LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jamie Lynn Spears wasn’t the only one who was “shocked and scared” when the popular television star realized she was pregnant at age 16.
Spears, the kid sister of pop phenomenon Britney Spears, has posed a “what do we tell the children?” dilemma for parents of fans of Nickelodeon’s school-based drama “Zoey 101” who see Jamie Lynn as a clean-cut, sensible role model on the show.
“Dang. We thought Jamie Lynn was the nice and normal one,” celebrity blogger Perez Hilton commented.
The pregnancy, unveiled in an exclusive interview in OK! Magazine, has quickly become the most talked-about celebrity news items of the week, leaving parents of Jamie Lynn’s 8- to 12-year-old fan base little room to hide.
“When the news splashed across the Today Show that Jamie Lynn was pregnant, my 12-year-old son was totally shocked. The first words out of his mouth were, ‘Mom, she’s only like 16 years old.’ We then discussed certain choices people make for themselves,” one mother wrote on an Us Weekly message board.
“This is a big deal for moms. It is very upsetting,” said Sabrina Weill, editor-in-chief of the MomLogic.com Web site and the author of “The Real Truth about Teens and Sex.”
“Whether or not moms are ready to have this conversation with tweens, it is being brought up. When tweens are searching the Internet for this character who they like, they are going to find this information on her, they are going to see her on the magazine cover and they are going to hear about it at school.”
The United States already has the highest teen pregnancy rate among the most developed nations and a national report in December showed the birth rate for teens rising in 2006 for the first time since 1991. The reasons are unclear.
Critics of the Bush government’s emphasis on abstinence-only programs for teens seized on Jamie Lynn’s pregnancy as another sign that the policy was not working.
“Get real people. Sixteen-year-old girls nowadays are more world conscious and kids earlier than ever are learning about sex,” a writer called Randallmcmurphy1 said on a community.comcast.net forum.
But judging from comments on buzzing blogs and message boards, some parents are reaching for their TV’s off switch.
“I’m telling the kids ‘Zoey 101’ has been canceled. I hope Nickelodeon does the right thing and cancels the show. She is a role model for young girls. Looks like she’s following in the footsteps of her sister,” Arden VanNatten of Schenectady, New York, wrote on a CNN.com forum.
Many parents feared the wide publicity given to Jamie Lynn’s pregnancy and her decision to keep the baby would persuade teens to think young motherhood is acceptable.
One 16-year-old who said she was seven months pregnant said it was a wake-up call to girls like her.
“To all of you ignorant parents out there, kids are gonna do what they want to do. It’s best that you tell them how to protect themselves other than to tell them not to do it at all,” wrote Rachey! on the Reuters.com Fan Fare blog.
Weill suggested parents take the opportunity to emphasize the difference between the fantasy life of TV and reality.
“Ask your teen or tween tough questions; ‘How do you think Jamie Lynn felt telling her mom and her dad? How do you think she felt telling her friends she was pregnant?’,” she said.
“You’ve been given your opening whether you want it or not.”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and John O'Callaghan