The skinny on Skins

If you are a student of American culture, you have undoubtedly heard about the new MTV adaptation of the British show Skins. If not, you probably should. For better or worse, MTV drives a lot of the teen and pre-teen culture, despite the best efforts of American parents to control or ignore the exposure to their kids. It’s just gonna happen, so you should be tuned in.

CNN had a segment on this morning about Skins. In typical fashion, they showed brief clips of some racy, provocative footage and cut to a psychologist answering prepared and banal question about how this is “kiddie porn” and why it should scare parents. Then he went on to offer solutions to parents, mostly amounting to “turn the tv off, control the remote” as more footage ran in the background. All neatly wrapped up in 4:45 minutes.

Yeah, and just say no and don’t have sex.

Kids will be kids and as a parent, if you don’t think any of this is going on behind your back, you are seriously delusional. Moreover, if you believe you can control your kids behavior with a remote, you really do have your head in the sand. My issue with Skins and that genre of reality is far more basic.

Skins (and reality tv) is highly edited to show a glamorous and accelerated view of life. Life does not move that fast nor does it have cuts. It moves in real time. I think it sets false expectations of even faster immediate gratification in teens.

The second issue I have is the shows never show the real down sides of the decisions the kids make. It is a life of privilege without responsibility. Someone else pays the cell phone bill, the rent, the clothes. Someone else cleans up the mess unless the “mess” is the catalyst for the plot.

That is what parents need to hone in on. Your kids will watch Skins, the Real World, Housewives, 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom and other shows of that ilk. It’s part of their collective conversation.

As I turn to my private focus group to validate my observations, they shrug and say, “it’s just TV. That doesn’t happen in real life.” Maybe as MTV gets more and more provocative, kids will tune out more and recognize the programming for what it is; a desperate cry for attention from mass media and advertisers.

But they’ll still watch.