Archive for November, 2010

‘Glee’ misadvises about needing a bf/gf to be happy

November 18, 2010

— Glee spoilers below. You’ve been warned! —

Glee is known for “tackling” problems that teens face every day — bullying, body issues, etc. — but it often misses the mark. That is exactly what happened this week on Glee, when Kurt kept ditching Mercedes to hang out Blaine, his only gay friend and a member of a rival Glee Club. Instead of both addressing that Kurt is a crappy friend for ditching her and/or further explaining what Blaine offers as a friend that Mercedes can’t, the conclusion is that Mercedes is eating her feelings and needs a man to be complete. Uh … what??

So the background of the storyline is this: Kurt meets Blaine, and they hit it off. Kurt is the only openly gay student at his school, and he is bullied because of it everyday. Blaine is someone that Kurt can identify with at a different level than anyone else at his high school because Blaine also was bullied for being gay, plus Kurt and Blaine get along and share a lot of common interests. Blaine is someone Kurt feels totally comfortable around, so it makes sense that he enjoys spending time with him.

But this new friendship actually started to interfere with his friendship with Mercedes — I think at first Mercedes just wanted to hang out with Kurt and he already had plans, but he actually started breaking plans with Mercedes in order to hang out with Blaine. Glee could’ve addressed how this can turn into a shady habit, and how in real life, relationships in which partners completely ditch their plans with friends at the whim of the significant other are unhealthy — but I give this a pass because Kurt only did this one time, and he eventually invited Mercedes to hang out with them (though she ended up feeling like a third wheel).

And then, to get Mercedes off his back, he tries to hook her up with another guy — eventually telling her that she has been using him (Kurt) as a stand-in boyfriend and then replacing Kurt with food, when really she needs to put herself out there. This could have been a moment where he tells Mercedes that she shouldn’t define herself with food or with men, but instead he tells her that she needs to define herself with a man.

Glee completely missed an opportunity to promote finding happiness within yourself and instead promoted relying on a significant other to find that happiness. If your own happiness is always in the hands of someone or something else, then you will cling to unhealthy relationships or habits because you’ve given them control of your emotions — it becomes not about being in a healthy relationship, but simply about not being alone. Of course a significant other can bring you happiness, as could eating unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks at Olive Garden, but those things shouldn’t be the foundation of your identity and who you are as a person.

Also, this isn’t the first time this season that Glee has completely gone askew when it comes to dealing with problems that teenagers face. In the Rocky Horror episode, male body issues were discussed, and the explanation Artie gives for those problems was related to Internet porn — yeah, no. Perhaps it was for comedic effect, but that entire episode brought Glee‘s mismanagement of these problems to the forefront. For a TV show that on the surface is cutting edge and different, its resolutions to many of these problems are pretty typical and lame.

16&P: Abortion, uneven sacrifices, distance, disappointment

November 10, 2010

This week on 16 and Pregnant we met Emily, a 16 year old who was kicked out of her mom’s house when she wouldn’t agree to get an abortion. Emily was living with her dad and stepmom and also dating Daniel, an easygoing guy — well, easygoing as long as he was getting his way and not having to take care of baby Liam.

1. What the teen wants vs. what the parents want

It’s not uncommon for the teen moms of 16 and Pregnant to disagree with their parents concerning their teen pregnancy — Farrah wanted an abortion and her mom was against it; Lori wanted to keep the baby and her parents wanted her to put it up for adoption; but this episode, both of Emily’s parents wanted her to get an abortion and Emily was against it. In fact, her mom was so against the pregnancy that she kicked Emily out when Emily refused to get an abortion. Emily’s parents are divorced, so — despite his objection to her keeping the baby — her dad agreed to let her stay with him.

Emily’s dad asked her if she thought that she was qualified to make such a decision, and she simply replied that there was “no turning back now.” But who is more qualified to make the right decision — the teen or the parents? The parents obviously are more aware of the stresses and sacrifices involved in parenthood, and perhaps Emily’s mom saw Emily’s refusing to get an abortion not only as a statement of Emily’s personal beliefs, but as a direct act of defiance against her. Although I don’t have a problem with people getting abortions, there is a problem with forcing someone to get an abortion, or using threats or coercion to get that person to agree to an abortion.

2. An unbalanced sacrifice

Emily put it best when she said, “I hate the fact that I’ve given up way more than [Daniel] has.” Not only did she lose her relationship with her mom because of her pregnancy, but she was on the verge of failing her classes because she was missing school because of morning sickness. Eventually she left her high school and enrolled in home schooling, but keeping up with her homework and graduating high school proved difficult once Liam was born.

Because Emily’s mom kicked her out, she moved in with her dad, who lived about an hour from Daniel. Daniel would come and visit, but he didn’t have nearly the responsibility of taking care of Liam that Emily did, and Emily told her friends that Daniel hadn’t spent more than two hours alone with Liam because Daniel got bored and tired of taking care of him. It also didn’t help that Daniel also told Emily that taking care of Liam wasn’t that hard, hence why she shouldn’t complain about having to do it all the time.

“What you do isn’t 24/7, you have a break,” Emily told Daniel, when she was telling him that though school and work is hard, they eventually end — taking care of Liam was round-the-clock, and she didn’t have his support to make it easier on her. She sacrificed her homework and graduating on time in order to take care of Liam — Daniel worked, but he admitted that he didn’t visit Emily as much because he was trying to enjoy his “freedom” before they moved in together.

It takes two people to make a baby, yet Emily doesn’t get an opportunity to “enjoy her freedom.” Because she has a uterus, the responsibility falls on her to take care of the baby and sacrifice her education, though Daniel played an equal part in making the baby and thinks he has a right to take advantage of his free time and tell Emily that what she does isn’t that hard … despite the fact he avoids doing it.

And Emily’s dad made a good point that, when discussing their plans with Daniel’s parents, it seemed like the plans revolved around Daniel furthering his education and Emily simply taking care of the baby. Her dad said he didn’t want to see her at the Piggly-Wiggly as a cashier because she had sacrificed everything so that Daniel could go to college and graduate. Eventually, Emily confronted Daniel about she was prioritizing her own education and future — Daniel wasn’t pleased about that.

In many of these episodes, the teen moms take on far more responsibility than the teen dads — if the teen dads even stay involved — and they sacrifice so much more than the dads do. It pains me every time one of the teen dads brushes off the teen mom when she explains how exhausting it is to care of the baby, though the dad is never jumping to prove his point that taking care of the baby isn’t hard. Both parents need to take responsibility and shouldn’t be expected that the mom will make all the sacrifices.

3. Absence … doesn’t make the heart grow fonder

Emily seemed to insinuate throughout the episode that things would be easier if they lived together — they were getting on each other’s nerves, but living together and being married would change all that. The problem there is that the fights they have are not solely related to distance — Daniel doesn’t have the attention span to take care of Liam, Emily needs support in order to graduate, and Daniel thinks they should be married solely because they have a child. It’s not the distance that is preventing Daniel from being more involved — it’s his own attitude.

Emily might be falling into the trap of, “It will be better when …” and might make some decisions she later regrets if she banks on living together or marriage fixing their problems. Of course having Daniel there to help her is going to be better, but only if he takes the initiative to help her. By the end of the episode she was realizing that it was probably too soon to be married, but the idea that huge steps like cohabitation, marriage, or even having a baby will fix a problematic relationship is common but misguided — and it avoids actually addressing the problems at hand.

4. Where did I go wrong?

I don’t recall an episode yet where a parent candidly asked, “Where did I go wrong?” and expressed disappointment not only in the teen for getting pregnant, but in themselves for not communicating an abstinence or safe sex message better. I’ve heard some parents say it in a more accusatory way, e.g. reminding the teen that s/he was told about the consequences of unprotected sex — but Emily’s dad genuinely looked distraught about his own message of abstinence being ineffective.

I’m curious, though, what his message was — from what he said, I inferred that his message to her was simply, “Don’t have sex.” That’s not a very effective way to prevent pregnancy — it’s basically a command, which like any other parental command, teens are apt to shrug off. It offers no explanation of why the teen shouldn’t have sex, and no explanation of contraception should the teen go against the parent’s wishes and choose to have sex. It’s quite a gamble to just assume that a command alone, without explanation, will prevent your teen from having sex.

This also brings up how children are taught about sex when they grow up with divorced parents. I’m curious if the dad expected the mom to more closely discuss sex with their daughter, and I’m curious what exactly the mom did tell Emily about sex. If there isn’t communication between the parents about what message is being sent about sex, the teen might get mixed messages — or no messages at all.

Does ‘our children’s future’ matter beyond fiscal problems?

November 10, 2010

When he was on The Colbert Report in October, Brendan Steinhauser, the director of federal and state campaigns for FreedomWorks (a nonprofit that advocates for small government and lower taxes), refused to discuss Tea Party views on anything unrelated to fiscal conservatism and smaller government. He said those were the core values of the Tea Party, and people’s viewpoints on “social issues” or anything else were outside the scope of Tea Party ideology.

Along with fiscal conservatism and small government, however, another often-discussed Tea Party value is in “our children’s future” — how we shouldn’t burden our children with an outrageous federal debt, high unemployment rates, etc. Though Steinhauser doesn’t want to talk about anything except fiscal conservatism and small government in the broadest sense, Tea Partiers aren’t shy about pulling the “children’s future” card as a reason to be fiscally conservative and downsize government — but what about when things negatively affect “our children’s future” outside the scope of small government and lower taxes?

Under this ideology of not wanting to burden children in the future with the problems we cause in the present, Tea Partiers should theoretically be environmentalists, too. The environmental movement is all about reducing negative impacts on “our children’s future” — creating tons of waste and just shoving it underground or into the ocean leaves a big mess for our children to clean up; tapping resources for energy and only thinking about what we need for the present leaves our children without sustainable energy sources — and not researching or developing renewable and efficient energy sources now leaves our children behind in the future when it comes to dealing with a lack of resources or an inability to easily reach resources.

When the food that you feed your children is so processed that it can sit out for months (e.g. anything at McDonalds) without changing in appearance, or eating enough of it will alter the hormone makeup of your body, that’s not good for our children’s future health. When the water children drink is orange or brown, that’s not good for their future. When a child’s home can be washed away from flooding or coal sludge because of mountaintop removal mining, that’s not good for their future.

So for the Tea Partiers — or anyone using the “what about our children’s future?” slogan — who also happen to be anti-environmental, the question remains, why does a child’s future count when it comes to the federal deficit but not when it comes to anything else? I’d like to note that I didn’t once mention climate change. Anti-environmentalists like to pull the “I don’t believe in climate change” card to invalidate the environmental movement as a whole, but there can be a discussion on environmental degradation and its negative effects on our children’s future and the discussion need not even mention climate change — what then?  

Many politicians in the recent elections used “our children’s future” as a reason there needed to be change in Washington. I’m curious to see if those same politicians are willing to keep “our children’s future” in mind when it comes to the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they eat, and the resources available for them and their own children. After all, if you don’t want to leave your kids with a lot of debt, why would you want to leave them with a lot of garbage, pollution, and health problems?

Parents’ ridicule of Halloween costume teaches intolerance

November 5, 2010

A friend of mine posted this blog on Facebook, which is a mom describing how her five-year-old son wanted to be Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween and was ridiculed not by his peers, but by those peers’ parents:

[A mom] continued on and on about how mean children could be and how he would be ridiculed.

My response to that: The only people that seem to have a problem with it is their mothers.

This was the best lesson of the entire narrative, which detailed how her son was excited about his costume, but grew nervous about wearing it to school because his peers might tease him — which wasn’t even a problem considering that the moms were the ones so outraged and shocked by the costume. It’s a classic example of how intolerance is not inherent or natural, but it’s something that is learned from parents, family, and society in general.

The older the kids get, the more ingrained the ideas of intolerance are — the mom who said it’s a good thing he didn’t wear that to kindergarten had a point (not the one she was probably trying to make), which was that kids become less tolerant as they get older. Though encouraging your own children to be more tolerant of difference is an efficient way to combat that intolerance, while expecting your own children to be intolerant is … ridiculous.

It is obviously the parents who are painting a picture of gender roles and how subverting them is extremely problematic, while the kids are simply a blank canvas with no inclination that whatever the boy is wearing is somehow wrong or inappropriate. And it also shows that the parents are promoting a fear-driven lifestyle — don’t let your kids be different, because their developing their own sense of individuality isn’t worth people pointing out their being different, and they need to learn that fitting in to avoid criticism are valuable qualities. Plus, the lesson of sameness as good and difference as bad is a great one for kids to keep with them.

That her son was five years old and already afraid of ridicule for being different speaks to the fact that his classmates probably were already showing signs of intolerance, which is also disheartening because people at that young age are likely having their creativity and personality stifled because veering away from typical gender roles or the status quo is seen as wrong — and these parents are acting like they are trying to protect children from these “facts of life” while simultaneously promoting them.

If only those moms had seen this boy’s costume and greeted it with bright smiles and compliments — even if the kids were going to ridicule him, they’d take their parents’ accepting of the costume to heart and likely follow suit because they mimick behavior at this early age. Parents need to take opportunities like this and turn them into learning opportunities and lessons for their children — and I hope those shocked and outraged parents read this mom’s blog reaction and take it as a lesson for themselves.

16&P: Sibling pregnancy patterns, modesty, passivity

November 3, 2010

This week on 16 and Pregnant we met Felicia, a 16 year old with — you guessed it — a douchey boyfriend who is too busy getting tattoos, working (how is he “taking off work” from the barber shop at night? What barber shop is open at 11 p.m?), and hanging out with his friends to emotionally or financially support Felicia and their newborn baby Genesis. Though douchey boyfriend is the most common theme on 16 and Pregnant, this episode had others, too.

1. It runs in the family

Felicia is the youngest of five children, and although she aspires to be the first of her siblings to graduate, she isn’t the first to get pregnant at a young age. “Both my sisters had their kids young, and I remember I was like, ‘That’s not going to be me,'” Felicia said. Teen pregnancy prevalence is not uncommon among siblings, though — younger siblings of teen parents are two to six times more likely to also become pregnant teens.

This makes a lot of sense — if you’re raised in the same environment, it means you’re likely getting the same sex education at school, the same sex education at home, and living in the same family environment. For instance, Felicia’s mom worked nights, which allows for less adult supervision and could have possibly played a role in her kids having a place to have sex.

The problem is that, despite her ambition to not become pregnant, she admits that she only used a condom twice in all the times she had sex with her boyfriend, Alex. It’s difficult to know whether pressure from Alex, the “heat of the moment” syndrome, the “it won’t happen to me” thought process, or simply a lack of sex education contributed to her getting pregnant. It’s hard to believe that her mom wouldn’t make the effort to educate her — especially after two of her daughters were young mothers — but the episode didn’t shed light on that.

2. Modesty ≠ celibacy

Both last week and this week, someone commented that they were shocked these teens were even having sex because they were so modest. “I saw myself as a goody good too,” Felicia said, seemingly insinuating that “goody goods” or modest people don’t have sex. This is a problem because these modest people might not be getting the information they need about sex, both because people assume that someone who is sexually active carries specific personality traits and because Mom and Dad think their little girl is perfectly wholesome, so why put ideas about sex and condoms and birth control in her head?

Last week was different because Brooke’s mom still educated her about sex despite thinking Brooke was very modest, but Felicia’s perceived modesty could be some of the reason that her mom didn’t think to educate her about sex. She might have assumed between watching her sisters get pregnant at a young age and her own reserved personality, Felicia wouldn’t be having sex — but assuming rather than communicating leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation.

Parents likely want to believe that the modest clothes, the nerdy personality, the quiet demeanor, the pile of extra-curriculars, etc. are signs of virginity, but really they are simply personality traits that have nothing to do with determining sex drive. Parents likely use these to convince themselves that they don’t need to have the sex talk, but they are nothing but stereotypes. Virgins can wear short skirts and sexually active teens can wear baggy clothes — hence, profiling is not an effective way to determine which teens are having sex, sexually active teens shouldn’t be the only ones getting educated, and a teen shouldn’t already be having sex before getting sex ed, anyway.

3. A little too passive

One thing that bothered me about Felicia — which bothers me about several of the teen moms I’ve seen on this show — is that they are not open and assertive enough about their boyfriends’ being involved with child care. In Felicia’s case, I initially thought this was because of financial dependence — she told her friends she didn’t know where she’d be without Alex to pay for everything — but after Genesis was born, Felicia complained that Alex wasn’t contributing financially to things for the baby.

Would Alex have been responsive to more assertiveness? I’m not sure — Felicia tried at the end of the episode to get through to him, and nothing was really resolved. But it pained me to see her struggling to finish homework while Alex couldn’t even take 10 minutes to feed Genesis a bottle, and I’m curious if more insistence from Felicia would have made a difference or if the prospect of Alex contributing more financially kept Felicia unhealthily dependent on him.

16&P: ‘It won’t happen to me’ makes for poor birth control

November 1, 2010

Season three of 16 & Pregnant started with a wedding between 16-year-old Brooke and Cody, who had been dating two years and decided to get married when Brooke was three months pregnant. Brooke gave birth to baby Brody, and Brooke and Cody worked opposite schedules to ensure they both got their high school diplomas but also still could afford the baby’s necessities.

As it is now season three, the themes I have discussed before repeat themselves, and it’s not entirely necessary for me to revisit and repeat that getting married just because you’re having a baby is a poor decision, or that teen pregnancy risk is higher if you were the child of teenage parents, or countless other themes that were found in this episode. There was, however, one theme I’d like to expound on, and it involves condoms under the bathroom sink.

Brooke was not like the typical teen moms on 16 & Pregnant who simply weren’t educated about contraception or were too afraid to ask their parents about it or afraid their parents would find it — Brooke’s mom was a teen mom herself, and she was totally open about contraception and educating Brooke about using it properly.

Brooke’s mom showed Brooke how to put a condom on (using a cucumber), and she kept condoms under the bathroom sink. But Brooke’s mom’s own teenage pregnancy struggles and stories, education, and openness about offering contraception didn’t stop Brooke from getting pregnant. Abstinence-only education proponents will argue that her mom’s open attitude encouraged Brooke to have sex, but I disagree.

A few months back, I wrote about a study that showed that when provided advanced supplies of the morning-after pill, women did not use it significantly more than women who did not have a ready supply of the pill. This contradicted the main thought that women often didn’t use the morning-after pill because actually going to the pharmacy to get the pill stood in the way (whether because it was inconvenient or they were afraid of being judged).

The main theory that explains both these scenarios — which Dr. Drew actually mentioned in his Teen Mom finale special last week — is that most people think, “It won’t happen to me.” The “heat of the moment” excuse works for not using condoms, but that’s no excuse for not taking a pill after the fact. I think an underlying and common reason that people have unprotected sex is that they don’t think pregnancy is a possible consequence for them.

This is especially true if people have had unprotected sex before without it resulting in a pregnancy. The last season of 16 & Pregnant began with Janelle, who used that very excuse — her and her boyfriend had sex a number of times without a condom while she wasn’t using birth control and she hadn’t gotten pregnant before — so she figured it would be fine to do again. The more people have unprotected sex without getting pregnant, the more immune they think they are from it.

I’m not sure of a great way to combat this mentality — lots of people have the “invincible” mentality and partake in risky behavior habitually because they never see any consequences. For example, take wearing a seat belt — it’s a preventative safety measure, so that if you have a car accident, you reduce your risk of injury. The seat belt only does its job, however, if it is actually used, and some people — especially if they haven’t gotten in a car accident ever or in a long time — neglect to use the seat belt because they don’t think they’ll get in a car accident.

People often use the logic of, “I did this once before without consequence, so it’s fine if I do it again,” but logically that doesn’t hold water because the circumstances will be entirely different each time you do whatever event. Sure those sperm didn’t fertilize that egg the first time around — does that mean they never will just because they failed initially? Of course not — that’s why safety measures are precautions — actions taken before something undesired happens, just in case something undesired happens.

I’m going to ponder how to break through the wall of invincibility — suggestions are welcome.