In order to expand and reach more readers, I have moved Adventures of a Young Feminist to a new, self-hosted site! Please update your subscriptions, links, blogrolls, etc. The new site can be found at

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Romanticization of Secret Life

Has anyone else seen Secret Life of the American Teenager on ABC Family? I first got hooked on this show last summer while working at a camp. The teenage girls would sit in the lounge and watch this, so I started watching it with them.

In case you are unfamiliar, here is the basic plot. Amy is a 15 year old girl who gets pregnant at band camp (yes, that one time at band camp). She's surprised she's pregnant because she didn't even know she was having sex until after it happened (abstinence-only at work?). She's not interested in dating the father, Ricky, and instead starts dating good guy Ben (who wants to marry her). Ricky is involved (as in they have sex but aren't really in a relationship) with Adrian, who befriends Grace, the resident Christian virgin, who is dating Jack. Grace and Jack get into many disagreements about having sex. Amy's parents are getting divorced. So, that's a very broad overview. There's obviously a lot more that goes on, but I think this overview should help you understand this post and the problems that I have with the show a little better.

This is by no means a good show. I have a problem of getting weirdly addicted to bad television, which is why I watch this show, as bad as it is. And just because I watch it doesn't mean that I don't have problems with it. When I started watching it with those teenage girls at summer camp, I asked them why they liked it so much. Their response: "It's so realistic!"
Whoa there!

Now, into the second season of Secret Life, Amy has had the baby (John), her mom is pregnant (and it's unclear if it's her husband's or her boyfriend's), Grace and Jack have had sex, Grace's dad died and she thinks it's because she had sex (don't even get me started on that one!), Ricky is becoming responsible, and Ben is still dying to have sex.

While I think it is great that ABC Family has a show about teen pregnancy, it is not a realistic representation of this situation for a lot of people. In the most recent episode that aired on Monday, July 20, Amy (who has by now had her baby, John) complains to her mom about not being able to go to Italy with her boyfriend, Ben, for the summer. She claims that she is an adult now solely because she has a baby and can make decisions for herself. Mind you, she is still 15 (almost 16), does not have a passport, wants to go without her baby but doesn't have anyone she trusts (she wants her mom to do it) to watch the baby. A. What 15 year olds parents are going to let them go to Italy for the summer with her boyfriend who is going to stay with family and B. I bet a lot of single, teen parents wish their biggest problem was not being able to go to Italy for the summer.

When the teen girls told me they liked the show because it was so realistic, I asked them how many of their friends or people they knew were pregnant and had boyfriends who they were dating for a month who have pledged their love and desperately wanted to marry them (to the point of trying to get fake ids to elope)? Their answer: none. So, how is this realistic? While I'm sure this is the reality for some people out there, I really think that this show is romanticizing teen pregnancy.

When you look at the differences between Secret Life and something like 16 and Pregnant on MTV, you can plainly see the romanticization that happens in Secret Life. In 16 and Pregnant, the struggles of the teens are very clear (even though I wish they would show a little more of after the baby was born, maybe they'll go back to the same teens in a later episode...). Some of them deal with absent fathers, economic struggles, non-supportive or controlling parents, and social ostracism.

While Secret Life does show some struggles that Amy goes through, recently she just seems to be concerned with her social life and John, her baby, falls through the cracks, at least in her mind. Amy is just coming off, at least to me, as whiny and ungrateful. Her parents, especially her mother, are supporting her immensely through this and trying to help her take responsibility, but she won't have any of it. In the first season she was mad because she didn't want to give the baby up for adoption (which is completely reasonable) but was expecting her mother to provide free day care while she went on with life as normal. In the second season, she is heartbroken that she can't go to Grace's dad's funeral because she can't find a babysitting not because she wants to honor and say goodbye to her father, but because everyone else is going to be there. Seriously?

I don't mean to negate any experiences that teen parents might go through, even those similar to what happens on Secret Life. Maybe I have no place saying any of this because I was not a teen parent. But just because I wasn't a teen parent, doesn't mean I can't at least have an opinion about the show. Has anyone else seen this show? What do you think about it?


Alyssa said...

Like you, I have this habit of becoming addicted to horrible tv, Secret Life being one of my guilty pleasures. And this show is horrible - bad acting and bad messages. The worst part - I work with pregnant and parenting teenagers and yes, this is so far from reality it's ridiculous. My partner makes fun of me for watching, saying "Why would you want to watch a show about what you work for every day?" But I say, it's nothing like my job! It's like teen pregnancy and parenting in an alternate universe. But I can't stop watching...

Blog Widget by LinkWithin