Star's Pregnancy Pushes Parents to Have 'the Talk'

The pregnancy of 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, Nickelodeon star and sister of tabloid icon Britney Spears, has many parents concerned about their teens' behavior. Mocha Moms Jolene Ivey and Cheli English-Figaro discuss talking about sex and responsibility with youngsters. The moms are joined by Jenifer Lippincott, author of 7 Things Your Teenager Won't Tell You.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few Mocha Moms. We visit with members of this mother support group each week for their comments and some savvy parenting advice.

Now, we normally don't feel we have to follow every dibble and jot in the popular culture. But it did catch our attention when 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, the star of Nickelodeon's "Zoey 101" and Britney's younger sister, let it be known that she is pregnant. And we figured that that might have sparked some parents to have that talk with their kids, if they haven't already. But will they talk back?

Teenagers are notoriously tightlipped around their parents. So what are the main things that your teen won't tell you? What are the things you didn't tell your parents?

To talk about all this, I'm joined by our regular Mocha Moms, Jolene Ivey and Cheli English-Figaro. And we have a special guest mom, Jenifer Marshall Lippincott. She's co-author of the book, "7 Things Your Teenager Won't Tell You."

Welcome, ladies, moms.

JOLENE IVEY: Hey, Michel.

CHELI ENGLISH: Hi.

JENIFER MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Hi, Michelle.

MARTIN: So, Jenifer, what made you want to write this book?

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Well, you know, when my kids were approaching teen - their teen years, I went to the bookshelves, as a lot of moms do, and I found there was really a dearth of books that were by parents for parents. There were a lot of books out there by clinicians. And they felt to me they have sort of very contrived fabricated case studies that they were trying to fit into a certain mold.

But there was a sort of straight talking, tell it like it is, here's what you can say. And if you're kids say this back to you, here's what you can say back. It's that sort of extension of the conversation that I think a lot of books don't have. And that's what fascinates me.

MARTIN: Did you noticed the difference between boys and girls in the way they start to shut off the flow of conversation? Because my kids are little, and they'll tell me everything. They tell me more than I want to know at this stage.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Right.

MARTIN: So, this is not my area yet. But is there - when does it start to fully shut off...

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: ...and is there a difference that you noticed between boys and girls in this area?

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Well, I can sum the difference up in one word - boys grunt. All right. Right. Right. Am I right?

FIGARO: Sounds familiar.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: But in terms of when it starts to shut off, the data says that by age 8, our kids understand the role that sex, drugs, and rock and roll plays in our culture. So pre-adolescence is getting driven to younger and younger ages. And we can talk about that if you want. There are a lot of reasons for it.

So I think parents should not be surprised to start seeing the look, which is one of the telltales signs that they're entering adolescences, when they give you that look like that's the dumbest thing you could ever said look, mom. You know, that's starting younger and younger.

MARTIN: So, we want to talk about what the seven things are later. But just give me a brief - like sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Those are three - definitely, you're not going to get the information from them unless you really work it, right?

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Right. Absolutely.

MARTIN: Oh, good. Jolene, you've got five boys. The oldest two are what? 18...

IVEY: 18 and 15.

MARTIN: ...and 15. So clearly, they are in teenage land.

IVEY: Yeah.

MARTIN: Now...

IVEY: And I think the 12-year-old's heading that way.

MARTIN: Well, just talk to me about your experience. Have you noticed that it's just harder to get through, feel like you know what's going on? When did it start, and what have you noticed?

IVEY: It's hard for me to know exactly when it started. I can tell you that my 15-year-old is very heavily into the non-communicative stage of his life. And it drives me a little bit crazy. But, you know, I just come to him, and I talk to him about whatever it is. And if I don't get much of a response, I just say, well, you know, this is what I think, and this is what I think it's going on. And when you're ready to talk, you know, we'll revisit it. And then I just go away. And then, I'll try again later. But...

MARTIN: Does that work?

IVEY: Well, sometimes. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, if he's not talking because he's mad about something, he needs a cooling off period - and that's okay. I mean, don't we all?

MARTIN: What are the things that would spark your concern? Is it sibling issue? Is it stuff going on at school? Friends?

IVEY: You know, all those things. I know that this particular kid, he's extremely sensitive and he's very, very bright. And if he's not doing as well in school as he thinks we think he should be doing, then he gets very stressed out. And we do a pretty high expectations, and I worry about that. Are they, you know, are they unreasonable? Are we doing him some harm by expecting him to make basically all A's? At the same time, if you expect him to get C's, well, I think they will.

MARTIN: Cheli, what about you? Your son is 14.

FIGARO: Fourteen. And my son is the stereotypical silent type. I mean, he didn't talk to me at 4.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

FIGARO: So I am certainly very well-versed in the non-talking teenage boy syndrome, because I don't get much from him at all. So my tactic has been to keep talking to him, to let him know what I think, and to try to read his mind a little bit. But it's almost impossible.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Well, one thing we do know is just because they're not talking doesn't mean they're not listening.

IVEY: Right.

ENGLISH: Right.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: And that's, I think, a really important thing for parents to understand. They want to know what we think. And there is no research anywhere that I have found that says that they don't listen to us, first and foremost.

IVEY: Oh, that is absolutely wonderful to hear, because I talk around this child, and they know what mom...

ENGLISH: And they are...

IVEY: They know what I expect.

ENGLISH: Right.

MARTIN: So, Jennifer, help us out here. You've got some - the book is intended to give some common sense guidelines about how you can approach these conversations. I love that you boil down to three basic rules...

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Right.

MARTIN: ...that you think parents should have for their teens. What are they?

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: They call them the rules of play. And if you think about it, they are the most common sense things that a parent has to deal with, and they are what keeps you up at night when you're, you know, you're lying there thinking about, you know, parenting before your kids where even born and all the way through. And that is it they stay safe, that they show respect, and that they keep in touch. And, you know, in the end, that is really what we care about. And, of course, staying safe...

MARTIN: Say those three again, just so we all hear it.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Stay safe, show respect and keep in touch. And that becomes the mantra...

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: ...that we use. Because what it does is it elevates the conversation from the yes, you did, no, I didn't. Or, you know, clean up your room or why didn't you this, to, you know, listen. What I really care about is that you stay safe. And therefore, you know, having sex, you know, as a teenager, that's a huge risk. That's not safe.

MARTIN: Give me a common scenario that would cause you to have this conversation. Would it be like a friend that your kid is hanging around with that you're not really sure as A-okay, or you heard that there's maybe a big party in the neighborhood and you heard that kids are going, or maybe there was a party and there were some negative consequences. Give me a typical scenario and tell me how you'd handle it.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: You know, it can be the most benign thing, you know? I'm the type of mom who really does care about that when I walk into my kids' room, I can see the floor. That means something to me. And I have one daughter who is just a mess. You know, she doesn't care. She can't see it. And so, does that mean that by sort of telling her that it's not showing respect for that family that that will do it? That will change her ways, and she'll go, oh, okay, mom. From now on, my room will be clean. No, it doesn't work that way. We have to, you know, be perseverant with our kid and iterative with our kid.

But I use - show respect when I talk to her about that. So that's a kind of benign example. It's very simple. You know, and then it extends to the going out into the world and, you know, being exposed to going to a party, where somebody might be offering you a beer or, you know, a joint or whatever. And, you know, the conversation becomes really - it's really what I care about most is that you stay safe, that you show respect for not only yourself, but your friends, in your friends' homes. So if a parent isn't home and you're at a party, that's not showing respect for that parents', you know, household.

MARTIN: Inevitably, it becomes you don't trust me.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: It does become you don't trust me. And I think that trust and truth are one of those rare gems that we talk about with absolutely sovereignty and idolizing in our tone that we - what we care about is that we can trust our kids and that they are telling us the truth. And if we dealt that, then the whole relationship begins to disintegrate. Because, in the end, it is about the relationship. It is about the connection. That's what conversations with our teens are about.

MARTIN: Cheli?

ENGLISH: Well, I know when the "Zoey 101," Jamie Lynn Spears' thing came to light, I used that incident as a way to start the conversation - well, to continue the conversation - I can't even say start it - because I have a 7- year-old daughter, and we have already started conversations with her in terms of what her values are, what her beliefs are and trying to indoctrinate her into certain things.

So in our household, we say you must first go to high school, then go to college, then go to grad school, then get married, then have a baby. And if you can't find someone who's good enough to marry, don't get married, because you can do better by yourself. So that is something that my 7-year-old can quote verbatim, that she has heard straight from mommy and grandmommy. So...

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: She at a grad school, and she got married at a grad school.

ENGLISH: No. No (unintelligible)...

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: (unintelligible)

IVEY: That is what...

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: That was like, damn, Cheli.

ENGLISH: But you know what? But that's, you know - you got to set the bar pretty high.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Absolutely.

ENGLISH: And so we used the Zoey incident, because my children love "Zoey 101." I was devastated when I heard about Jamie Lynn. I personally was devastated. And...

MARTIN: Are you going to let them watch it? Because as I understand it, they're going to keep the show on. Are you going to let them watch it, or...

ENGLISH: You know what? They love that show. But we talk about the fact that she is portraying a character, and she - clearly, she is not that character. And let's talk about what she has done to her life. Let's talk about what her decisions have done to others. If they cancel that show, guess what? She's ruined her friends' careers. So my thing is is that I want my children to make decisions. And children will make mistakes. Let's get real clear. They will make mistakes. But I don't want them to make mistakes that will ruin their lives.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin. You're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're talking with the Mocha Moms, and we have special guest mom, Jennifer Lippincott, about what teens don't say to their parents and ways that parents can better communicate with their teens. Jennifer's book is really good in explaining how the kid mind works.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Right.

MARTIN: How, you know, a teenager may think that they're making a perfectly rational decision that seems fairly rational to them, but, you know, in adult world, it makes no darn sense at all.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Right.

MARTIN: That sort of - I think - is one of the things your teenager won't talk to you about race?

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Well, I think our kids have grown up in a much more multicultural, global world. And I think, you know, race, to them, exists, but it's something that they live with. And I think they see it less as barrier driven than - and more as just who people are.

MARTIN: But if your kid had - I mean, you give a lot of real-world examples, situations that your teenager might encounter and how you can help that person, you know, process that, talk about it, get the information out. What if you feel that your child is involved in sort of a racially distressing incident? Thoughts?

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Absolutely. You need to talk to them about anything that you think is distressing. You know, there's a battle going on inside their brains, and so their judgment is skewed for that exact reason. So if we see signs of that struggle, I think it is incumbent on us to talk about the right way to think, and not necessarily impose it that this is the right way. But have you thought about this perspective? Have you thought about what this might mean?

MARTIN: Speaking of warning signs, are there signs that you may need to have somebody else involved in talking to your child? What are some of the things you might want to think about?

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Dramatic changes. Any of the sort of normal patterns in your kid's life - eating, sleeping, attitude toward school, friends, participation. Those are the kinds - those are the red flags.

MARTIN: Why don't you switch gears and ask are there things as mothers that you want to hear the candidates talk about?

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Well, any issue that relates to families, obviously, I want to hear us talk about. I mean, that's health care, that's education and that's the war, because these are the things right now that are really impacting us. And I think because of the war, we don't have money for education and health care that we could have. So I guess the war's got to be first, just because we need to kind of get that monkey off our back so we can move the country in a different direction.

MARTIN: In fairness, we want to let everybody know that Jolene and her husband Glenn Ivey, he's also in with an official - in Maryland, have endorsed Barack Obama. Cheli, what about you? You're kind of non-political.

ENGLISH: I haven't endorsed - I'm kind of non-political. I haven't endorsed anyone. I do like Barack Obama. I fear for his safety. And I feel strongly that...

IVEY: Why?

ENGLISH: ...this country is not quite ready.

MARTIN: You fear for his safety more than any other candidate?

ENGLISH: Absolutely. Absolutely. I don't think this country is ready. And I think he has a lovely wife and two beautiful little girls. And a lot of my friends have heard me say this a million times, but I just want him to be safe. And I'd rather him be safe and alive and doing whatever he's been doing versus risking his whole life.

MARTIN: Is it disqualifying for you when a candidate has young children - very young children?

ENGLISH: No, it's not. No. No, no. No, no. It's not disqualifying. I mean, Edwards has young children, also. Hillary has a grown child, but still, that's a child. So, no. Absolutely not.

MARTIN: Hmm. Interesting.

ENGLISH: I just worry for his safety, because I'm not sure this country is ready for him. And I think...

MARTIN: Do a lot of people you know feel that way?

ENGLISH: Sure.

MARTIN: Well...

ENGLISH: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Jennifer, you may want to answer this or not. I just - I'm just interested as a mom and also as a person, spending a lot of time thinking about this stuff. What do you think about when you're thinking about candidates? When you put your mom's hat on, is that uppermost?

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Well, we talk a lot about this election and politics with my kids and with - when we get together with other people and with other moms. Because, to me, we are at such a crisis point in our country's history because there's been a crisis of confidence, and I think our kids for the first time are living in a world where the U.S. is not seen as a good guy. And that's huge.

And to me, Barack Obama is the one person in the field that I think, you know, represents absolute honesty. He knows how to talk and motivate. He's charismatic. And my kids are really excited about him. And I see that in a lot of young people, because he speaks to the young person in a way the other candidates don't.

MARTIN: I'm surprised more of the moms, though, that Hillary Clinton doesn't resonate with the moms because of her struggles. I mean, the fact that she came on as a professional at the time when it was - you know, professional women were just breaking down those barriers. The fact that, you know, she showed up, you know, pregnant at the law firm where she was working at. That was not a typical thing. A lot of women were, essentially, forced out of the workplace.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: You know, I admire a lot about Hillary Clinton. I like Hillary Clinton. I don't - to me, being for Barack does not mean that I'm against Hillary. I think she's a great person, and I didn't complain even during the cookie incident, years ago. I didn't complain even though I was one of the cookie bakers at that time.

MARTIN: Referring to her famous comment, I could have stayed home and baked cookies, but I chose not to.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Right.

MARTIN: And people were dogging her out. And working - working moms...

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Yeah. I didn't have problem with that, because everybody's got a role at a certain time in their life, and that wasn't her role at that time. And I - that was cool with me. But to me, I'm not against Hillary. I'm just for Barack Obama. And that's a very different thing. And I do like it that my kids are so excited about him, because they are. And for years, we always take our kids to the poll. They always work a poll. And they're very good poll workers, I must say.

But, you know, I think this year, they're going to be particularly excited to be able to work a poll. I mean, sometimes you give them a handful of literature and say, hand this out, and you're like, oh, God. I'd really rather be, you know, riding my bike. But this year, I don't think I'm going to get anything out of anybody. Everybody's going to be enthusiastically passing out literature at the polls.

MARTIN: Well, great. Well, that's interesting. Get to know - Jennifer, before we let you go, tell me again those three rules that you think the parents should keep in mind when they're talking to their kids.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Again, it's what we - what you lie awake worrying about, that your kids will stay safe, that they'll show respect for themselves, for others, for their belongings, their bodies and that they keep in touch.

MARTIN: Okay. Well, thank you so much. We can all remember that, hopefully, when we enter those treacherous waters of adolescence. Boy, whoo. I'm nervous. I'm scared. I'll probably call you back (unintelligible).

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: The booster shot. It'll be a blast.

MARTIN: I'll call you for a booster shot.

Our Mocha Moms, Jolene Ivey and Cheli English-Figaro, joined us from our studio in Washington. We were also joined by Jennifer Lippincott. She's the co-author of the "7 Things Your Teenager Won't Tell You." She also joined us here in Washington.

You can find links to the Mocha Moms and Jennifer Lippincott at our Web site: npr.org/tellmemore.

Ladies, thanks so much for joining us.

MARSHALL LIPPINCOTT: Thanks, Michel.

IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

ENGLISH: Thank you, Michel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWEET LITTLE 16")

JERRY LEE LEWIS: (Singing) Sweet little 16, she's got the grown-up blues. Tight dresses and lipstick, she's sporting high- heeled shoes.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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