Media For Kids And Teens


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

This month, NPR is putting a special focus on media for young people, from animated movies for toddlers to playground equipment for schools, to this next story about a TV show that premieres tonight on the ABC Family Channel. It's called "The Fosters," and its main character is someone you don't often see on screen, a teenager in foster care. She ends up in a family with two moms: one's black, one white. They are ready have a biological son and two adopted Latino children.

NPR's Neda Ulaby watched the show with a real foster family.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: "The Fosters" is supposed to be just as relatable as the Cleavers.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Did you take your pill, sweet knucklehead?


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Really, like you're on the toes? Let's go. Let's go.

ULABY: It's a typical morning chaos in the Foster household, teenagers gulping down breakfast, parents rushing to get to work.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Backpack. Backpack.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Everybody give me a yes.

ULABY: Then an interloper shovels in. Callie is the new foster kid. She's sweet faced, shell-shocked and surly. She beelines for the coffee. The family is horrified or thrilled by this challenge to the rules.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Can I have some coffee, too?


ULABY: That's a completely relatable moment for a real foster family watching the show right now in the Washington, D.C. living room.

JAMIE SMITH: Kids can't have coffee.

ULABY: Eighteen-year-old Jamie Smith is a foster kid hanging out with her friend Robert Garris and his two foster moms, Meg Gibbon and Angela Pelletier. Smith says the show nails what it's like, as it's called, to be in-care.

SMITH: I gave it a hundred percent.

ULABY: Like the way the show handles the kids' complicated feelings about their birth parents.

MEG GIBBON: The fact that they had that in the show felt real to me because it's his issue. We see you guys struggle with that, right?

ULABY: It has been a struggle for Jamie Smith.

SMITH: When I was younger, around like 11, my mom and I would do visits every week. She was a little bit on some other stuff. So she was having a struggle and she was in rehab.

ULABY: On the show, the idea of meeting their biological mom is a problem between the two adopted siblings.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: See, I knew you wouldn't understand.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: You want me to understand that this woman is a monster? She abandoned us. She left us.

ULABY: And she bails in this episode when it's time to meet her daughter. Jamie Smith can relate.

SMITH: I've had that exact same experience where I'm crying 'cause I was very upset that my mom would not show up to the visits. I mean, week after week, it was very disappointing. So that was definitely a realistic point.

ULABY: Also realistic: How it feels for Callie, the main teenager on the show, to arrive in a strange home not knowing where she'll sleep.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Do you have a toothbrush?

MAIA MITCHELL: (as Callie) No, I don't have a toothbrush. How would I have gotten a toothbrush?

ULABY: Or the bad foster parents like the one she used to live with.


MITCHELL: (as Callie) I mean, he used to hit me all the time. But, you know, whatever. Nobody seemed to care much about my side of the story.

ULABY: That reminded 17-year-old Robert Garris of living in a home where he and his little brother were treated differently from the family's biological kids.

ROBERT GARRIS: They would let the other kids eat before us. They would let the other kids hit on us and stuff.

ULABY: Now, the show does not get everything right. This real foster family gets a little nitpicky when it comes to the bureaucratic details.

GIBBON: Yeah, and the reality is if they adopted the other kids five years ago, they're not still a certified foster home.

SMITH: I mean they could've recertified though, 'cause Courtney and Tom...

GIBBON: But you have to do 30 hours every - I mean that's a lot of time.

GARRIS: Yeah, and they didn't do all that.

ULABY: OK, nobody wants to watch a show about the drama of getting recertified. But the foster care system is filled with incredible stories of conflict and messy emotions. It seems like a natural fit for television, so why haven't there been more movies and TV shows about it?

PETER PAIGE: I think it's hard for us as a culture to look at the ways that we're failing. We're failing some kids. There are kids without homes. How is that OK?

ULABY: That's Peter Paige, who created this show, "The Fosters," with Bradley Bredeweg. Paige starred in the Showtime series "Queer As Folk." And originally they were thinking about doing a series about gay dads. But there are plenty of gay dads on TV right now. And then, Bredeweg says, they accidentally learned about a program in L.A. for gay foster kids.

BRADLEY BREDEWEG: And I'll never forget the day you came back and told me about it. And you got emotional, which in turn I got emotional and then it sort of just - it forced us to move in this direction.

ULABY: They two sold the concept of a multicultural foster family with two moms to ABC Family. Jennifer Lopez, the singer, signed on as executive producer. The show runner is Joanna Johnson - logical; she's a white, lesbian mom with a Latino wife and two adopted biracial kids. She says she takes millions of details from her own life and puts them into "The Fosters."

JOANNA JOHNSON: There is a moment in one of the episodes where the moms have had, you know, a hard day with the children.

ULABY: They're in bed, too tired to talk. Then, one reaches out and they just hold hands.

JOHNSON: With their backs to each other, which is a moment that happens sometimes when you're so spent from all the energy you give to your children and work and in life that you just kind of need your space but you still want to be connected.

ULABY: It's the moments like that that sold the show to Susan Punnett. She runs a group that connects foster teenagers with potential adoptive families.

SUSAN PUNNETT: I watched it twice, actually. And I got totally looked.

ULABY: Punnett says she used to seeing kids without families vilified in popular culture or just ignored. She says this show, "The Fosters," gives a more nuanced view of older kids in-care.

PUNNETT: There's an assumption that they're difficult; that it's too late to mold them, to turn them into sort of who we think we want our children to be.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I would really like you to understand how this, tonight, could have ended very, very badly.

MITCHELL: (as Callie) So do you want to send me back to juvie?

ULABY: In fact, Punnett says older kids can be especially loving because they don't take love for granted. Often she says that they're desperately hungry for it.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: You're not disposable, Callie. You're not worthless.

ULABY: Seventeen-year-old Robert Garris says it was not something he expected when he moved in with his current foster parents, Angela and Meg.

GARRIS: Having so much people care for you, it's like I never had all that. Like, so it sometimes weird and it's so overwhelming. But I know it's also good.

ULABY: This family got a little teary while watching the ABC Family show, "The Fosters." Eighteen-year-old Jamie Smith says that's because it illustrated three things she does not see enough of on television.

SMITH: That it is OK to be in foster care. And that it is OK to be foster parents. And that it is OK to show your emotions.

ULABY: Smith would also like "The Fosters'" producers to know if they ever need real foster kids for special guest appearances, just call her and her friend Robert Garris. They're available.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

SIEGEL: As we mentioned, that story is part of a series this month exploring all kinds of media for all kinds of young people; teenagers and mobile apps, classic books and building toys for kids, and music for the multilingual.

JOSE-LUIS OROZCO: (Singing in foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in foreign language)

OROZCO: (Singing in foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in foreign language)

OROZCO: (Singing in foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in foreign language)

OROZCO: (Singing in foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: That's Jose-Luis Orozco who has been performing for kids in Spanish and English for decades. We'll hear for more from him on MORNING EDITION.

OROZCO: (Singing) Very well, I thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing) Very well, I thank you.

(Singing) How about you?

(Singing) How about you?

(Singing) Today is Sunday.

(Singing) Today is Sunday.

(Singing) How are you?

(Singing) How are you?

(Singing) Very well, I thank you.

(Singing) Very well, I thank you.

CORNISH: This is NPR News.

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