Is 'Glee' to racy for young teenagers?

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NEW YORK - "OK," went the e-mail that circulated among parents recently at a New York City elementary school. "Is 'everyone' in the fifth grade REALLY watching 'Glee'?"

A discussion ensued: To "Glee" or not to "Glee"?

At issue wasn't the quality of the hugely popular Fox series about a high school glee club, which in just its first season has won a Golden Globe, seen its cast perform at the White House, launched a national concert tour, and is, to hear many tell it, approaching the status of a mini-pop culture phenomenon.

The question, rather: Is "Glee" just too racy for the tweens who love it?

It's a dilemma, and not just because it's hard to fight with one's offspring. "Glee," which kids love for its infectious musical numbers — a few critics call them overproduced or sloppily lip-synched, but let's not be grumpy about it, because "Glee" is the very antithesis of grump — has an upbeat, inclusive message that recalls the "High School Musical" films.

But this ain't no "High School Musical." For where those rosy-cheeked Disney Channel films barely contained a kiss on the lips, "Glee" has sex. And teen pregnancy. It tackles issues of homosexuality and losing one's virginity, and one scene showed a character, well, ejaculating in a hot tub.

So what's a parent of a tween "gleek" — as fans call themselves — to do?

For Scott Bienstock, the answer is to keep his hand nervously on the pause button, ever at the ready to order his 9-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son to close their eyes.

"It's pretty uncomfortable," says Bienstock, a sales representative in New York. That hot tub scene particularly unnerved him, and he thinks some of the numbers can be a little provocative. But his kids and his wife, Ruth, love the show so much that he has, basically, given up the fight.

"They look forward to it every week," he says. "I feel like I'm being a prude."

Besides, let's face it — it's hard not to like the show. It would be hard even if you didn't enjoy the songs performed by the charismatic young cast, led by Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele, who both cut their teeth on Broadway. Or the wisecracks of the hilariously nasty coach Sue Sylvester, played to the hilt by veteran comic actress Jane Lynch.

Because at a time when the ugliness of high-school bullying is in the news, with tragic stories of kids victimized because they're different, this show preaches that it's OK to be nerdy in high school.

Or to love Broadway show tunes instead of football in high school. Or to be gay in high school — one story line features a gay student, Kurt, who sings Broadway diva songs like "Rose's Turn" from "Gypsy" and came out to his father after getting the entire football team to perform Beyonce's "Single Ladies" on the field. (Long story.)

"I sure wish I'd had this show when I was in high school," says Mandy Berger, 28, a Londoner who is hooked on "Glee" in her home country, where the show ranks at the top of all U.S. series, according to Fox.

"I was a geek — I got bullied so badly," Berger says. "It's so lovely to see a show putting out the right message for kids, that no matter what size or shape you are, you can be accepted."

Morrison, who plays the glee club adviser Will Schuester, says that when the show began, he figured it was targeted to the "High School Musical" demographic. It's been stunning to see how much broader the appeal has been, he says.

"It's insane," says the 31-year-old actor, who appeared in theatrical hits like "Hairspray," "South Pacific" and "Light in the Piazza," but until now had never experienced what it's like to walk down a street and be recognized "every three feet."

Parents and kids, especially, come up to him all the time, he says. Including some famous ones.

"I was at the White House Correspondents dinner and Katie Couric came up to me," he says, a sentence that gives you a sense of what his life has been like since "Glee" took hold. "She said thank you — because Tuesday night was the only night that she and her daughter could sit and watch something together."

So what about the, ahem, racier moments of the show? Like the recent episode devoted to Madonna, in which a montage set to "Like a Virgin" showed three couples beginning sexual interludes in which one person was about to lose said virginity?

"We're not living in the '50s," says Morrison. "Kids know about sex. It's out there. For some kids, things will go above their heads, but if questions come up, I think we can create an opportunity for kids to create a dialogue with their parents." In fact, he says, "Glee" can be a parenting tool.

That's what Jonathan Smith uses it for. He was one of the parents at New York's Hunter College Elementary School who participated in the recent e-mail discussion over whether "Glee" was appropriate for fifth-graders.

"My response was, we use it as an opportunity to discuss the issues as they come up," says Smith, whose sons are 11 and 14. "With our boys, it's sometimes hard to start a discussion on a topic like sex or drug use, or other potentially icky stuff. It's nice when it comes up organically."

Smith's sons were big fans of "High School Musical," he says, but grew out of it quickly. "'Glee' has better characters, and more conflict," he says. "Life is messy. I like that they get into some real issues in a messy way."

Unprotected sex, for example. A few parents report having had the unpleasant experience of their tweens asking exactly how one might get pregnant in a hot tub.

But both Smith and Bienstock point to the educational potential in the story line of Quinn, the blonde, beautiful, popular cheerleader who gets knocked up, decides to carry her baby and is thrown out of her home by her father.

"We've talked extensively about the ramifications of teenage pregnancy," says Bienstock, "and the episode where Quinn's father kicked her out of the house. Bottom line is, even though I have problems with the show, it does raise some issues that we talk about and in that way, it's a positive experience."

Will the show get even edgier? Executive producer Brad Falchuk says no.

"That hot tub scene, and the Madonna episode — that's as edgy as it's gonna get," promises Falchuk, who created the show along with Ryan Murphy.

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Amanda - posted on 05/24/2010




I've never watched the show, but it doesn't sound any worse than Degrassi( I LOVEEEE DEGRASSI!! lol) I'm not completely sure what age I would be okay with my kids watching those type shows, but atleast they're realistic. I think it depends on the maturity level of the kid in question mainly, and the comfort level of the parent also. I think it would be a great way for parents and kids to be able to discuss certain issues they want to deal with but would be scared to bring up on their own also, if they watch the show as a family.

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Emily - posted on 08/09/2012




@Amanda - Degrassi is way more racier than Glee - Emma stripping in front of the whole school for instance? Closest thing to that would be Santana's Nurse outfit in Season 2's Valentines day episode. But Glee is awesome :)

Stephany - posted on 05/25/2010




Isn't the fact that it airs at 9 pm a clue that it isn't intended for the kiddie crowd? I only know of adults and older kids (like teenagers) who watch the show. I will say that if FOX wants to take this show on it's current path (some promiscuous behavior and language) they probably shouldn't air it right after American Idol, which has fans of all ages. Other than it's time slot, nothing about this show screams "plop your kids down so we can show them how to really use a hot tub!"
I don't think it's appropriate for MOST 5th graders, but I think it (like most everything else parent-related) depends on the parent more than it does the kid.

Jessica - posted on 05/24/2010




Me and my friends were the "Glee" kids, we were all in the theatre program and loved every minute of it! That being said, I think alot parents would be really dense to think that anything that is on that show isn't something or worse that they hear about at school....

Jane - posted on 05/24/2010




I love Glee and look forward to it every week. My kids are older so it really didn't occur to me that there might be things in it that were inappropriate for the younger kids but believe me, tweens know about EVERYTHING that is in that show so I'm not sure there is anything in there that a tween shouldn't see.

Jaime - posted on 05/24/2010




My name is Jaime-Leigh and I'm a Gleek! I love this show. There are extreme episodes and there are calm, more family-oriented episodes...I think it's nice to see a change-up of genre on t.v. these days but I still think it's up to parents to seriously monitor what their kids watch and make sure they understand fiction vs. reality....that is the key to overcoming all of the media hypes that trigger fads and lead to overwhelming popularity contests between the kids of our younger generations.

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