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

United States
United States

Allison McClain Merrill is a recent graduate of Yale Divinity School and the Institute of Sacred Music where she earned a Master of Arts in Religion and the Arts (in the concentration of Religion and Music). She also has Bachelor of Music Education and a Bachelor of Science in English from Jacksonville University. Allison loves to study television, music, religion, and literature. She sings and plays the piano and lives in Connecticut with her husband, Jack, who is also a musician. Allison dedicates her work to her Granddaddy, who was a true connoisseur of good television.