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Harsh reality of the diaper life

May 07, 2003|Lynne Heffley | Times Staff Writer

Disgusting, exhausting and alarmingly life-changing -- that's how parenthood strikes a pair of 17-year-olds when they become the part-time, stand-in parents of a baby boy for two days.

If watching the experience makes young viewers give serious thought to the potential consequences of sexual activity, then "Teen Parent," tonight at 9 p.m., has done its job.

Part of the "A Walk in Your Shoes" series on the N, Noggin's nighttime network for teens, this is old-school reality TV, with a pointed, albeit earnest message created for this year's National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

The series, which has teenagers of contrasting life experiences trade places with an aim toward broadening horizons and encouraging empathy and understanding, focuses tonight on New Jersey teens Sivan and TJ, both 17, who have been going together for many months, and on Kaitlyn and Justin, also 17, who are going to school, working and, though living apart, raising their 18-month-old son together.

Sivan and TJ, pairing off with the young parents for the first day, are quickly appalled. Diaper-changing comes as a shock, as does what goes into a diaper bag just for a trip to the store, and how "everything is for the baby," including virtually every minute of the day and on into the night.

On the second day, Sivan and TJ reluctantly take over, a hidden camera capturing their fatigue and disillusionment with the whole set-up.

That set-up, which is crafted with little sense of spontaneity, has the ring of truth by the end, when it's clear that temporary parenthood has made the idea of being "just a kid" seem powerfully appealing.

Kaitlyn and Justin, who seem to be handling their unplanned parenthood with an exceptional sense of responsibility and commitment, offer understated testimony to the limitations of their lives. When Sivan and TJ are worn out and craving freedom after two short days, the tired teen mom says they don't know the half of it.

"I wouldn't consider it a complete walk in my shoes," is her wry wrap-up.

Parents and young viewers can go to to read journal entries from the four teens involved in the show. A parent discussion guide is also available.

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