Scholar

Teens on Screen

By: Allison Mc Clain Merrill  

The Secret Life of the American Teenager (2008-2013) explores family, relationships, spirituality, and sexuality through the lens of teenage pregnancies and sexual encounters. Protagonist Amy Juergens is fifteen years old at the beginning of the series, distraught that she has become pregnant after her “one night at band camp” with Ricky Underwood. Freeform (originally ABC Family) aired this five-year saga. The representation of pregnant and sexually active teenagers is a framework for a host of other emotional and interpersonal considerations; the merit of viewing The Secret Life is the discovery of what surrounds these teenagers, how or if they ever learn to support one another. Teenage childbearing and parenthood are lifestyles equally dramatized, criticized, and normalized by the cast involved in these lifestyles. I measure development and regression of teenage and adult characters throughout the series, postulating that their abilities to thrive in society depend on the gaze of society itself. “The visual emphasis remains on the bodies of women, and white young mothers still appear to be key in covering the issue” (Vinson 157). Vinson’s writing on teen pregnancy, Ruiz’s attention to the Latina body in the character of Adrian Lee, and Dow’s text on feminism in prime-time television each enhance the discourse of a racial, gendered society in The Secret Life. Identity formations exist within the boundaries of a complicated, corrupted community. I am immersed in this fictional community, analyzing family dynamics, friendships, romantic relationships, religious beliefs, and moral authority on The Secret Life as guideposts for decision-making.

Teenage, Pregnancy, Sexuality, American, Television, Media
Media Cultures
Focused Discussion



Allison Mc Clain Merrill

Graduate Student, Yale Divinity School and the Institute of Sacred Music, Yale University, United States
United States

I am a second-year master's student at Yale studying religion and music. I am currently working on an independent study with my advisor in which we study television, music, religion, race, gender, and public discourse. I am from Jacksonville, Florida where I taught middle and elementary school.