Jamie Lynn Spears Pregnant – What About the Father?

Maybe the media needs more education about how babies are made.  It does still take a male and a female, right?

So why aren't the media talking about the responsibility of Jamie Lynn Spears's boyfriend in her pregnancy? 

Spears, the 16-year-old star of Nickelodeon's hit show Zoey 101, announced through OK! Magazine that she is pregnant by her boyfriend, Casey Aldridge.

Morning network shows responded by trotting out experts to explain how to talk to kids about pregnancy and the importance of parental supervision with regard to teen sex, but only Al Roker, the weatherman on NBC's Today, made the obvious point that “nobody is talking about the young man.”

What is the message the media are sending to boys?  That pregnancy is simply a girl's responsibility?  That it's up to the girl alone to deal with a situation that required a boy's participation to create?   

With the announcement Spears becomes the poster child for the media's big story of a couple of weeks ago: the rise in the teen pregnancy rate.  Surely Spears didn't set out to get pregnant, but given the sex-saturated culture of Hollywood, it's no surprise she wound up as one of the statistics. 

Spears's celebrity affords the media opportunities galore to throw caution to the wind and spin this story in myriad ways. They've already started.

First, the reporting of the news.  Spears chose to confirm the rumors of her pregnancy in that most Hollywood of ways, through a celebrity magazine.  Another celeb mag, People, chose to report the story in the context of sister Britney's reaction, which was to go shopping.  People also reported that the teen is 12 weeks pregnant.  The Hollywood Reporter focused on what the pregnancy would do to production of Zoey 101.  Apparently nothing.  Production on the final season finished in September, so Nickelodeon will not have to worry about putting a pregnant Zoey on camera.   Jaime Lynn and Britney's mom, Lynne Spears, does have worries.  The deal for her book on parenting is reportedly on hold, according to E!Online.

Most mainstream media outlets, from The Washington Post to NBC's Today show, carried Spears' statement saying her message to preteen fans was, “It's better to wait.  But I can't be judgmental because it's a position I put myself in.”  Today included an interview with an educational psychologist with advice on how to talk to children about the news.  Today's Roker commented that his 9-year-old daughter is a huge fan of Zoey 101 but wondered how to tell her about the teen's pregnancy.

The psychologist, Michelle Borba, mentioned that most parents will have to gauge their message to “how much previous information you have already talked to her about S-E-X.”  The advice was generally sound, including a research fact that most kids who engage in sex do it in their own homes between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. when mom and dad aren't home.  But there was no mention of abstinence. 

While Spears is to be commended for choosing to have her baby, what is most striking about the statement is that it reads like a talking point for comprehensive sex education, the media's favored approach to kids and sex. “Abstinence is best, but since kids are gonna do it anyway …”

Another media aspect of this story is the fact that Spears is a teen star on a network targeting children.  Zoey 101 has been a popular entry in the Nickelodeon roster for four years and is currently airing its final season.  The show is about a boarding school in California and the relationships and lives of the students that attend it.  Spears arguably got the gig as Zoey because of her more famous older sister, but has since risen to stardom among the 'tween demographic – a highly desirable one for advertisers.  Her audience ranges in age from 8 to 15, and there is a vast array of Zoey 101 merchandise including DVD sets, clothing, accessories and toys.

In her Today interview, Borba said the children most likely to be affected by the news of Spears' pregnancy were the 'tweens.

BORBA: The APA came out with a fascinating bit of research that who this is going to impact the most is not the older kid. It's the middle school age girls because they're the ones that are really -- particularly, if they have lower identity. Those are the ones you're going to have to really watch a little closer.

It's a fact that media affects behavior, and this is especially true for children. The American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have both issued reports and guidelines about children and media consumption. Seeing their idols dress a certain way, or engage in certain behavior, can lead children to imitate them.  

Media messages inform values and opinions. (See CMI's special report The Media Assault on American Values for more.)  Madison Avenue and Hollywood spend millions of dollars to make that happen.  And sex is one of the biggest commodities both sell.  They sell it during commercials. They sell it during TV shows and in movies.  They sell it in clothing.

And they sell it to kids. 

The news media are complicit in the selling when they bash abstinence education in favor of comprehensive sex education. (See CMI's Sex, Lies and Bias for a report on this topic.)

It's likely that Spears' pregnancy will not top the news cycle 48 hours from now, but the media obsession with the sexualization of children will continue.  Journalists reporting on the Spears pregnancy have an opportunity to exercise responsibility and portray the real consequences of teen sexual activity.  Question is, will they take it?

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer and Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.