For the New Year, I resolve not to be too judgmental about people.
That may sound like an odd pledge from me. I make my living from judging and writing about the sometimes goofy things that people do. I love my job.
But sometimes you can have too much of a fun thing. Some people offer themselves up just a little too conveniently to be moral punching bags for the rest of us.
This lesson was bought to me courtesy of Britney Spears' 16-year-old sister Jamie Lynn Spears.
Yes, if you have found the time to notice amid all of the other depressing disasters in the world today, the young star of the hit Nickelodeon series "Zoey 101," is pregnant.
That's what she told the British tabloid OK!, which paid a reported $1 million to announce the fact, with options to purchase additional material like exclusive baby pictures later, according to news reports.
When asked what message she wanted to send to other teens about premarital sex, Jamie Lynn told a magazine interviewer: "I definitely don't think it's something you should do; it's better to wait. But I can't be judgmental, because it's a position I put myself in."
By "judgmental," I take it that she means she shouldn't be too judgmental of other people's mistakes now that she, too, failed to wait until after marriage to have sex.
That's poignantly charitable of her. Indeed, none of us should hastily judge someone until we know something about that person's particular circumstances. Unfortunately, the Spears family has made so much so public about themselves, often for profit, that we feel like there's not much left to know about their circumstances.
As ultra-celebrities, the Spearses have provided a continuing soap-opera narrative for a hungry public. No matter how overwhelming the bad news out of Washington or the Middle East or other threatening zones may be, the Spearses offer us behavior about which it is refreshingly easy to take sides.
We can call for Britney to seek therapy after her strange head-shaving episode, her child custody battles and her prancing in the surf in her undies, all in front of firing squads of photographers.
We can howl with disbelief that a book on raising celebrity kids by their mom, Lynne Spears, has been "delayed indefinitely." The disbelief comes from the news that a publisher would think parents would clamor for advice from Lynne Spears.
And now it is young Jamie Lynn who offers herself up as bait, not only for tabloids but also for social commentators like me. The blame storm has begun and the targets of opportunity are ample. They include the parents, the boyfriend, society and, of course, the media of which the Spears are a lucrative subsidiary.
Some want Nickelodeon, for example, to remove Jamie Lynn from her starring role as the smart, squeaky-clean star of "Zoey 101." There's also talk that Casey Aldridge, her 19-year-old boyfriend, could face statutory rape charges.
It's hard not to be judgmental about all that. I doubt that Jamie Lynn's headlines are going to send teenagers rushing out of their homes to have sex with each other. Nevertheless, the media do have an obligation to avoid confusing kids about the hazards involved with premarital sex. They include not only babies, but also sexually transmitted diseases and badly disrupted lives.
But, more than wealth or condemnation, Jamie Lynn needs support, just like any other pregnant teen does.
That message comes through well in the movie "Juno," which my family and I happened to see just as the latest Spears bombshell broke. The amazingly talented new star Ellen Page, 20, in the title role takes us through the nine months of a teen-aged, accidentally pregnant mom and the many heavyweight decisions she has to make. The film's big, well-delivered lesson for young viewers is in the life-changing consequences that come from a few minutes of careless bliss, even for a kid as unusually savvy as Juno.
And, unlike most teen-oriented comedies, "Juno" also serves in its witty way as a surprisingly informative training film for us nervous parents of teenagers. When Juno's parents hear the bad news, they are shocked, of course. But to their credit they suppress the parental panic reflex. Instead they reach out, comfort and support their daughter. Without approving her reckless behavior, they offer help with the big decisions that she now has to make about the consequences of her mistake.
Despite all of the advantages that her fame and fortune may bring, Jamie Lynn needs things like emotional support and guidance that money can't buy.