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What pregnant teen needs is support, not judgment

The Baltimore Sun

For the new year, I resolve not to be too judgmental about people.

That may sound like an odd pledge from me. I make my living judging and writing about the sometimes goofy things people do. I love my job. But some people offer themselves up just a little too conveniently to be moral punching bags for the rest of us.

This lesson was brought to me courtesy of Britney Spears' 16-year-old sister, Jamie Lynn.

Yes, if you have found the time to notice amid all of the other depressing disasters in the world today, the young star of the hit Nickelodeon series Zoey 101 is pregnant.

When asked what message she wanted to send to other teens about premarital sex, Jamie Lynn told a magazine interviewer: "I definitely don't think it's something you should do; it's better to wait. But I can't be judgmental because it's a position I put myself in."

By "judgmental," I take it that she means she shouldn't be too judgmental of other people's mistakes now that she, too, failed to wait until after marriage to have sex.

That's poignantly charitable of her. Indeed, none of us should hastily judge someone else until we know something about that person's particular circumstances. Unfortunately, the Spears family has made so much about themselves so public that we feel like there's not much left to know about their circumstances. No matter how overwhelming the bad news out of Washington or the Middle East may be, the Spearses offer us behavior about which it is refreshingly easy to take sides.

We can call for Britney to seek therapy after her strange head-shaving episode, her child custody battles and her prancing in the surf in her undies.

We can howl with disbelief that a book on raising celebrity kids by their mom, Lynne Spears, has been "delayed indefinitely." The disbelief comes from the news that a publisher would think parents would clamor for advice from her.

And now it is young Jamie Lynn who offers herself up as bait, not only for tabloids but also for social commentators. The blame storm has begun and the targets of opportunity are ample. They include the parents, the boyfriend, society and, of course, the media.

Some want Nickelodeon to remove Jamie Lynn from Zoey 101. There's also talk that Casey Aldridge, her 19-year-old boyfriend, could face statutory rape charges.

It's hard not to be judgmental about all that. I doubt that Jamie Lynn's headlines are going to send teenagers rushing out of their homes to have sex. Nevertheless, the media do have an obligation to avoid confusing kids about the hazards of premarital sex. They include not only babies but also sexually transmitted diseases and badly disrupted lives.

But more than wealth or condemnation, Jamie Lynn needs support, like any pregnant teen does.

That message comes through well in the movie Juno, which my family and I happened to see just as the latest Spears bombshell broke. The talented new star Ellen Page takes us through the pregnancy of a teenager and the many heavyweight decisions she has to make in those nine months. The film's big, well-delivered lesson for young viewers is in the life-changing consequences that come as a result of a few minutes of careless bliss.

And unlike most teen-oriented comedies, Juno's story also serves in a witty way as a surprisingly informative training film for parents of teenagers. When Juno's parents hear the bad news, they are shocked, of course. But they reach out, comfort and support their daughter. Without approving her behavior, they offer help with the big decisions she now has to make.

Despite all of the advantages that her fame and fortune may bring, Jamie Lynn needs things like emotional support and guidance, which you can't buy.

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun. His e-mail is cptime@aol.com.

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