Straight Talk Advice

Feb 16, 2011

“Glee” about as edgy as spilled slushees

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: One of my guilty pleasures is watching “Glee.” I am wondering if the degree of bullying they depict is exaggerated or if high school today is really like that. Also, I’m curious about the level of achievement expected from kids on “Glee.” My granddaughter and grandson are always involved in multiple after-school programs and I worry about their stress levels. Omitting the singing and dancing, how similar is Glee to real high school? Your answers will make the show that much more interesting. — Curious Grandma, Marysville, Calif.

Matt 16, Villa Park, Calif. Ask me a question

In “Glee,” the bullying is Hollywood-ized. Real life bullying is rarely as blatant as “slushee-ing” or hitting someone’s head into a locker. I attend an all-boys private school and we are taught accountability and necessity for the other. Mutual respect is not an option. Some bullying occurs, but everyone knows it is unacceptable. “Glee” does show how competitive high school is today. Whether it’s sports, academics or arts, we are told that only the best will succeed. I study four hours a night, play on two baseball teams, participate in student government, community service, and a social life.

Geoff 25, Redding, Calif. Ask me a question

“Glee” has a huge following among the college and post-college set. All my friends watch it — and many older people, too. But you have no idea how troubled high schools really are! The people I went to high school with got in real fights and went to jail. “Glee” is Disney-fied and does injustice to the true state of our high schools. Yes, the show has underdogs with problems. But nobody has serious drug and alcohol addictions, cuts themselves, or has mental problems. If you were openly gay in my high school you had to transfer out. Most waited until college to come out. Exclusive private and magnet schools have problems, too. Friends from these schools say that many top students abuse drugs and alcohol due to achievement pressures.

Mark 24, Laguna Niguel, Calif. Ask me a question

The overachieving you see on “Glee” reflects the American way of “overdoing” — which fails to accept that rest and sleep are necessary for health. Like hamsters, today’s children are made to overwork, over think, overeat, over stimulate — over and over. Ask a child to correctly identify the need for six classes a day, homework to the brim every night, participation on multiple sport teams, and socializing as if none of the work exists, and they might say they like it. They might say their parents make them do it. They might answer along lines of least resistance. I was born into this insatiability and it’s easy to feel lost and fall into the overdoing trap — including overdoing the wrong things. Even without the wrong things, the stress from overdoing causes cancer and other illnesses we endure today.

Akasha 17, Sacramento, Calif. Ask me a question

I was informed in high school that there are three important things: sleep, friends and grades — and that you can only have two of them. Who would ever choose sleep?

DEAR GRANDMA: Is this an eye-opener? I suspect that the insanity of “overdoing” is behind our big city dropout rate of 50 percent. Great has become the enemy of good. Enormous parental support is needed to be great — and many kids have the hover-parents to provide it. (Of course, the cost is stress, stress, stress.) The kids who don’t have that support are hugely disadvantaged and often drop out — into their own underworld of stress.

On bullying, “Glee” is tame as spilled slushees. Our public schools have gut-wrenching bullying and violence problems. We need public schools to teach respect and non-violent communication from the youngest grades. This, combined with a variety of educational options, including vocational education, would give all students a way to feel — and be — valuable.

Editor’s Note: It’s not just America. Japan, China and India are all caught up in the same insanity. Children of the “haves” are expected to be great at all costs — we’ve all heard the stories of mothers murdering competing children over exclusive kindergarten spots in Japan — while children of the “have-nots” feel marginalized and drop out. What our public schools are really suffering is a crisis of meaning. If we re-prioritized our schools to teach respect and non-violent communication from preschool through high school, the haves and have-nots would grow up having respect and compassion for each other. Once you have compassion and respect, you have the capacity to see that all constructive contributions are valuable. Thus someone choosing vocational education over college prep would feel proud of that contribution. (And respect brought back to the trades would, in itself, be a huge improvement.) In this same spirit, if our schools taught holistic health from preschool through high school, all this “overdoing” of the human body would be seen for what it is: insane.

Speaking of TV shows, there’s one that aims to heal the real problems our teenage kids face. WEtv is planning a new show featuring renowned family therapist, Dr. Tara Fields (featured on Oprah and Dr. Phil). She is looking for families with teens in the Los Angeles/So Cal area who would like to become whole again. The therapy will be private (no studio audience). The families will be compensated for their time and will receive free follow-up therapy. I think the show will have great value, not only for the families receiving the therapy, but for those watching it who will see themselves in the situations presented. If you have family issues you would like help with, email or call 212-377-4612. —Lauren

  1. By M.J., age , from Rocklin, CA on 02/16/2011

    Glee is a very entertaining show and I watch and enjoy it.  However, that is all it is: an entertaining show.  It has nothing to do with the realities of high school, at least at my school.  The real bullying that goes on is more subtle, but is also much more cruel and hurtful.  From what I have seen guys do more physical bullying, but girls do more cruel mental bullying which I think is even more hurtful and leaves more permanent scars.  Some popular girls who think they’re “perfect” decided to bully my younger sister just because she’s shy and somewhat awkward and overweight.  In addition to direct cruel comments and rumors they cyberbully her and write cruel things about her in the bathroom stalls.  This has caused her to become a “cutter”  because she says it helps take away the emotional pain from the bullying which is worse.  She keeps the cut marks hidden, but can’t hide them from me since we share a room and I see her nude when she undresses.  She doesn’t want me to tell our mom about the bullying or the cutting.  She knows our mom would go to the school about the bullying if she knew and she’s afraid that it would make it worse.  She does her best to try to hide her pain, but when you live in the same room with someone, you can’t help but see it and I often hear her crying herself to sleep.  I would really like to help her, but don’t know what to do.


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  2. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Fair Oaks, CA on 02/16/2011

    Dear M.J.,

    You must tell your mother and the school counselor. Cutting is a serious addiction that leaves permanent scars and is a sign of deeper problems that could be solved with counseling.  Bullying and cyberbullying are serious offenses and they won’t stop until victims or their friends stand up to them. I understand the fear of not wanting to make it worse. Is there is an anti-bullying club at your school that can support her and go after the perpetrators without identifying her? Or a gay/straight alliance? (They are used to bullying cases.) If not, you and some friends could consider starting an organization such as this.

    Another avenue is to talk to the people at Community Matters—see  Make. sure to tell your school about them, too.  If you have none of these resources, perhaps you could get your sister some counseling sessions under her belt before proceeding. It will help her immensely in handling things and getting well again. And to get counseling, you will need to tell your mother about the cutting. At the very least, start there.

    Please let me know what happens.


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  3. By Jan, age , from Toledo, OH on 02/17/2011

    To M.J.:  Lauren is right.  You need to tell your mom and tell her today!  You’re sister is crying for help and wants someone to get her help despite what she says.  In my sister’s case, bullying and teasing about her being overweight caused her to be anorexcic.  She was able to dress in away that hid how bad her body was wasting away.  However, we also share a room so I saw her naked and could see how she had literally become nothing but skin and bones and was getting worse every day.  She wouldn’t let anyone else see her naked, not even our mom or her friends, so I was the only one who knew.  We have our own bathroom, so I knew she was also regurgitating her food and taking strong laxatives, but she was also able to hide this from our mom.  She would get very offended at any mention of the condition of her body, so I just kept my mouth shut.  It came to a head one day when she fainted and collapsed at school and had to be taken to the E.R.  The doctor said that she was in such a condition that it was life threatening!  She’s getting better now and is in counseling, but I would have felt guilty for the rest of my life if something terrible had happened to her because I kept silent.


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  4. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Fair Oaks, CA on 02/17/2011


    I’m so glad you are sharing this story here for others to read and see themselves in. It will encourage many others to disclose secrets such as this that are never meant to be kept. Very often it is the sister or brother who is sharing a room who is the witness and no other person. It is a huge responsibility to bear. Your testimony here is loud and clear. Tell, tell, tell. And don’t wait. You are 100% right that your sister was crying for help and wanted someone (you, who else?) to tell the appropriate person for her, even though she said she didn’t. I know you will inspire many others to tell also. Kudos to you.


    PS: What a coincidence that next week’s column is on a situation just like yours was.

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  5. By Linda, age , from Carmichael, CA on 02/18/2011

    I have a similar issue, but even though you say “Tell, tell, tell,” I don’t know whom I can tell.  There’s this girl whose locker is right next to mine in the girl’s locker room and I’ve noticed cut marks on her body when she’s changing for gym class or when she’s nude after taking a shower.  I don’t want you to think that I go out of my way to look at her or other girls in the locker room because I don’t, but unless you’re blind, you can’t help seeing certain things when you change right next to each other every day.  I don’t really know her and she was very “standoffish” the few times I tried to talk to her, so I just wrote her off.  However, now I think it could be related to some deep seeded problem that causes her to cut herself.  I’d like to help her, but I don’t really know her, much less her mom, so I’d feel really awkward trying to contact her mom and tell her.  If I saw this on my sister who I share a room with or one of my friends, I would tell our mom or my friend’s mom, but whom do you tell when it’s somebody you don’t really even know but can see that they need help?


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  6. By Terri, age , from Lodi, CA on 02/19/2011

    As I former “cutter” I can tell you that it is a cry for help.  I was too proud and embarrassed to ask for help, so I wanted someone to force me to get help.  I don’t have a sister, but I share a room with my stepsisters on visitations at my dad’s.  I went out of my way to be naked in front of them to make sure they saw the cut marks in the hope that they would tell my dad or tell my stepmom who would tell him.  I did the same with my best friend and her sister when I had sleepovers in their room in the hope that they would tell someone.  However, nobody said anything, so instead I attemped suicide.  It was a feeble attempt by overdosing on over the counter medicine that I really knew wouldn’t succeed, but that’s what it took for me to get the attention and help I needed.  I used the bullying I was receiving for my reason for cutting and the suicide attempt, but now that I am in counseling, I can see that this is no solution no matter how bad things seem.  My message to others is that you definitely should tell someone when you see that someone is doing this, they do want help.


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  7. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Fair Oaks, CA on 02/21/2011


    I’m so glad you are alive and emotionally well enough to share this important letter. If it doesn’t convince others that the person suffering (whether it’s cutting, anorexia, or any other at-risk behavior) really DOES want you to tell (even when they say they don’t), I don’t know what will. No one could have said it more powerfully. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your experience as it will be a lifesaver for many others.


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  8. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Fair Oaks, CA on 02/21/2011

    I would tell the school counselor. You can ask to remain anonymous if you like. Very likely nobody in this girls inner circle has the guts to tell and your doing so could be the thing that gets her the help she needs. We all need a secret angel like you now and then. Let me know what you end up doing and how it works out.

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  9. By Shannon Bell, age , on 02/21/2011

    After reading the column concerning how the Glee version of high school compares to the real thing, I felt a need to comment on your closing statements.  I respectfully disagree with your statement that public schools need to be teaching respect and non-violent communication.  As a parent of three, I strongly believe that this is the parents’ job, not the schools.  We, as a nation, are abdicating more and more responsibility to the government and this is another example.  I agree that schools should not tolerate this behavior in any way but parents should be held responsible for teaching their children to treat others with respect.

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  10. By Lauren Forcella, age , from Fair Oaks, CA on 02/21/2011

    Dear Shannon,
    Thank you for writing. I believe it is the parents’ job too. By the same token, it’s the parents’ job to demand a certain standard from that place we entrust out children to 7 hours a day, 9 months of the year… meaning our public schools. “Public” means that it is “ours.” As such, parents need to get more involved in what goes on there. One of the main reason private schools have only a fraction of the bullying and violence problems as the public schools, is precisely this parental involvement and demand of standards.

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