by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Lots of hype lately about MTV’s new Monday night television series, Skins . The show about teens, based on a popular British program, has drawn allegations of child porn. Big advertisers have fled , like Taco Bell, H&R Block, GM and Wrigley, and the nonpartisan advocacy group Parents Television Council  has blasted the show and urged an advertiser and parental boycott:
“Skins not only features dozens of instances of high-school children using foul language; it also contains depictions and descriptions of high-school children discussing and engaging in sex; high-school children discussing and engaging in the use of illegal drugs; high-school children discussing and engaging in the use of alcohol; high-school children stealing an automobile and then crashing it into a lake; and countless other descriptions and depictions of graphic, adult-themed activity.”
I kind of wish my kids would watch Skins. It’s gotta be more bearable than Jersey Shore, any day.
But it’s not just Skins that the parent police are trashing.
Here’s what PTC says about other shows popular with teenagers:
Fox’s Glee: “Parents should be aware that this is an edgy teen show filled with adult themes.”
ABC’s Ugly Betty: “Sexual references and innuendo are frequent…often revealing outfits worn and photo shoots that lead to sexually suggestive comments. Foul language is frequent and harsh, with words like ‘bitch,’ ‘ass,’ ‘screw,’ and ‘ damn.’”
Fox The Simpsons: “For the most part The Simpsons has been a clean show with mild sexual innuendo and violence. However, over the years, the content has become increasingly more unwholesome.”
Both Parents Television Council and another advocacy group, Common Sense Media , serve a useful role in rating tv shows, movies and video games for parents. But I wish these groups, the media, and school counselors talked more about the positive role some of these shows play in teens’ and parents’ communication about complex issues, instead of constant caution about the risks of tv, movies and the Internet that give some parents the impression that all tv except nature shows has got to be downright dangerous.
My 12-year-old daughter recently became obsessed with Teen Nick’s show Degrassi. The plots focus on a range of teenagers at Degrassi High School. She watches it on her comp uter via Hulu and the old-fashioned way on our tv set.
At first I was surprised by her avid interest. Then I remembered what it was like to be 12, on the cusp of adolescence, insanely curious about the rites of passage hurtling my way. In my day, the shows were The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, and Room 222. But they served the same purpose as Degrassi: a preview, from a safe distance, of my future.
As a result I’ve become a huge Degrassi fan. My daughter comes to me with topics I’d never have had the stomach to broach at the dinner table: teen dating abuse, cutting, unwanted pregnancy, school shootings, perfectionist parents. We watch certain episodes together and discuss them in depth. What a public service! I wish all the kids (and parents) in my daughter’s life were as well-versed in risky teenaged behaviors as she has become as a result of this one show and our subsequent family talks.
Common Sense weighs in on Degrassi with a view surprisingly similar to mine: “Parents need to know that this series makes a habit of tackling big issues without sugar-coating them. From the start, the show has never shied away from depicting real-life teen issues like sex, drugs, school violence, and even mental disorders in a frank, realistic way.”
I can’t yet vouch for Skins. But here’s how The Huffington Post’s Associate Video Editor, Hunter Stuart, characterizes the show: Skins Is the Most Powerful Show About Adolescence in the History of Television . Sounds like it could be a potent education tool, perhaps in small doses with appropriate adult chaperones.
When it comes to television, a little less fear, and a little more truth, will do our teenagers a world of good.