Pact Mentality: the Psychology of a Pregnancy Pact

"There is no doubt that the media influence people -- consciously and unconsciously -- to copycat what is portrayed, whether it's to become violent or to become pregnant," Lieberman says. "Movies like 'Juno' or 'Knocked Up,' soap operas, and pregnant teen celebrities like Jamie Lynn Spears make teen girls believe that getting pregnant is cool, regardless of your age, and whether you love -- or even know -- the father."

The other element that some say may have come into play is the copycat factor -- a phenomenon in which young viewers imitate what they see in the media. One illustration of this principle occurred in 1993; some who had watched the film "The Program," imitated a scene in the movie in which high school football players lay on the center line of a highway to test their courage. One of these real-life imitators died after being struck by a car.

More recently, following the broadcast of the 2006 hanging of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, reports filtered in from around the world of children hanging themselves after witnessing video of the event.

Kaslow says media images may have also played a part if there was a pregnancy pact at Gloucester High.

"There is a certain level of 'copycat' to this," she says. "I think you see that also with teen suicide and the Columbine tragedy. They knew that they would get attention when they did this. All of a sudden, these kids have become famous."

But she cautions that the media alone are not to blame.

"I do think that the media is one part of the story, but they are certainly not the only part, or even the driving part," she notes. "You have to look at factors on the individual level, the family level, the school level and within a bigger cultural context."

Breaking the Pact Mentality

Fortunately, psychological experts note, there are many things that parents can do at home to lessen the likelihood that their children will be swept into a detrimental agreement with their peers.

"Teenagers who enter into pacts are feeling neglected and estranged from their parents, Lieberman says. "The teenage years are fraught with challenges to their fragile emotions, so parents need to stay closely involved with their teen's life."

Kaslow agrees that strong parental ties go a long way against the power of teen pacts.

"What you want to do is have a relationship with your kid where they can talk to you about it," she says. "You want to be close enough to your kids to talk about life and death, about baby-making, about drugs and alcohol."

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