Watch CBSN Live

How Parents Should Handle "Skins"

MTV is under fire from parents and critics who say a new series goes way too far. "Skins," which debuted Monday, focuses on a group of teenage friends coping with adolescence.

But, as "Early Show" co-anchor Jeff Glor reports, how the teens on the show cope with adolescence is the issue.

MTV's "Skins" Pushing the Envelope Too Far?
PICTURES: Could MTV's "Skins" Break Child Porn Laws?

Glor notes one issue that's stirred controversy is the age of the actors involved -- not twenty-somethings -- but teens -- and the show's strong content.

According to celebrity news website, advertiser Taco Bell has pulled its ads from the program after a parents group called "Skins" dangerous.

"Skins" debuted to big ratings -- and even bigger controversy.

The show, based on a similar British series, is being criticized for its portrayal of teenagers who openly dabble in sex, drugs, and alcohol. The show stars some actors as young as 15.

One group calls it the most dangerous program of its type, ever.

Melissa Henson, senior director of the Parents Television Council, said, "They're engaging in the most reckless and irresponsible and sometimes even illegal behavior, and all of it is shown as an aspirational lifestyle."

The council has called for an investigation into the series, saying the show contains images of the "sexual exploitation of children" and "child pornography."

MTV executives reportedly held meetings over concerns an upcoming episode -- that shows a naked 17-year-old actor from behind -- may have violated child pornography laws. But in an official statement, the network said, "We are confident that skins will not only comply with all applicable legal requirements, but also with our responsibilities to our viewers."

Glor notes that other hit shows, such as "Glee," have also drawn criticism, particularly when some of that show's lead actors appeared in a provocative photo shoot. However, those actors are actually in their 20s, unlike the teens who perform in "Skins."

More than three million people watched Monday's premiere, including over one million under the age of 18.

Some observers are defending the show as a reflection of real life.

Jessica Bennett, senior writer for Newsweek, told CBS News, "Real kids have sex, real kids get pregnant, real kids drink, they experiment with drugs, many of them struggle with eating disorders, and what we're seeing in 'Skins' is a lot of things that kids can relate to."

However, despite the controversy in the U.S., the show has thrived in Britain ,where it's been on the air for five seasons.

But could this show have a real effect on kids watching it? Could it encourage children to engage in the behavior they see on the show?

Psychologist and "Early Show" contributor Dr. Jennifer Hartstein said on the broadcast Friday, "The fact is yes and no."

She explained, "The kids that aren't doing it already aren't necessarily going to be influenced because it looks glamorous on TV. The kids that are definitely not going to do it are still not going to do it. But the kids that are on the fence, they're the ones that we want to worry about because it might make it look fun and having seen the BBC version and knowing where this one is going, it does start to show the not-so-pretty side of all of this stuff, which we hope will give them lessons later."

Hartstein said the show could be a launching pad for conversations between teens and their parents.

"I think this is what's happening," she said. "I think we have to start to think about the fact that a lot of kids, as the clips showed us, they're having sex, they're drinking, they really are getting pregnant. They're doing things that we don't want to talk about."

She added, "We have a very sexualized culture. We've talked about it many times. It is everywhere. Kids are seeing images of this stuff all over the place. They're watching shows at 8:00 (p.m.) with this kind of thing. Is it just that it's more and pushing the envelope even more? Who knows."

"Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill remarked, "The other issue is that the actors are young. Actors are under 18. On other shows maybe it's older, early 20-year-olds playing younger kids. How much of a factor is that?"

Hartstein said, "I think it is a factor. It makes it that much more realistic because these are their peers acting in the same way that they act. Good or bad, we can argue both sides of it. I think it could potentially be a great opportunity for parents to see what may be happening and to really sit down and pay attention."

But how do you address any issues you might have about the show with your teen?

"Watch the show," Hartstein said. "Even if you have no interest in watching it and your kid won't watch it with you. Watch it together, but separately, and turn it into something that's teachable. Talk to your kids about it. Be open to it. Let them know that they're not going to get punished if they admit to doing any of these things, really make it a dialogue between the two of you."

"What do you think is the biggest concern when it comes to teens and behavior these days? Is it the sex? Is it the drugs? Is it any one thing?" Hill asked.

Hartstein answered, "I don't think it's any one thing. And I don't think that it's necessarily more than what was happening before. I think we're just so much more aware of it, and there's many more platforms to see and observe what's happening. The internet, they post pictures. We talk about it more. It's in our faces more. 'Jersey Shore' is showing it all the time. I think we have to be really aware that it's out there and the access is easier."

She added, "(Parents) have to be aware. You have to talk about it. You have to have consequences when necessary."

View CBS News In