January 03, 2008
But it can’t be true. How could the 16-year-old star of Nickelodeon’s squeaky clean Zoey 101 be knocked up? How could little Jamie Lynn be trumping big sis Brit in tabloid cover story potential? And — much more important — how on earth am I going to explain this to my five-year-old daughter, the self-proclaimed “predisent” of Jamie Lynn’s fan club?!
Okay, so it’s not the first time one of my kids’ celebrity role models has publicly plummeted from grace. It’s been, what, 72 hours since news broke of High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale’s cosmetic surgery (deviated septum, yeah, right…). And don’t even get me started on Michael Vick....
“Media is everywhere and it is a super-peer; it’s raising your kids as much as you are,” says Liz Perle, editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media. “It normalizes situations like this and makes it acceptable…. Our children are introduced to things way too early, but it’s up to us as parents to seize hold of the situation.”
Still, from a parental standpoint, Spears’ pregnancy seems more poignant, more threatening than your run-of-the-mill star scandal. And it is, because it forces us to have “the big talk” with our kids whether or not we deem them (or ourselves) ready.
“Thank you, Jamie Lynn,” says Dr. Judy Kuriansky, a clinical psychologist on the faculty of Columbia University Teachers College. “You have ruined the innocence of lots of kids and mothers who would rather not talk about this.”
“But,” Kuriansky said, “if you don’t talk about it, you’re in even worse shape.”
And she’s right, because whether or not we’ve ever watched an episode of Zoey 101 or even heard of Jamie Lynn Spears, you can bet your bottom Pokemon card that our kids have. And so have all their friends on the playground who are passing this Nick news story around like a bad case of the flu.
In other words, while it may be tempting to respond to our Zoey-inspired crisis by making Jamie/Britney/Mama Spears voodoo dolls, such savage measures will not help the situation. Instead we must embrace the silver lining of this latest cloud and turn it into a classic teachable moment. Here are some tips toward navigating the (virtually inevitable) “Zoey conversation”:
• Test the waters. Okay, so The New York Times reported that Star Magazine and its sister tabloids have replaced The Babysitter’s Club in the favorite tween literature category. So your average elementary school kid spends two hours a day surfing the Net. But the outside chance remains that your child has not heard about Zoey 101’s latest adventures. Begin your conversation therefore, by asking your child what she knows about Jamie Lynn. If you’re confident she’s oblivious, quickly change the subject to more childlike fare.
• Open the floor for questions. Should you determine that your kid is clued into the fact that Zoey 101’s straitlaced star is with child, don’t jump in with a premeditated lecture. Instead let your child’s questions guide the conversation. This will help you avoid spilling more information than necessary while keeping the discussion on an age-appropriate level.
• State the facts. As your child starts dishing out doozies, remain cool, answering the questions as honestly, factually, and succinctly as possible. “Yes, it is true that Jamie Lynn is pregnant; the baby is due in the spring; I don’t know if she will still be on Zoey 101.”
• Don’t dance around the big ones. I know what you’re thinking: But what happens when my child asks me how a kid like Zoey could get pregnant in the first place? Of course our knee-jerk reaction will be to run for cover at the first sign of this dreaded question, but we’ve already established that avoidance is not an option. Besides, the reality is that if your kid is cognitively prepared to think up the question, he’s just as prepared to hear an age-appropriate answer. If you feel comfortable tackling this one on your own, go for it. If not, turn to the library for assistance. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle and What’s the Big Secret: Talking About Sex with Boys and Girls by Laurie Kransy and Marc Brown (of Arthur fame) are both great resources.
• Reclaim the helm. While we’ve allowed our children’s questions to shape our conversation up to this point, it’s time to take back the helm. After all, in this age of the media-saturated childhood, our kids’ value systems seem up for grabs, and we can’t go down without a fight. In other words, don’t wrap up your Zoey chat without some heavy duty l’dor vador or the passing of our values from one generation to the next. So turn off the TV, lock down the Internet, and look your children right in the eye as you clearly communicate the hopes, dreams, and expectations you hold — and will always hold — for their present and their future.