Teen sex is dreary on MTV’s ‘Skins’

MTV’s Skins, which features “lurid and explicit” teenage sex, teaches teens some valuable lessons, writes Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post. Other teens-gone-wild shows make adolescent sex and drug use “seem glamorous and exciting,” she writes.

CW’s “Gossip Girl” . . .  portrays the “scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite,” as the anonymous narrator says at the start of every episode.

By contrast, the kids on “Skins” seem sad, lonely and disturbed, each in his or her own distinctively troubled way. Cadie is a strung-out pill-popper with a stable of inept, pill-dispensing shrinks and parents who are too self-absorbed to pay her much attention beyond suggesting that she take her meds. Chris is a strung-out pill-popper – he’s taken an excess of Erectagra – whose mother abandons him with a scrawled note and $1,000 in cash in an envelope.

They manage to make sex seem like a dreary, transactional chore – a sex-for-pills exchange is arranged to engineer a loss of virginity – and drugs and alcohol seem like, well, drugs and alcohol, unpleasantly disorienting and prone to induce vomiting.

Marcus thinks teens will appreciate their own nagging parents after watching the checked-out, boozed-up parents on Skins.

Will teens watch Skins as a cautionary tale of the downside of sex, drugs and lax parenting? Or will they take the show as a sign that promiscuity and drug abuse are normal?

Playing Taliban

Video gamers can play at being Taliban fighters killing U.S. soldiers in an Electronic Arts game , “Medal of Honor,” scheduled for release in October. Someone has to play the bad guy, EA says. Turning an ongoing war into a game is wrong, Karen Meredith tells the San Jose Mercury News. Her son, Army Lt. Ken Ballard was killed in Iraq in 2004.

 ”How can they say it’s OK for someone to play the Taliban? You’ll have people sitting at home, drinking beer, shooting at American soldiers, maybe missing, then starting over. Well, Ken didn’t have a chance to start over.”

There’s a waiting list for the game, which is said to feature “realistic” effects.  The controversy is good publicity, analysts say.

With an Afghanistan backdrop and the option to play good guy or bad, gamers like Fernando Angeles can’t wait to get their hands on the game. “It’s fun killing people,” said the itchy-fingered 13-year-old standing outside a San Jose GameStop store. “I get to roam around and feel like soldiers feel. I’ve played the bad guys before, but this will be even better because it’s based on the real thing. You don’t want to hurt other Americans, but you’ve got to win the game.”

Other multiplayer games let players take the role of a Nazi or some other bad guy trying to kill the good guys. (Are there video games based on the Vietnam War?) But the Taliban aren’t history or fantasy. They’re doing their best to kill real Americans. 

Celeste Zappala, a Philadelphia woman who lost her son in Baghdad in 2004, said, “One of the saddest things about this is the terrible disconnect between the horrible reality of these wars and the Americans back home in their bedrooms playing games like this. Morally and ethically, the game’s maker should do the right thing and pull it.”

In a letter to Electronic Arts, Meredith “stopped short of asking EA to pull the game, saying she recognizes the First Amendment right of its creators to create whatever they like,” the Mercury News reports. Meredith wrote:  

“Anyone who has gone to war will tell you that WAR IS NOT A GAME,” she wrote. “If you still believe that, I invite you to join me at my son’s headstone at Arlington National Cemetery in Section 60 where more than 800 of our country’s finest who were killed in Iraq & Afghanistan are laid for eternity.”

And, she wrote, “eternity is a long time, no restarts, no do-overs.”

Will Medal of Honor desensitize young players to the realities of war? Or just let them express their natural agression?

It reminds me of the controversy over the Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. Clearly, EA has a right to turn the war in Afghanistan into a game.  But should they?

Teen werewolves in Texas

San Antonio high schools have the usual cliques: Cheerleaders, nerds, jocks, Goths and werewolves, reports  KENS5-TV.  Would-be werewolves wear contact lenses to make their eyes yellow, fangs, chains and tails sewn to their jeans. (High school officials have banned the chains and tails as disruptive violations of the dress code.)

. . . movies like Van Helsing and the Twilight series have captured the attention of teenagers. They may not be mutating from man to wolf, but Northside school district counselors warn these teens are experiencing transformations of their own: from childhood to adulthood.

They’re not trying to be scary, wolf pack members say. They’re “family.”

A boy named Dei wears a leash.  “His mom has a leash on him too,” reports KENS. Pam Manley keeps Dei tethered to family, his chores and his studies.

“As soon as he walks in the door, he is supposed to take out the fangs, lose the lenses and put his hair back,” Manley said. “They’re good kids. And it takes some courage to stand up and be who you want to be and be able to express yourself in this way.”

However, 23-year-old Wolfie Blackheart is being investigated for cutting off a dog’s head — she says the dog was dead before she started — boiling it and posting a photo of the skull online.   “I would never kill a canine,” the amateur taxidermist told the local newspaper. “I am a canine.”

How parents can help teens succeed

To help teens succeed in school, parents’ role starts at home, concludes a new book, Families, Schools and the Adolescent.

For example, while helping with homework makes a difference for elementary students, it has little impact for middle and high schoolers, concludes Nancy Hill, a Harvard researcher.

Visiting the school, volunteering, and attending school events seemed to be just moderately related to student achievement.

Twice as effective as the things parents did at school were the efforts they made at home, apart from helping with homework, to support schooling. Those included communicating their expectations for their children’s achievement; discussing learning strategies; fostering career aspirations; linking what children were learning in school, or were interested in learning, to outside activities; and making plans for the future. Ms. Hill puts those activities under the category of “academic socialization.”

However, college-educated parents have more impact on their children’s achievement and behavior than less-educated parents; whites have more impact than blacks. The less-educated parents influence their children’s aspirations but not their achievement, leaving them unprepared for college.  Middle schools should explain to parents “the educational pathways that lead from middle school to high school to college,” Hill said.

“They should be saying, ‘Here are the courses you need to take, and if your child’s not ready for those courses, here is what you can do to get your child ready so the pathways lie open.’”

College-prep charter schools for low-income students, like the one in my book, do just that. They make sure students know what skills they need to learn and what classes they need to pass (with an A or B) to make college a realistic choice.  Often, parents can’t help with the academics but they can push their kids to do the work and persist in the face of adversity.

Sexting stupidity

“Sexting” teens are facing child pornography charges for sending and receiving naked photos, even if it’s a 14-year-old girl sending her own photo to her boyfriend.  Surely, bringing felony sex charges against foolish adolescents isn’t the best way to protect them from their own folly, writes Dahlia Lithwick on Slate.  These kids could end up on a sex offender registry.

. . . the great majority of these kids are not predators and have no intention of producing or purveying kiddie porn. They think they’re being brash and sexy, in the manner of brash, sexy Americans everywhere: by being undressed. 

Online harassment poses a greater risk to teens than voluntary exposure, Lithwick writes.

 Parents need to remind their teens that a dumb moment can last a lifetime in cyberspace. Judges and prosecutors need to understand that a lifetime of cyber-humiliation shouldn’t be grounds for a very real and possibly lifelong criminal record.

One in five teens admitted to “sexting” nude or semi-nude photos to a friend in a national survey.