Monday, August 3, 2009

The American Teenager

I know that I complain a lot about television on this blog and I hate that, but I have to do it again. Before I do, however, I would like to say that there are many things I love about TV such as how it's always available; at times there are some incredible programs presented and stories told such as those on Heroes, House, and True Blood; and it provides good lessons if you are open to seeing them. Sometimes, however, those lessons are not good and that's what I want to complain about now.

I have watched several episodes of The Secret Life of the American Teenager on ABC Family. I must applaud the network for actually creating a series with actors and writers and plot lines rather than just phoning it in with a reality show. The problem that I have with the show is that these characters are so self-important. I know they are teenagers and maybe I haven't been around many teenagers since I was one, but are they really like this or does the series exaggerate the truth for drama? (Please tell me it's the latter.)

There's this one character, Grace, who is a Christian. She decides to break her commitment to abstinence one night after fighting with her father. To prove (to him) that she's an adult, she has sex with her boyfriend (a sure sign that she is not an adult if you ask me). Then her father dies in a plane crash and she declares that she is responsible because she had sex. Really? I know she is grieving and grief makes you think unclearly at times, but I was so irritated by her. Fifty people come in to tell her that she is not responsible yet she keeps insisting she is. If she didn't feel the world revolved around her she would realize that even if God were punishing her, God probably wouldn't punish everyone else with her father's death.

That's just one example. Both of the teen aged parents on the show keep harping about how they are grown now that they have a baby. No, you're just children who have a baby. When Amy, the teen mother, goes into labor, she fusses about how she is in pain and she should be given special consideration because she is 15. It seems that she feels that her early pregnancy and motherhood somehow sets her apart in a special way.

Maybe the show is trying to criticize this kind of self-centeredness by making it so pervasive and annoying that no one can take them seriously.

My biggest problem with this show, however, is the way the adults indulge the self-important teenagers. They talk to these kids about their sex lives and their romantic entanglements like the teenagers are their best friends. Not only is it odd that people of such varying ages should be able to identify with one another, but also it is irresponsible and unrealistic that parents would burden their children and children's friends with their own personal problems. Amy's dad, for instance, fails to get a vasectomy and confides this info to Grace along with the worry that his ex-wife's pregnancy is indeed his doing. What? This bizarre relationship between adults and teenagers is doubly disturbing because it lends itself to the teenagers getting the parents told! They consistently put the parents in check and act as if they have the right to do so. What kind of message is that to send? Not to sound like an old codger, but back in my day, kids were lectured by the parents, not the other way around. And the world was better for it.

This show does periodically punctuate its scenes with psa's about teen sex and the need for more communication about it between parent and child, but the good message it tries to send is obscured, to me, by the more prominent message of encouraged teen self-importance.


The Steel Magnolia said...

Interestingly, I saw the part of the episode with the girl and her father (despite the fact that I've never seen any other episode--we are so in synch!). It seemed almost comical to me; was it supposed to be?

When I was in 7th grade, our social studies teacher completely bitched us out because we were supposed to bring items for a charity project and nobody brought anything. She went on and on about how selfish teenagers are and how they (we) don't empathize and how they (we) are short-sighted. In hind-sight, that really seems to be true. I guess that's what you see in the show.

But I don't know what to tell you about the "message" though.

Anonymous said...

Some high school teachers are "cool" with their students and I as a parent hate it. The students know all of the teacher's personal business and the teachers are gossiping with the students about one another...I remember when all we know about our teachers was their name, how I miss those days...

countryfriedmama said...

When my kids get too old for Super Why! and Between the Lions, I'm in trouble. There is no way I can handle this kind "family" programming on my TV.

teenager said...

I absolutely love the show. I always get jumpy when an episode is about to air.

The Diva said...

Anonymous, I'll go you one better. I know of a case of teachers using the students to pass love notes to each other. The even sadder aspect to the story is that one of the teachers was married to someone else (and people knew it).

Teenager, I'm not saying the show isn't interesting (you see I've watched enough to know the characters' names and backstories); I just don't think it always presents appropriate messages and relationships.