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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Degrassi (sometimes called Degrassi: The Next Generation) is a Canadian series that tackles big issues like sex, teen pregnancy, sexual identity, drug use, school violence, hate crimes, and mental disorders in a frank, thoughtful way. It presents these subjects as everyday factors in teens' lives and explores their repercussions through the students' eyes. This uncensored honesty gives the show credibility beyond that of many of the soapier series available to teens, but at the same time, it creates a classic know-your-kid situation for parents. Some episodes have a far heavier tone than others do, and the amount and type of controversial material varies widely from story to story, so previewing each episode is your best bet. Ultimately, though, this series manages a moral tone without coming off as preachy, which goes a long way in maintaining teens' interest and earns it a spot among the best, most responsible series out there for teens. The content is edgy but both relevant and appropriate for the target audience.
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What's the story?
DEGRASSI: THE NEXT GENERATION is a teen drama set in a Canadian community school where a diverse group of high-schoolers cope with academic pressures, social stresses, relationship woes, and even weightier issues like drug use, cyberbullying, and STDs. Like its 1980s predecessors, Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, the show's ensemble cast is a microcosm of the modern-day teen population as a whole, incorporating characters of different ethnicities, socio-economic groups, religious persuasions, and sexual identities, not to mention differences in personalities. Overachievers, underachievers, jocks, socialites, perfectionists, control freaks, social misfits -- all find a place in the halls of Degrassi. During the show's run, it has endured numerous cast changes, but nothing has changed about the way the show addresses serious issues like gang violence, rape, and teen pregnancy.
Is it any good?
Excellently written and boasting a cast that actually looks and acts like real kids, this series provides provocative, engaging, and socially conscious programming for teens and adults. The show's braintrust doesn't hold back when it comes to facing tough but relevant issues, which means that these teens have sex, drink, do drugs, bully, and turn violent against each other. There's Fiona (Annie Clark), a sexually insecure teen who finally comes out as a lesbian; Alli (Melinda Shankar), whose conservative Muslim upbringing doesn't change her appetite for popularity and the opposite sex; Adam (Jordan Todosey), a transgender teen who comes into his own with the help of some true friends; Jenna (Jessica Tyler), a teen mom who makes a tough choice for herself and her baby boy; and Clare (Aislinn Paul), who struggles to come to terms with her mom's new relationship and the emotionally complicated new family life that comes of it.
It's impossible not to get invested in the characters' lives and to sympathize with their feelings during emotionally rocky times. Degrassi isn't a comfortable, heartwarming series that solves all its self-created problems in its allotted 30-minute window and leaves you feeling joyful at its end. It's designed to put you on edge and make you confront tough situations, and it does so without relying on any of the sensationalism that allows viewers to dismiss the content as dramatic effect. This accomplishes two things: First, it forces parents to picture their own teens in the characters' shoes, and second, it offers them a unique opportunity to start a discussion with their kids about tough issues that arise in the content. Fortunately the caliber of the show itself makes it equally entertaining for you and your teen to watch. What's more, if you're an alum of the original Junior High series, you'll find particular enjoyment in seeing a few stars from that incarnation return to the screen as the grown-ups in this one.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what sets Degrassi apart from other teen shows. Does that fact that the teens look like regular teens make it more realistic? Can you relate to their issues or feel empathy for the characters? Have you or your friends dealt with similar issues?
The issue of self-image is a common theme in this show, and families can discuss the pressures on young women to lose weight and get plastic surgery. Are there aspects of your body that you wish you could change? Does this issue affect your enjoyment of life? How does the media influence how you think you look?
This series shines a light on several timely issues, including bullying, tolerance, sexual identity, and sexual activity. Depending on the episode's content, talk to your kids about these and other topics, drawing comparisons between the characters' actions and your own family rules. Did the show encourage you to see a situation differently than you have in the past? How does peer pressure play a role in your decisions about what you will and will not do?
- Premiere date: October 14, 2001
- Cast: Mike Lobel, Miriam McDonald, Stacey Farber
- Network: TeenNick
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, High School
- Character Strengths: Communication, Compassion, Empathy, Integrity, Self-control
- TV rating: TV-PG
- Available on: DVD, Streaming
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