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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)

Insert maternal throat-clearing:

Mom: I'd like to point out, for the record, that I don't approve of this behavior.

Emma, 12, with an air of worldly sophistication: Oh, Mom, don't be ridiculous! How old were you when you had sex?

OMG, as the kids say. Is there a parental equivalent of the Fifth Amendment?

I am saved by Julia, who announces that I am so irredeemably dweeby -- Emma, she was in the chess club, for goodness sake-- it is inconceivable that I had sex with anyone before Daddy.

Problem dodged -- for now, anyway.

And this is where, I think, the Spears news was actually a welcome development. It's generated a lot of hand-wringing, heartfelt but ultimately misplaced, over what message the fallen role model sends to tween fans. Sorry, but I don't imagine a lot of 16-year-olds, in the grip of hormonal urges, thinking: Gee, Jamie Lynn did, why not go for it?

But they might think: Whoa, birth control.

The facts are sobering. More than 60 percent of high school seniors report having had sex at least once. One in three girls in the United States gets pregnant by age 20.

And so the message I choose from Spears's pregnancy--and the one, once I recovered my composure, I ultimately delivered, is this: It could happen to you--even if you're the kind of "conscientious" girl who, as Jamie Lynn's mother described her, is never late for curfew. And so, whenever you choose to have sex, unless you are ready to have a baby, don't do it without contraception.

I saw the movie "Juno" the other day, and I'm considering taking Emma, despite the edgy content, because it reinforces that point, this time stripped of the distracting veneer of celebrity. Juno MacGuff is a cheeky 16-year-old who finds herself confronting the implacable plus-sign of a positive pregnancy test after a single encounter with her sweetly clueless high school boyfriend.

Juno chooses to continue her pregnancy, arranging to give the baby up for adoption, and the movie evokes the difficult reality of being a lumberingly pregnant high schooler. Crowded hallways part, classmates stare as Juno waddles to her next class. Juno pretends to be unconcerned when her Tic Tac guzzling boyfriend asks another girl to the prom.

As the convenience store clerk announces when Juno shakes the stick of a home pregnancy test like a balky Etch A Sketch: "This is one doodle that can't be undid."

That's the lesson Jamie and Juno didn't learn in time. But perhaps their pregnancies -- one fictional, the other all too real -- will teach others that one, unassailable truth in a world of otherwise muddled messages.

marcusr@washpost.com


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