MTV's 'Skins' Begs the Question -- How Low Can You Go?

Guilty until proven innocent. That’s a parent’s lot in life as headline after headline howls the news of children’s struggles – falling test scores, rising sexually transmitted disease rates, swelling waistlines and the like– And whose to blame? The parents of course.

But for those who believe that poisonous water or dirty air is a problem for our children, consider the polluted, cultural environment in which they live and breath … and the new industrial waste spewing from MTV, a network that seems to have fired all its writers, replacing them with flunkies who buy the beer and film the party. (Shakespeare’s literary legacy remains intact.)

Apparently for MTV, watching young adults void themselves in a bathroom was not thrilling enough. America had grown bored with Snookie it would seem. And so it has turned its attention to minors in a “show” it calls “SKINS.”

Even the august New York Times has taken note of this bit of flotsam, as it is possible that this program is quite literally a crime. In SKINS, a group of underage, often first-time actors, present “real life,” and by that they mean everything from stealing money from parents, to drunken and drug-laced parties, to stylized sexual encounters, to dares that used to be the province of sleepovers, but now rate national attention. Nudity is part of the visual of the show. And that could be criminal.

It is illegal to show naked pictures of underage children. That comes as no surprise to every conscious adult and parent in America, but seems to be news to MTV. The New York Times reports the big no comment from MTV, that bastion of taste and style, as apparently they decide what the definition of “is” is when it comes to how naked can children be and still be legally exploited?

Children today are growing up in a culture in which the cultish worship of that illusive 15-minutes of fame can be had if you’re willing to debase yourself for others enjoyment on film. And our children lose sight of the fact that becoming famous for achievement is quite different for becoming infamous for vomiting comically in a video-loop on YouTube.

It is hard for parents to convince their children that hours of practice, of study, of focus and of effort to make a difference in the world is worth the wait, when you can become known on such network marvels as competing to do manual labor for Paris Hilton between face cream ads.

But it’s hard for kids to tell the difference when the definition of “everybody is doing it” comes from MTV, which can still sell snake oil to underage children. While "SKINS" comes to America from a UK television channel and father and son writers Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, for the real “brains” behind the show content, look no further than the show’s website itself. Under "Extras," "SKINS" proudly asserts that a “Teen Advisory Board” is the real source of the material.

The site reads: “Meet the Teen Advisory Group for SKINS. We make sure SKINS stays as real as possible. Every week we meet with the writers to help them write new scenes, share what it really means to be a teen growing up today and to make sure the characters and stories are honest and true to our lives. Everything in this show is directly influenced by us.... real kids, real stories and real relationships.”

And there’s the rub. The message of "SKINS" to kids is that this is what the cool kids are actually doing -- come wallow in the destruction, vomit and despair that is our “real life.” How low can you go? And if it’s low enough, you’re in.

What’s needed is a Parents’ Advisory Council, a group of people who don’t want to see these child stars dropping out of school to attend rehab, to complete community service or a jail sentence, to visit a friend in the hospital or, God forbid, to go to a funeral.

The problem with "SKINS" is not that it’s real life; it’s that it’s not real enough.

Bad choices produce misery, but not always within the 30 minutes that it takes to watch a boy party after taking every drug in his mother’s bathroom (one of the show’s teaser scenes.) Sometimes when people do that, they die.

It’s easy for the makers of "SKINS" to tell parents to just turn off the TV. I will. But forgive me for noticing that it matters what we tell our children about how to make a mark in this world.

It is hard to be a parent; to do everything you can to help your child become the very best of them possible. It would be nice if MTV didn’t make such a mess on the carpeting and lent a helping hand.

Kristi Stone Hamrick is a media consultant, and mother of four.