I first wrote about MTV’s controversial new show Skins a few weeks ago, before it’s premiere. Since the first episode aired on January 17th, much has been written about the show – even comparing it to porn. One theme that has emerged is MTV’s responsibility to young people, and their role as a network when it comes to creating inspirational content for youth.
In my opinion, it’s not MTV’s job to create inspirational uplifting content for youth, unless that’s stated in their mission statement. I also don’t think it’s their responsibility. MTV is a business – not a non-profit – and their responsibility is to their shareholders. To them they owe money and viewers. I can just see the rage-filled eyeballs reading this as I write. So let me explain.
I feel a little background on me, the writer, is needed at this point. I am the eldest of six children born to a pastor and his wife (also the daughter of a pastor). I’ve often joked that church is the family business. I was raised in church and still attend every Sunday, and also attended a Presbyterian private school. I know lots of Bible verses and catechisms – and I still love Skins.
As a teenager, I also loved every single controversial show there was, from Beverly Hills: 90210 to Melrose Place and everything in between. I watched these shows in amazement. I was jealous of these teenagers and their glamorous lives. I lived vicariously through Brenda, Kelly and Donna. And of course there was my icon for life, Lisa Turtle, from Saved By The Bell.
But it was indeed a fantasy, because my reality was nothing of the sort. I don’t even know how I’d get the guts to go binge drinking, sneak out of my house, or – gasp! – have sex and almost get pregnant. Why, you ask? Because I feared my parents. To be clear, I was not afraid of them. I respected them and their rules for our home, and they made it clear that these behaviors weren’t acceptable. And they had this invisible type of surveillance that made the six of us think they worked for both the CIA and FBI. My mom actually once told me, “You can’t spell Marcia (her name) without CIA.” And she didn’t crack a smile. My dad also frequently told us that God spoke to him about us to him through dreams. We didn’t even know if this was true or not, but the fact that there could be some divine intervention about our wrongdoings was enough to keep us on the straight and narrow.
Indeed, when I talked to my mom about Skins, the conversation went like this: “the only view my kids had of MTV was a sneak view. And if you were not sleeping by 10pm, you were in your room – where there wasn’t a TV or computer.” Simple as that.
My parents were serious about parenting, and raising six children was no small feat. My mom worked part-time until my youngest brother was old enough to go to school full-time. It was a sacrifice, and they gave up a lot of material things to make sure we all received great educations and proper parenting.
Sean Hannity asked me today on his radio show if I felt MTV had a responsibility to their viewers. No, I don’t. I think parents have a responsibility to their children to not allow them to consume inappropriate content. And if their children sneak and explore that content (we did all the time), their family values should be strong enough to overcome it.
This is not too much to ask. Parenting is hard. The older I get, the more I understand the sacrifices my parents made for us. It’s only now as we chat as adults that I realize that some of their parenting decisions were just as hard on them as they were on us.
My parents knew that they alone were responsible for the people we would become. All six of their children are college educated. None of us have ever been on drugs or been pregnant out of wedlock. My parents believed in living by example, and believed that we would emulate what they did rather than just what they said. There was no room for failure and absolutely no room for excuses. My parents ran their family like a business; we were all aware of our mission statement, goals, and expectations as the Wells Family.
I absolutely concede that it was easier for my parents because there were two of them raising us. But at the end of the day, I believe that the hard work of good parenting pays off. I’m 30 years old, and I would never want to make a decision that would disappoint my parents. They’ve sacrificed way too much for me for me to do that, even now.
As a community, we also have a responsibility to the single parents in our lives. How can we help support them? Can we offer a voice of value reinforcement? Even though I had both of my parents raising me, there was still a community of approved adults around me, offering advice. I had older cousins to talk to, aunts, teachers, and mentors who also reinforced our values. Raising great children really is a community effort.
I recently read Amy Chua’s excerpt in the Wall Street Journal from her new book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” and joked to my friends that my mother must have been Chinese. Unlike Chua’s daughters, we could host as many sleepovers as we wanted, we just couldn’t sleep at anyone else’s house, with the exception of our best friend. My sister and I even hosted an annual boys-only Super Bowl party. I can go on and on with stories about the great things my parents did for us, but the greatest thing they did was be there – even when we wanted them gone.
So if you don’t like Skins and think it’s a horrible show, turn it off – or drop cable altogether. Don’t blame MTV for creating a show that emulates what teens are really doing. As I said in my review of the show, it’s horrifying to me that teens are actually doing these things, but it’s reality. Instead of wasting time and money suing MTV and making a fuss about the show, let’s put that same energy into talking to teenagers around us about the consequences of the decisions they make and how they can do things now to ensure that later on, they’ve built the lives they want for themselves.
I truly believe that children want and need boundaries. I may have been angry with my parents over some of their decisions (not allowing me to go to co-ed sleepovers), but at this point in my life, I’m reaping the benefits. And on a final note, I always like to remind consumers that we vote daily for the brands we love and hate when we give or don’t give them our money and our time. Nothing speaks in greater volumes than blacking out a network you don’t like or not purchasing a product you don’t endorse. These things exist because an audience exists. Let’s not allow TV or the media to raise our children.