Covering Topics that Hit Home for Teens
Most of you know that I had the chance to attend the TCA’s a couple of weeks ago with the team at Netflix. In addition to attending all the general session panels, we had the opportunity to have private Q&A sessions with the Fuller House team as well as the Degrassi: Next Class team. While I enjoyed them both immensely, Degrassi struck a chord closer to my heart as the parent of their target audience – teenagers.
Degrassi originally premiered WAY back in 1987 (I can’t believe I’m making it sound that old since that’s the year that I graduated high school) and has had a huge following and earned many awards and nods for their approach to dealing with issues facing teens. The show was the work of love and passion from creator Linda Schuyler who, before changing careers, taught the very same age group. She knew there were stories that needed to be told to show what this age group was going through. 500+ episodes later, we have the newest class who calls Degrassi Community School their home.
We had the opportunity to question Linda and Stefan Brogren (Producer/Director and original cast member “Snake”) about how the show has evolved over the years and how they stay true to their audience. Nancy at The Mama Maven was smart enough to bring TWO devices so that she could record the sessions as well as take pictures. Since I did not, take a look at the highlights of the private interview. These two were absolutely awesome and you can tell that they genuinely love the audience that they cater to:
Why You Should Watch Degrassi
My 14YO and I took the time (takes about 3-4 hours to go thru the whole season) during our snowmaggedeon last weekend to watch the whole season together – truth be told, she’d already watched it once because she loved it so much. We have a very open dialogue in our house on what they see and go thru on a daily basis.. openly gay couples at school is nothing new anymore, cyberbullying happens daily, kids send inappropriate photos all the time and as a family, we talk about these topics constantly. Look – as parents of teens and tweens, we know that our kids are dealing with some pretty heavy topics but like anything, it’s best to attack them head on and be involved. Watching these episodes together may be a bit uncomfortable at times (Female masturbation? Check.) but it’s such a great chance to not just see what they deal with on a day-to-day basis but TALK about it.
Curious? Let’s break down some of the hot buttons they cover in season one:
S1E1: #BootyCall – Shay has a crush on Tiny but rumor has it that Tiny likes girls with big butts which Shay doesn’t have. So she stuffs her pants to try and impress him. Maya leads a successful band but boyfriend Zig sees it as a threat and she feels forced to choose between them. Spoiler – she’s strong and doesn’t sell out on her dreams for a guy.
S1E3: #YesMeansYes – “Zig takes action to save his relationship and becomes physical with Maya, despite her protests.” I’ll be honest.. when Linda talks about how they’ve had to move past the “no means no” mantra of the 90s and step it up that unless it’s a YES, it’s a no. Kudos to them.
S1E5: #ButThatsNoneOfMyBusiness Throughout the season, we watch Miles become increasingly more dependent on antidepressants (illegally acquired, of course) all to the surprise of his parents. And then there’s Lola who accidentally buys a vibrator as a key ring which leads to discussions on female masturbation. Topics like this may be slightly awkward to watch together, but for a generation that needs to learn how to overcome masturbation addiction, this is surely must-see television.
S1E7: #ThisCouldBeUsButYouPlayin – This episode sees a conflict between Zoe and Grace who thought they were girlfriends but turns out, only one of them was interested in more than just friendship. Awkward! Maya gets her first experience at being trolled by annonymous haters.
S1E8: #TeamFollowBack – What happens when you think you’ve contracted an STI? Well, you don’t tell your parents of course…
And those are just a FEW of the topics they touch on. I promise that while these topics may blow your mind (as they did for many of my colleagues attending the TCAs) they are the conversations and things that are actually happening in high schools every single day. Is it awkward to talk about some of these things with your sweet babies? Absolutely. But just like that first sex conversation you had with them, your kids will let you know how deep into it that they want to get with you. But if you take the time to watch shows like Degrassi with them, they’ll know that you’re at least aware of what’s out there.
This show is so well done and pays so much respect to teens and getting their stories right that even the Peabody awards applauded them for neither “sensationalizing the story line nor trivializing it”.
Please do yourself (and your teen) a favor and take the time to watch this show with your kids. I’d love to hear your feedback on this show when you have.