Jamie Lynn Spears, the 16-year-old star of 'Zoey 101,' recently announced she is pregnant. - AP

When a teen star falls short

NEW YORK — Maybe you've already had the birds and the bees chat with your 10-year-old.

Now it's time to have the "Zoey 101" chat.

But how exactly do you tell young fans of charming Zoey and her boarding-school pals that the show's perfect star, Jamie Lynn Spears, is pregnant at age 16?

"It's very disappointing but face it, the bubble is burst," says Dr. Judy Kuriansky, a clinical psychologist on the faculty of Columbia University Teachers College.

"Thank you Jamie Lynn, you have ruined the innocence of lots of kids and mothers who would rather not talk about this."

But, Kuriansky stresses, "if you don't talk about it, you're in even worse shape."

Other experts agree, saying that it's a classic teachable moment and a chance for parents to communicate their values.

"These parents who say 'I'm going to shield my children' are dreaming," says Liz Perle, editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media, a nonpartisan organization that describes its mission as "improving the media lives of kids and families."

"Media is everywhere and it is a super-peer; it's raising your kids as much as you are," Perle says. "It normalizes situations like this and makes it acceptable. Our children are introduced to things way too early, but it's up to us as parents to seize hold of the situation. You have to, as parents, make sure you're in the conversation."

Messages posted on various Web sites this week suggest that real-life moms are upset and disappointed.

"I hope Nickelodeon pulls 'Zoey 101' from the air immediately," wrote one mom on an chat board. "I will not let my children watch the show any longer."

Perle says talking to kids about the disconnect between Zoey's wholesome image on the show and Spears' real-world predicament can be "the beginning of media literacy. This is a chance to explain there is a difference between the character and the person. Kids need to understand that these are actors playing characters. But there are real people behind them who make mistakes."

Kuriansky says parents can start by asking what kids have heard and what they already know. "From those questions you're able to make decision about what to say. Give them facts. Then say what your opinion is, and tell them that you want them to come and talk to you about any questions or thoughts."

Richard Eyre, co-author with Linda Eyre of the book "How to Talk to Your Child About Sex," advocates telling kids about sex when they're 8. Talking about sex before adolescence is ideal, he adds, because "they're going to listen to you and pay attention and understand it."

"Once you've had this early pre-emptive talk with kids, then when something like this happens, you're ready," he says.

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