Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why "16 & Pregnant" and "Teen Mom" are must-see family TV

Have you seen either of these MTV hit shows? If not, you really should. And so should your preteen/teenage children.
"16 & Pregnant," is an hour-long documentary series focusing on teen pregnancy. Each episode follows a five to seven-month period in the life of a teenager as she navigates the bumpy terrain of adolescence, growing pains, rebellion, and coming of age; all while dealing with being pregnant.
The spinoff, "Teen Mom," follows four of the featured "16 & Pregnant" moms in the year or so after giving birth and how they cope with the relentless demands of parenthood, school work and their relationships. It's absolutely compelling TV, with plenty of drama and heartfelt moments. But it's important viewing as well, for parents of all ages.
The launch of these shows has been met with much controversy and debate, with some claiming they "glamorize" teen pregnancy, and are in fact encouraging many girls to run out and get pregnant in hopes of landing a spot on the series, and eventual fame and fortune. On the flip side, there are some stats that are said to support the claim that the rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S. is declining in light of the immense popularity of the shows.
I can't speak to what tangible impact these shows are having on the rate of teen pregnancies in the countries in which they air, but I can tell you one thing: if you've watched even one episode of either series, you can plainly see there is nothing glamorous about these girls' lives and about teen pregnancy in general. Often, these are sad and painful stories that are hard to watch; in some cases, tinged with hope, but for many, filled with despair and hardship as these girls, faced with incredibly adult decisions, are forced to sacrifice their teenage years, their high school experiences and their relationships.
More often than not, the teen dads prove irresponsible and eventually absent (if not abusive). And it's devastating to watch, as happens in too many cases, the family dreams of a pregnant teen mom quickly dissipate amid the birth of her baby and the harsh realities of life caring for a newborn, almost always as a single parent, set in. There's no sugar-coating or glamour to be found here, as viewers watch the teen moms face marriage, divorce, adoption, religion, gossip, finances, rumours among the community, graduating high school (or not), and getting (or losing) a job. Some find trouble with the law, some struggle with eating disorders and other mental health issues, some turn to drugs and alcohol and partying, and some eventually relinquish custody of their children. I have no doubt these stories are a reasonably accurate reflection of the majority of teen pregnancies: it's brutally hard, it changes life radically, and there is a great deal of pain and sadness that comes with having a child as a teenager.
As a teen mom myself, (my first child was born when I was 18) I truly wish I would have had this fascinating glimpse into the real lives of teenage parents when I first became sexually active. There's certainly room for debate about the editing of the show, and the consequences that the money and exposure inevitably has for the moms who star in the show, but I remain convinced this reality series is extremely beneficial as a cautionary tale about the consequences of unprotected sex for teens everywhere. It airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on MTV Canada.

What do you think about "16 & Pregnant" and "Teen Mom"? Are these shows helpful or harmful when it comes to educating about teen pregnancy? editor@ottawaparentingtimes.ca

Monday, May 23, 2011

Edgy new parenting book: Go the F**k to Sleep

I stumbled across a hilarious blog post at http://www.embracethechaos.ca/ about a new offbeat parenting book by author and dad Adam Mansbach.

Mansbach has taken the bold step of naming his soon-to-be released book after the natural and very common thought that often crosses a parent's mind after several middle-of-the-night wakings, or when simply dealing with a fussy baby or toddler who doesn't feel like settling down (yes, it does--admit it): Go the F**k to Sleep.

Apparently, a PDF of the book, which poetically chronicles the "love and hate"of bedtime, has been circulating on the Internet in the weeks before the official release, and it's generating major buzz.

 Here's a sample from Mansbach's book:

The cats nestle close to their kittens now.
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear.
Please go the f**k to sleep.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The election post-mortem in my household

 When I stumbled out of bed this morning, after a long night of election-related duties in the newsroom, my 12-year-old immediately greeted me with a recap of the night's events: "It's a Conservative majority," he said. "I know," I mumbled.
"The NDP is the official opposition," he continued. "Yes, I know," I repeated.
And he didn't forget to include the Bloc's humiliation: "Duceppe quit." I nodded, impressed with his knowledge of the facts.
And then came the editorial: "I don't like the Conservatives," he frowned. I was curious to hear more, but frankly, it was just too early in the morning for in-depth analysis and debate. That will come soon, as I certainly plan to explore his political views, but for now, I'm quite proud that my pre-teen is engaged enough to not only pay attention to the results, but to actually form an opinion. I think it's super-cool, and bodes well.

Do you discuss politics with your children? What do you think of last night's outcome? What impact will the new majority Conservative government have on your family? Share your thoughts below or visit Ottawa Parenting Times on Facebook and Twitter: @ParentingTimes

Monday, May 2, 2011

Royal weddings, children and happily ever afters

Along with some two billion people, my nine-year-old daughter and I tuned in to watch Prince William marry Kate Middleton. As we chatted about The Dress, William's appearance, and the grandeur of the Abbey and Buckingham Palace, seemingly out of nowhere, my daughter noted that the royal couple "might not be together that long."
Startled, I asked her where that came from, adding that I (and the millions of others watching) certainly hoped the pair would see years of wedded happiness. She merely shrugged, and said "they just might not." And this coming from a little girl who doesn't even know the backstory of William's mother, having been born five years after Diana's death.
In that moment, it struck me just how much the model of--and our perceptions of--marriage and family has changed. Nothing is forever, quite often, neither is marriage and even children are picking up on that fact. And the makeup of families is ever-changing. My daughter is keenly aware that single-parent families exist, and why.
Thirty years ago, as millions watched Diana and Charles walk down the altar in their "fairy tale" wedding, many hoped and likely believed their story would play out that way. But we know better now, and so it seems, do our children.
Still, we hope and still we long for the romance. My worries about my daughter's cynicism quickly evaporated as she impatiently waited for The Kiss. "When are they going to kiss, mom? I want to see the kiss." Some things never change.

***On another Royal note, I read a lovely op-ed from the Daily Mail Online written by Diana's friend Rosa Monckton on how Diana's greatest legacy is that William married for love. She writes: "Somehow, Diana’s own unhappiness has helped to give her son both the capacity and the opportunity for great love."  
 As a parent, I can think of no greater gift. 

Did you watch the royal wedding with your children? editor@ottawaparentingtimes.ca