Parenting In The Age Of 'Gossip Girl'
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
The "Gossip Girl" TV show on the CW Network is known for pushing envelopes. The show, which is based on the popular books of the same name, follows the lives, really, mainly the love lives of rich kids in Manhattan's Upper East Side.
Well, this week they not only pushed the boundaries of good taste, they also pushed a lot of parents' hot buttons with a much-hyped episode that featured a menage-a-trois. Well, it's no surprise that the plotline has drawn protests, but some parents are taking a much more nuanced approach. Instead of banning the program, they're using it a teachable moment or a barometer of their kids' attitudes.
Liz Perle falls into that camp. She's the co-founder of Common Sense Media. The group's stated mission is to look for sanity and not censorship. And Liz Perle joins me now. Welcome to the program.
Ms. LIZ PERLE (Co-Founder, Common Sense Media): It's a delight to be here.
NORRIS: Now, I understand that you have a 19-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son and that you tried to steer your son away from last night's controversial episode.
Ms. PERLE: I sure did, actually. It's many conversations that I'd like to have with my son, and I use "Gossip Girl," actually, to get to some of the ones he won't talk about on his own. But frankly, I said, there's a Warriors game on and then you can do your homework 'cause one conversation I wasn't ready to have with him was about a menage-a-trois.
NORRIS: For the listeners who didn't watch the show last night, a little bit more about this. The young people on "Gossip Girl" were focused on a list of the things to do in college before you graduate and a threesome is the last item on that list. And here's where they admit whether or not they've had one. Let's take a quick listen.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Gossip Girl")
Ms. HILARY DUFF (Singer, Actress): (as Olivia Burke) Have you ever�
Mr. PENN BADGLEY (Actor): (as Dan Humphrey) Have I - no, no, no, never. No, never. Have you?
Ms. DUFF: (as Olivia) But it was in the movies. That doesn't really count.
Ms. JESSICA SZOHR (Actress): (as Vanessa Abrams) Not me. No.
NORRIS: Okay. One of them said it was in the movies because she's an actress. And there's a lot of what you don't see there - batting of eyelashes and coquettish tilting of the heads. And they eventually do what they were talking about doing. Is this the kind of thing that makes you squirm?
Ms. PERLE: As a mother and as a professional parent at Common Sense Media, it certainly gets my attention, yes, because they're positioning this as an absolutely normal must-do kind of thing. And they're positioning it to my kid who's actually starting to think about college. So, those two things get twinned in his mind and then I'm going to have to pull the strands apart.
NORRIS: So, what's the dilemma there? How do you handle something like this if this is, as you say, a teachable moment?
Ms. PERLE: Well, you know, one of the things that we try and do at Common Sense is teach our kids to see because we can't cover their eyes. And there are right times and right places for right introductions of right conversations. I'm not sure this was one I was ready to have. But we did talk about it in the car this morning. And I said, so, you missed a good episode last night. And he said, well, I actually heard about it on Facebook from somebody.
NORRIS: Does the network here, the CW Network, have parents in a bit of a trap? The more that parents protest the more it can just drive up the ratings?
Ms. PERLE: You know, it's - one of the things I did talk about with my son this morning was this was a pretty desperate attempt just to get ratings and we used it as a moment to sort of talk about how the industry works, which is look at how hard they have to scream at you to get you to tune in.
NORRIS: Did your son know what a menage-a-trois was before this episode? Pardon me if I ask?
Ms. PERLE: You know, he did and I have no idea how. It was one of those, okay then, so, how do you know that kind of conversation? And it was, oh, mom. So, I mean, these kids are growing up in such a sexualized environment that it's almost imperative for parents to get to their world and get into it and talk about it and see what sense they're making out of it all.
NORRIS: Thank you, Ms. Perle.
Ms. PERLE: You're welcome.
NORRIS: That was Liz Perle. She's the co-founder of Common Sense Media.