ALTHOUGH WE LIVE in a post-“Juno,” Jamie Lynn Spears world, Bristol Palin’s pregnancy has detonated an explosion of cringe-worthy opinion, rhetoric and oversharing that would make any parent nervous.
Palin, the 17-year-old daughter of Alaska Gov. and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is five months pregnant.
Sarah Palin, a mother of five, said that she and her husband have offered unconditional support to Bristol, who intends to marry the child’s father. With agenda-driven bloggers and talking heads editorializing in the background, how do ordinary parents sift through the noise to have a frank discussion about sex and its consequences with their kids?
Parents should be prepared to define their own values and expectations to their kids, said Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood in southeast Texas. Parents should ask themselves: What is the value system of our family? Is my expectation that my child will remain abstinent until marriage?
Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, wonders if Americans — parents and nonparents alike — should also use this opportunity to take a hypocrisy test.
“How do you respond to the out-of-wedlock pregnancy of Jamie Lynn Spears and how do you respond to the pregnancy of this young woman?” asked Thompson.
“One is a public figure; the other is the daughter of a politician. Did you judge those two on a different basis?” What if your own child were pregnant?
Next, get over being mortified by the prospect of talking about sex. Providing children with information about sex and its ramifications will help them make good decisions and go a long way toward preventing unwanted pregnancies, said Robert Sanborn, chief executive officer and president of Children At Risk, a nonprofit children’s research and advocacy group. The sex talk many parents dread should really be an ongoing conversation that starts when children are very young, Tafolla said.
“It begins with using ... proper words for private areas, so that from a young age children are able to say, ‘This is my body. I know the right words for it. And I’m in charge of it,’” she said. You want to be talking about it when kids are 5, 7, 9. You don’t wait until they’re 15 or 17.”
Frank talk about sex does not have to be political. “What can we all agree on?” asked Tafolla.
“Most people can agree that 17- or 15-year-old girls getting pregnant is not what anyone wants. ... We also know the outcomes for the child aren’t very good. They’re not as likely to finish school or earn as much.”
Films such as “Juno” and high-profile teen pregnancies —Spears, a Nickelodeon star and younger sister of pop singer Britney, sparked an intense national debate on the topic earlier this year — gave parents a perfect opportunity to talk about sex with their children.
A presidential campaign now provides another one.
“This is a teachable moment — use it,” said Julie Crowe, manager of intervention services at a children’s center in Houston.