How Parents Can Use MTV's 'Skins' as a Jumping Off Point

Filed under: Sex, Teen Culture, TV

MTV show skins

Use MTV's controversial show "Skins" to discuss difficult topics with your kids. Credit: MTV/AP

MTV's teen drama "Skins" (a remake of the even edgier British series) showcases every behavior that keeps parents of teenagers up at night. Actors the same age as your own kids are up there on the screen talking like your teens, playing roles that your teens will recognize from their peers in high school, and doing things that you don't want them to do. Ever.

Talking to your teens frankly about "Skins" will be a challenge even for seasoned parents who've managed to pull teachable lessons out of "The O.C." and "Gossip Girl". That's because by the time they're 16 and 17, parents' role in their teens' lives migrates from Commander in Chief to Chief Consultant. Parents lose control over them -- which is scary, but also normal and healthy -- as they separate from Mom and Dad and become more independent.

That said, we can't give up being their parents, which means we have to have increasingly difficult conversations about all kinds of things that neither we nor our teens particularly want to talk about -- all of which are modeled in this show.

Acting on the assumption that it's easier to talk about tough things when you're discussing a third party, try these talks to help address some of the raw issues the show raises.

Sex: These kids are having it, and they're treating it as a commodity. This isn't how we want teens who are on the cusp of their own sex lives to see this most intimate act. Talk about how sex can and should be between two loving people. Also mention birth control and sexually transmitted diseases.

Pornography and masturbation: These are really difficult topics, but one of the main characters is deeply engaged in both. We can't kid ourselves: Online porn is a fact of our teens' lives ... and, at this age, so is masturbation. We urge you to discuss these uncomfortable topics rather than leave it to your teens to figure them out on their own. Talk about how some online porn is so horrendous that it can absolutely corrupt teens' images of what sex is. And even the less horrible porn still shows girls as sex objects. Teens of both sexes have to hear that acting like a stripper isn't the way to make meaningful connections. We want young men to value young women, and we want young women to value themselves. Porn showcases neither. As for masturbation, think and say what you will, but know that it's developmentally appropriate for older teens.

Invincibility: Teens have trouble thinking that rules apply to them. And when they see teens they can relate to getting away with everything short of murder, it reinforces the sense that their actions are consequence-free. Pick a scene -- any scene -- from "Skins" and talk about what the real-life fallout would be.

Treating girls as sexual objects: In our culture, girls have become so sexualized from the earliest ages that this is a really tough topic. But it's essential that both boys and girls learn to treat girls as sexual beings, not objects. This is something that girls may not even understand, since they get rewarded with attention by wearing sexy clothing and behaving in risqué ways. But we want our kids to have meaningful relationships. And those are founded on self respect and respecting others. Use a scene from "Skins" to show how both the boys and the girls are selling girls short.

What's "cool": Is it drinking? Drugging? Having sex, blowing off teachers, disrespecting parents, seeing parents as idiots, making fun of others? "Skins" doesn't gloss up these behaviors the way that "The O.C." and "Gossip Girl" did; they're presented extremely realistically. And the teens in the show are the same age as your own kids, acting out the same roles that your kids see in their schools every day. In the black-and-white world that is high school, you're either cool or you aren't. What are your kids willing to trade -- their honor, respect, trust, values, self-esteem? -- to be part of the "in" crowd.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.