and show the possible consequences, it does the complete opposite. Amy's pregnancy seemed to be a whining point and nothing more for the show. If you really want to show someone consequences, why not show the pain and horrible labor? That entire ordeal was filmed entirely in the waiting room once the hard part began.

And honestly, what's it teaching kids when people keep getting pregnant. First Amy, then her mother, then Adrian? If the characters keep getting pregnant and they seem hunky dory in the end, then how is that really showing a consequence?

June 15 2010 at 9:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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