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Learning From Jamie Lynn and Juno

From second left, actresses Ellen Page, Olivia Thirlby and Allison Janney in the film "Juno."
From second left, actresses Ellen Page, Olivia Thirlby and Allison Janney in the film "Juno." (By Doane Gregory -- Fox Searchlight Pictures Via Associated Press)

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By Ruth Marcus
Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I didn't have to figure out how to break the news of Jamie Lynn Spears's pregnancy to my kids.

Disconcertingly attuned to all celebrity news at ages 10 and 12, the girls broke it to me at the dinner table -- along with an explanation of who, exactly, Jamie Lynn Spears is.

It turns out, in case you are a fellow inhabitant of Planet Clueless, that: (1) this is a different person from Jamie Lee Curtis; (2) Britney Spears has a younger sister; (3) she is the "good one."

It also turns out -- and this is about the closest I can get to a music joke -- that, oops, Jamie Lynn did it, at least once. The supposedly virginal star of Nickelodeon's "Zoey 101," is, at age 16, three months pregnant.

Okay, Teachable Moment Alert. But what, exactly, to teach?

Mom: So, what do you think the lesson is here?

Ten-year-old Julia, brightly: Don't have sex until you get married!

Uh, um, is that the lesson? Did I hear Daddy's car in the driveway? Anybody want more peas?

This is the conundrum that modern parents, boomers and beyond, confront when matters of sex arise. The bright-line rules that our parents laid down, with varying degrees of conviction and rather low rates of success, aren't -- for most of us, anyway -- either relevant or plausible. When mommy and daddy didn't get married until they were 35, abstinence until marriage isn't an especially tenable claim.

Nor is it one I'd care to make. Would I prefer -- as if my preference much matters -- that my daughters abstain until marriage? No; in fact, I think that would be a mistake. But I'm not especially comfortable saying that, quite so directly, to my children, partly because that conversation gets so complicated, so quickly.

A few weeks ago, the girls and I were watching "Gossip Girl," the odious television series about overprivileged Upper East Side teenagers. (In a bad parental bet, I okayed this show at the start of the season, thinking it might offer some cautionary tales about wretched excess. Turns out the kids consider it more of a roadmap. But that's another column.)

In this episode, one high school girl was about to have sex with her boyfriend.


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