ABC Family’s “Make It or Break It” is quite the departure from your typical teen high school drama centered on parties, boys, behaving badly and vying for a spot on the cheerleading squad.
For the elite teen gymnasts on this show, which premieres its third season Monday night, the stakes are much higher. At such a young age, these girls have an unwavering goal to make it to the Olympic Games – encouraging young audiences to not only dream big, but find a passion beyond Facebook, texting and trying to fit with the “in” crowd.
“It embodies so many great morals and storylines, and teaches young girls about the ups and downs of life and to never give up,” star Cassie Scerbo told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “I also really encourages young people to be passionate about something in general, you see these young people that have really dedicated their lives to something.”
This season Scerbo’s character Lauren is struck down by a life-threatening illness right before the Olympic team cuts, and her persona as the “bully” in the group takes on a whole new spin.
“She is a bully and a bad girl – but it shows you that its often the bully that is the one who is insecure and has the issues,” Scerbo continued, adding that there’s even been times she’s been afraid to “walk down the street” as young fans of the show can get so incensed over her character’s schemes.
Co-star Alya Kell – who plays lovable good girl Payson – said the series, and in particular the forthcoming season, sheds light upon the importance of friendship and teamwork, and understanding the difference between winning for your country and winning for yourself. Season two explored the complicated issue of anorexia, and Kell hopes that teens will find inspiration in seeing healthy girls on their small screen.
“This isn’t a petty high school drama. It’s not about being only as good as your next boyfriend,” she explained. “And we look like normal girls standing there in our leotards. It all relates to dedication – you have to make sacrifices, eat properly and work hard to achieve your dreams.”
This past season also dealt with the controversial issue of teen pregnancy when one of the main characters, Emily, had to choose between having an abortion or surrendering her life long battle to be an Olympic medalist tobecome a young mother. She chose the latter.
“One little trip up and you can lose everything you’ve worked so hard for,” said Kell, while Scerbo added that the story line also posed the question as to whether certain things do happen for a reason.
Beyond just portraying the heavy consequences of teen sex, “Make it or Break it” also presents a strong argument for abstinence, with gym manager Summer, played by “Full House” alum Candace Cameron Bure, frequently voicing the importance of faith and God in her life, believing in something greater than oneself, and waiting for marriage to consummate a relationship.
“Abstinence is a choice that empowers you, supports self-respect and statistically ensures a more satisfying and stable marriage in the future,” she told the young gymnasts. “You have all chosen to do something very exciting with your young lives, so why put that at risk? The wisdom of knowing what you do today can affect you forever, that’s blessing.”
And despite the heavy content embedded into the otherwise “family” orientated show, Caroline Knorr, Parenting Editor of Common Sense Media, said television programs like this one present a fantastic opportunity for parents to have tough – but important – conversations with their kids.
“Whether it’s sex, violence, teen pregnancy, homosexuality, or other complicated issues, it can be a lot easier to have conversations outside your comfort zone when you're discussing fictional characters or situations,” she added. “It’s also amazing how kids are much more willing to open up when talking about other people rather than themselves. And because our kids are so inundated with media from all sides – taking advantage of the time you have with your kid to give your input goes a long way toward informing your kids’ values when they are away from you.”
“Make It or Break It” airs Monday at 9 p.m. on ABC Family.