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Outside editorial: The Spears pregnancy: Sending the wrong message

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2007

In homes with teenage girls across America last week, the big story was that teen TV star Jamie Lynn Spears is three months' pregnant.

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The 16-year-old sister of pop singer and celebrity train-wreck Britney Spears has her own Nickelodeon show, "Zoey 101," about a smart, resourceful girl attending a well-to-do boarding school on the California coast.

Dealing with a teenage pregnancy has not been among the story lines of "Zoey 101," though that is the plot of the new movie "Juno," which many are saying has Academy Award potential.

Jamie Lynn's delicate condition affirms a trend revealed in federal health statistics released earlier this month, which showed that after 14 years of decline, the teen birth rate in the United States increased by 3 percent last year.

Teenage pregnancy - and the challenges posed by it - is not a phenomenon found only among the poor. Well-off families experience it as well, as the case of Jamie Lynn illustrates so well. She, like the "Juno" character in the film, says she will carry her baby to term - a decision that will likely be used as fuel in the never-ending abortion debate.

Certainly, the child star's pregnancy again raises huge questions about the influence that teenage role models have on their young audiences.

It was only a couple of months ago that parents learned that Vanessa Hudgens, star of the Disney hit movie "High School Musical" had posed for nude photos. Hudgens, 18, who apologized for her bad judgment, appears to have weathered that storm.

Nickelodeon, however, appears to have little alternative but to fire Jamie Lynn. No doubt her co-stars are furious that her indiscretion may cost them their jobs, too.

Just as furious are parents who had hoped that this Spears sister would be different. In fact, Jamie Lynn is just like thousands of other teenage girls who find themselves in trouble. More than a lecture at a time like this, they need understanding.

Still, with this latest episode in the lives of the Spears family, one can't help wondering who was the genius who contracted the sisters' mother, Lynne, to write a book on parenting. The project reportedly has been put on hold. But given the problems her daughters have had, it's hard to believe the book was ever in the works.



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