Considering the heated debate that a new PBS special about teen sex is sure to stoke--what kind of counseling and contraception is appropriate in public schools?--Jane Pauley hopes that the parents watching have something to say. And that they say it to their children.
The NBC newscaster, who hosts Monday night's Sex, Teens and Public Schools, says: "Kids listen to their parents on a subject like this. But parents have to speak up. If you are ambivalent, if your message is ambiguous ... or there is no message, if a discussion is absent, then your kids are very vulnerable."
The special examines the causes, costs and consequences of adolescent childbearing and the ongoing public split over sex education and school-based health clinics.
The facts presented in the program are astonishing: The United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancy, teen abortion and teen childbearing in the industrialized world. Every year more than a million teens become pregnant, and eight out of 10 teen moms will drop out of school and their children will grow up in poverty.
"Sex, Teens" visits California's Vista High School teen parenting program, which provides day-care. A conservative school board hopes to replace Vista's comprehensive sex education program--Values and Choices--with an abstinence-only curriculum called Sex Respect.
Traveling to the desert town of Hemet, the show talks to kids having kids at Esperanza High, a special school for pregnant and parenting teens.
A visit to San Diego's Logan Heights Clinic is the backdrop for a look at a six-city initiative called Plain Talk, designed to protect sexually active teens and improve communications between adolescents, adults, schools and health-care providers.
At high schools in Denver and Little Rock, Ark., the focus turns to school-based clinics, where one school prohibits prescribing or distributing contraception and another offers a wide variety of contraceptive products.
Pauley is well aware that the debate pits people who believe teens armed with information will protect themselves against those who say the information will condone sexual activity.
"The bottom line," Pauley stresses, "is that sex education had better be happening in the home. I just think the kids have to have consensus somewhere and if under their own parents' roof is where they're going to get it, then that's a place to start."
"Sex, Teens and Public Schools" airs Monday at 10 p.m. on KCET. For ages 13 and up.
More Family Shows
People are just people. Or are they? The premiering People sets out to prove they are.
The animated musical, based on the best-selling book by Peter Spier, airs in honor of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. The story imagines a world where the inhabitants accepted, understood and rejoiced in each other's differences.
Featured are 10 new songs from Peabo Bryson, Vanessa Williams, Chaka Khan, Al Jarreau, Lea Salonga, Lebo M. and Heavy D. The songs celebrate the world's diversity through depictions of culture and customs.
"It's so easy with this kind of story to fall into a cliched rhetoric, 'We Are the World' thing, so we take the viewers through an imaginary view of the world," says writer and producer Joshua Greene. Above all, Greene stresses, "We're hoping audiences will see differences as a cause for celebration, not bloodshed or conflict."
"People" airs Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the Disney Channel ($13 on video). For ages 2 and up.
Two popular Nick toons offer up their season premieres this week: Rocko's Modern Life (Sunday, 11:30 a.m.) and AAAHH!! Real Monsters (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.). They are part of "Nick or Treat," eight hours of spooky episodes. For ages 5 and up.
Kids' WB! (Saturday, 8-11 a.m. KTLA) offers Halloween-themed episodes, with "Freakazoid" hosting "Animaniacs," "Pinky & the Brain," "Freakazoid," "The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries," and "Earthworm Jim." For ages 2 and up.