"Skins" - a controversial new show on MTV

There has been a lot in the news lately about an American version of a British (scripted – not reality) show aimed at teenagers called “Skins.” It’s been on the air for two weeks with original presentations of new episodes aired on MTV on Monday nights at 10 p.m.

I first heard about “Skins” when I read an article this weekend in The New York Times that focused on whether or not the show – which shoots in Canada – crosses the line into child pornography. Evidently there was concern about Episode 3, which airs Jan. 31, which allegedly revealed teenagers in situations that could be considered pornographic. Many of the cast members of the scripted show are 18 years old, but some are only 17; one is as young as 15.

I wanted to watch the show before I commented on it, and I’ve now seen the first two episodes. It centers on a group of friends who seem to care about little else than sex, drugs, and drinking, all of which they engage in as often as they can – which includes school too. Most of the adults in the show are flawed, foolish caricatures of the stereotypical adults who inhabit the lives of urban teenagers.

MTV is losing sponsors for the show. Different news agencies report that Subway, GM, H&R Block, Wrigley, and Taco Bell have pulled their support because of pressure from the Parents Television Council. (H&R Block reps stated they never intended to sponsor the show in the first place, and their ads that ran during the first episode were mistakenly aired.)

My opinion on the show? It’s another vehicle to show teens gratuitous sex, as well as drug and alcohol abuse. The acting is dreadful. But what am I saying that’s new here? In other words, what is MTV doing that’s new here”? Television shows and movies that cater to teenage audiences often have sex, drugs, and alcohol as part of the content, if not at the center of it. “Gossip Girl,” anyone? “The Secret Life of the American Teenager?” Even the much-lauded, fun-to-sing-along-with “Glee” series has its share of teen sex scenes and issues. It’s out there, and that, I think is what I’m weary of.

There’s. So. Much. Of. It.

Did you think about sex when you were in middle school? I did. I’d bet you did too. It’s not a surprise, nor is it unusual (or even unhealthy) that our kids who are middle schoolers today think about it too. The thing is, there is so much out there on television – cable or network – that is available to them that shows them what it looks like to have sex – all kinds of sex. There’s so much out there that shows young teens drinking and doing drugs. Do all of these visuals egg our young teens on when it comes to engaging in activities that they really shouldn’t engage in? Do these images make those activities look so fun, so glamorous, and so cool, that they become irresistible?

I also wonder about what the younger teens are reading on their older friends’ Facebook and MySpace pages. When they read about older kids partying and having sex, does that make them want to do it more because they want to be older?

I’ve posed a lot of questions, I know. Here’s how I think I would answer them. I do think there is too much sex on TV – especially that which is aimed at our kids. I can’t change that, and honestly, I don’t want to be in the business of censoring what gets made.

What I do believe in is censoring what my kid sees and is exposed to in the home. My daughter is 17, so boundaries have grown and changed as she has, as I believe they should. But when she was in middle school and wanted to read the Gossip Girl series because her friends were reading it, I said no. She’s never read it. She didn’t watch the show when it came on TV.

The other thing I believe we can do at home to help offset our kids’ exposure to sex, etc., in the media is to talk to them – a lot – about all of these issues. They have to know they can come to us with questions. We have to be willing to ask questions of them and to do what we can to ensure we’re getting the whole story – the real truth in their answers. I’ve said it before – we have to be involved.

MTV defends its production and airing of “Skins,” saying they closely monitor each episode and the manner in which the issues are handled. They say they’re covered because the show is labeled “TV-MA” and never airs before 10 p.m. This label and this time-frame are supposed to keep young kids from watching the show. Yeah, right. My students are up until after midnight texting each other. Many of them have TVs in their rooms, as well as computers. (“Skins” episodes can be seen in their entirety on MTV’s website. All you have to do is tell the computer you’re 18 or older.) If they want to watch the show, MTV has done nothing to ensure they can’t watch it.

That job is ours.