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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that If You Really Knew Me is an unusually emotional reality series aimed squarely at teens and the cliques that too often divide them. Students share deeply personal details about their lives with their peers, and the stories they tell are often painful: A now-bubbly student council leader reveals that she used to be suicidal, a stony outcast talks about her struggle with self-mutilation, etc. Although some of the topics the show tackles (which also include drugs, alcohol, sexual orientation, and violence) may be too upsetting for younger kids, it's a gold mine for strong role modeling and positive messages. Most of the teens on the show are so profoundly affected by the experience that they're inspired to change the way they treat everyone in their lives.
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What's the story?
In MTV's docuseries IF YOU REALLY KNEW ME, high school students are asked to step out of their comfort zones and show their peers who they really are as part of an intensive, school-sponsored "Challenge Day" program that puts a whole new spin on reality TV. Each episode focuses on a different school's Challenge Day experience and shadows five diverse students as they go through the emotionally draining but eye-opening process. The result is a heart-wrenching yet ultimately rewarding journey for participants and viewers alike.
Is it any good?
Effective without being overly manipulative, this is a stand-out series for teens that actually uses the reality genre for good instead of evil. That's a welcome change in a world that has too many reality dating shows to count. Even better, If You Really Knew Me succeeds in staying palatable to a teenage audience that desperately needs its positive takeaways. Here's hoping they eat it up.
Some students spring into action and make concrete plans to make things better at school or at home. But it's hard to see a few newly energized faces come out of the experience with a heartfelt desire to change, only to watch them collide with painful realities that don't quite meet their rosy expectations. For example, when a broken-down girl reaches out to her emotionally distant dad across the dinner table to tell him how much she appreciates him, we want them to embrace and connect. Instead, he looks down awkwardly as she clings to his hand, and we can feel the distance spreading between them.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the Challenge Day experience and why it appears to be so successful on If You Really Knew Me. Did it surprise you to see students sharing so many "secrets" they'd kept hidden from their peers? Do you think having the cameras there helped or hindered the process?
Teens: Are you personally affected by cliques at school? Have you ever been a victim of bullying, prejudice, or abuse? Have you ever been ashamed of the way you've treated someone else?
Do you think a workshop like this one could succeed at your school? What would be the hardest part about getting students to participate and share their feelings? Why is it sometimes so hard to be honest?
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