If aliens landed tomorrow and needed a crash course on the modern American family, a quick look at ABC Family would totally throw them off. The network’s tagline, “A new kind of family” implies a family that’s composed entirely of unruly teenage sluts and liars with a penchant for cryptic text messaging and a colorful fashion sense. The network is dominated by Alloy Entertainment’s programming like the hugely popular Pretty Little Liars, and The Lying Game. Alloy churns out TV crack for girls, and ABC Family seems happy to deal. It’s also got Make it or Break it– a gymnastics drama, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager– where a whole bunch of awkward teens talk about sex and get pregnant.

Secret Life is the network’s flagship hit. Though ostensibly it’s about high schoolers having a ton of sex and getting each other pregnant, there couldn’t be any less actual sex on that show. There also couldn’t possibly be any more talk about hypothetical sex. (N.B. world’s most efficient drinking game: drink anytime someone says “sex.” You’ll black out before the first commercial break).

It could be argued that the network is catering only to the teen daughters of the “Family” in question. But in 2011 the network posted its eighth straight year of gains in adult viewers 18-34 and women 18-49. And it scored the highest annual competitive rank ever in women 18-34 and women 18-49, according to the network’s 2011 ratings report. So there’s a demographic disparity between who’s represented on these shows and who’s watching them. And, believe me, I know this from experience.

I’m a 23-year-old college graduate living on my own, feeding and clothing myself, often contemplating Arab-Israeli peace prospects, the ethics of the war on Mexican drug cartels, among other weighty issues of the day. I also drove 50 miles to watch the winter premiere of Switched at Birth with my cousin because I don’t yet have a TV in my new place. I have seen every episode of Make It or Break It and have had lengthy conversations about Payson’s Olympic prospects with my similarly educated young adult friends. We effing love this stuff. Honestly, I don’t think that actual teen girls possess the maturity or emotional depth to truly appreciate these shows. You need some life experience, man.

ABC Family is only the latest iteration of “Family” networks past. There was good old Fox Family- she of S Club 7 fame. And does anyone else remember Angela Anaconda? It was a super weird animated show that used composite images of drawings and actual photos of characters. That was there too. Anyway, before that there was “The Family Channel,” a simplification of the former “CBN Family Channel.”

Anyone who’s still watching after the second airing of Switched at Birth or sits through an entire Harry Potter Weekend will have run into the inevitable 11:00 pm CBN telecast of the 700 Club. It’s always ironic when the Christian Broacasting Network’s religious news talk show follows a four-hour block of teen sex programming. But ABC Family is obligated to air the show twice daily as a part of the original agreement with CBN’s Pat Robertson.

The thing is that ABC Family is legally bound to keep “family” in its name, based on a stipulation in the 1977 agreement with CBN. When Disney acquired the network in 2001- a move that for a long time was seen as a major blemish in Michael Eisner’s tenure there- the plan was to change the name to the hipper sounding “XYZ.” This, in an effort to retool the network for the young, hot, female audience it now has wrapped around its little finger. The name change would have invalidated its distribution deals, according to a 2008 Variety article, and so the idea was scrapped. It hasn’t seemed to affect their upward trajectory with their coveted demographic group.

The network seems to have struck gold with its lineup of girls behaving badly, and clearly makes no effort to hide it. Remember 2011’s “Summer of Secrets and Lies,” a promotion for Pretty Little Liars, The Lying Game, and Switched at Birth? It even outstripped The CW, that bastion of hot girl/bad girl TV which has Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries firmly in its camp. Despite that pesky “family” label, it looks like ABC Family is running with a formula that works just fine.