Shaping Youth Director, Part II

This is a continuation of the interview with Shaping Youth Director Amy Jussel. Read Part I if you missed it.

Using the tactics of industry insiders, Shaping Youth is embedding innovative programs that promote healthier, positive values by using the power of the media turned on itself. Shaping Youth’s programs are deployed via the digital sphere using film, web, and hands-on counter-marketing games in train the trainer format.

6) With the mention of the Vatican in your blog as well = do you feel that a lot of parents use religion as a weapon when it comes to sexual curiosity for teens and that teens in turn rebel because of it? Why or why not?

Actually, I think ANY time self-righteousness trumps reality (whether it’s about junk food, kids’ choice of friends, religion, academics, you name it) the pendulum can easily swing into the exact opposite direction you’d hoped it would go.

We’ve all experienced the “forbidden fruit” factor on some level. I’d like to think people would know enough not to use god-fearing zealousness to quell sexual curiosity as it can twist minds in a big way making the ‘sex is dirty’ correlation early on. Pent up and tamped down public perceptions of adherence to church doctrine has become an age old stereotype in itself…Think about the ‘good catholic school girl’ wink and nudge remarks or the recent reports of Utah being the #1 state in the nation for online porn.

Whenever you put two rigid platforms together with something squishy in the middle it’s gonna ooze out the sides, guaranteed…Whether it’s graham crackers and frosting or adolescent angst. Clamping down with hardfast absolutism and dogma usually leads to reverb on some level…I mean, c’mon, look at the statistics of where ‘abstinence only’ education has left us. I think we’re doing a disservice to kids by plopping them in a sex-saturated media culture and then doing the ‘just say no’ preach-n-teach bit. It’s insanely hypocritical.

5) With the recent shows and movies “The Secret Life of an American Teenager” and “Juno” – do you think the image of teenage pregnancy has been made out to be heroic or noble? If so, why do you think that is?

Ironically, I’m working on a post about this right now, as it’s a pervasive plotline that keeps rearing its head in a weird sort of fixation on the age ‘15’ for some reason too…The L.A. Times’ “Teen Baby Mamas” slideshow gives you a snapshot of ‘fiction 101,’ the sex ed factor, and the tweaked out ‘morality’ message that seems to more often than not revolve around a simplified version of ‘yes girls, you CAN get pregnant the first time.’ —Not exactly a brain twister, ya know?

This is where I wish Hollywood would get their act together on the sex ed front, because USEFUL medical and health education information COULD be embedded into a plotline.

Kaiser Family Foundation proved this in their partnership with ER, Grey’s Anatomy, etc. so it’s quantifiable. To me, if it’s been proven media cues ARE being ingested and retained then youth advocates should have the ammo needed to hold industry accountable at a network level to “get it right” when it comes to health content, accuracy, and responsibility.

Instead there’s a huge chasm between ‘perception vs. reality.’

I’m not saying girls don’t get pregnant at 15, I’m saying it’s NOT the norm…same goes for casual sex and the ‘everyone’s doin’ it’ emblematic (and unrealistic) portrayals of baby mamas served up with whopper doses of sensationalism. (whether it’s Jamie Lynn Spears, Bristol Palin, or Shailene Woodley in Secret Life)

It becomes particularly damaging if you look at the chicken and the egg scenario of kids at this formative age trying to wrap their heads around “what’s normal” among their peers. When media is framing this with a tweaked out lens using a ratings game motivation, then we’ve got a scenario where kids are taking behavioral cues from ‘media as super peer’ and actually deciding FOR us what’s “normative.” Unhealthy and bogus beyond words.

As for motivations?

The “Secret Life Smacks Down Gossip Girl and 90210” article is a classic example of who’s vying for the numbers game. Some say, ‘yah, well, it’s an opportunity for teaching moments…But how many people are using the Teen Pregnancy Prevention ‘discussion guide’ versus gossiping at the lunch table about which character’s doing what with whom?

Media and marketing producers are doing a pretty lousy job of self-reining when they could easily use this power responsibly to ‘tell it like it is,’ and even sneak in some education into the mix. I don’t call smacking a pregnancy prevention PSA on a show cluttered with sex, sex, and more sex being ‘responsible.’ As I say so often, “the price we pay to mine their childhoods will ultimately cost us all.”

Check out Shaping Youth’s Blog.

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