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Skins: What Do We Do Next?

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My last blog on MTV's responsibility to us and our children certainly sparked a great debate that even reached my personal inbox. People asked me how I could defend this show, why I was allowing it on air (I gently reminded them that I did not create, write, or produce the show), and why I didn't provide any positive ideas.

First, let me say that in posting my last blog, I hoped it would spark discussion among all of us about the role parenting should play in raising our children. I don't believe in government regulations raising our children. I believe that the more we turn to the government in this very personal matter, the less power we will eventually have. If Skins is canceled, I want it to happen because we the people decided it wasn't a good show, not because the government got involved and canceled it. I also wrote about this a few months ago when I discussed the government's regulation of McDonald's Happy Meals in San Francisco. I believe parents are smart enough to make decisions about what's best for their kids. And by the time I get around to having them myself, I'd like to know that I will have the right to also make decisions for my children.

But I agree that I could have offered some further insight on what we can do now. So here are a few ideas on what we can do to move forward.

1. Support the people who are creating positive content for our youth. In one of the emails I received personally attacking me, the gentleman told me to spend some time actually doing something good for young people. I gently directed him towards my tween girl property Mackenzie Blue, which I created a few years ago when I realized that girls were being too heavily influenced by negative stereotypes and Mean Girl culture. I'm one of many creatives who personally want to use our creative or marketing power to do something good. But if we're going to succeed, we need support. Even though girls love Mackenzie Blue, the biggest support network for it is actually parents and mom bloggers, who spread the word. I am very grateful to them. There are many other writers creating this type of content, and we need to seek them out and support them. On a side note, to those who think that I'm "in good" with the execs at MTV, let me remind you that they passed on turning Mackenzie Blue into a show on their network because it didn't fit with it's other content (or in layman's terms, "it's too positive for what's happening here right now"). And that is their right and their choice as a network.

2. Don't play the blame game. It seems over the last few years that the blame game has become as American as apple pie. Let's blame our financial troubles on Wall Street (not on our own overspending), let's blame our obesity problem on fast food companies and video games, and let's blame cyberbullying on TV and Facebook. Blame, blame, blame. And I've noticed every time we start to blame someone else, other than taking responsibility ourselves, we open the doors for more regulation. I believe that we need standards, rules, and regulations. I just don't believe they should be a result of our inability to self-regulate. And that also goes for blaming marketers. When I was growing up, my parents used two very powerful phrases often: "no" and "because I said so." I wanted toys and other things as a child, and when it was appropriate (Christmas and my birthday) I got it, and when it wasn't, my parents just said no. Is it now easier to blame networks and marketers than to just say no?

3. Realize that our children will do as we're doing. The tragedy in Tucson gave us all a moment to pause and consider how we interact with each other. I was shocked at the hubris of political influencers (who shall remain nameless) who used this tragedy as an opportunity to defend using negative imagery and words to discuss politics and values. Even worse, they used the toddler defense "he started it!" Seriously? As a marketer, I can tell you that we spend a lot of time deciding what words and images we should use. And we use those words because we want to, and because we know they'll evoke emotion. Our children don't need to turn on Skins to see images of people behaving badly. They only need to turn on any news network midday and watch adults engaging in middle school playground behavior. If we want our children to be better, we have to be better.

4. Create a spiritual awakening. I don't even think this has to be religious in some way, but we need one -- desperately. My dad always told me, "if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." Skins is a work of art, and with all art, it can reflect the best or worst of its subject. Maybe Skins is an example of the worst of what our teens have become. It's not easy to look at the worst of ourselves. But the upside is, we can be better. We have to reexamine our moral fibers and really think about the values we want this next generation to possess. And we have to act now.

5. Please stop promoting Skins if you don't like the show. As a marketer, I can tell you that the PTC has singlehandedly given Skins more promotion than MTV could have hoped for. Is there a marketer over there? If so, they should be fired immediately. I don't understand why they think the best way to get a racy show off the air is to bring so much attention to it, everyone and their mother (and grandmother) will just have to tune in to see what's so bad. Next time, try to be a bit more stealth. How about developing a coalition of every faith-based and non-faith-based youth advocacy group, teachers, educators, and supporters who deem this content inappropriate, and send messaging to them telling them to black out the show -- quietly. Unfortunately, I think we all know that there are 3 million people in this country who want to see Skins, so that's why it's on the air. But maybe if a powerful enough group arises, we can also get good TV on the air. Oh right, that happened in January when Oprah launched OWN. I hope she takes pity on today's youth and launches an inspirational block for young people, and if she does, hopefully we'll support her. And other people like me who believe in positive and inspirational programming for our youth will have another venue to promote that content.

5. Don't trust your kids. Yes, I said it. Why on earth would you trust your kids to not watch this show or any other racy show? Parents are scared of technology, and they need to get with the program -- quickly. Block access to your OnDemand content (or restrict it with a PIN), inspect your cable bill to see what's being watched when you're not there, put filters on your computers, take the username and password for your child's social networking pages, friend them, and review their text messages and instant messages. Make it clear that you won't violate their "privacy" unless they give you a reason to do it. Is it an invasion of privacy? Probably. But my mom routinely told me that it was her job to invade my privacy when I gave her reason to. And when I was a teenager, I can guarantee you there was reason to. Teens will be teens, so parents should in turn be parents.

I read each and every comment on my last blog, and I must say that I was thankful for the support. But for those who wanted to talk about MTV's responsibility and who seemed to resign control of our teens to network TV, I want to say I strongly disagree. We have the power to create the culture we want for our children. And the moment we yield that power to the government or to any media network, we've lost the battle.