A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this reality series is about unsuspecting men whose girlfriends have sent them to a boot camp-like "academy" in order to help them learn to commit and be respectful. The men exhibit plenty of sexist attitudes and other negative behavior (bordering on emotional abuse), while their girlfriends -- some of whom appear to have self-esteem issues -- tolerate it ... none of which adds up to a lesson that parents want their teens learning. Cast members drink and discuss topics like infidelity and promiscuity often, and frequent arguments between the couples -- as well as between the men -- sometimes lead to pushing, shoving, and slapping. Words like "piss" are audible, while stronger choices ("s--t," "f--k") are bleeped.
What's the story?
In TOOL ACADEMY, nine obnoxious, dishonest, and unfaithful men (referred to as \"tools\") are unknowingly sent to relationship "boot camp" by their girlfriends in order to be reformed and transformed into husband material. The alpha males -- who are competing for a $100,000 prize -- agree to live together and undergo intense couples counseling led by therapist Trina Dolenz. They must also participate in a series of relationship challenges designed to teach lessons about respect, communication, honesty, and other values. At the end of each episode, Dolenz and host Jordan Murphy expel the man who's failed the day's lesson. The unlucky contestant is then sent to face his girlfriend, who must determine whether to continue the relationship or walk away.
Is it any good?
While the show does portray the men's sexism, dishonesty, and infidelity as negative traits, the obvious disrespect they show their partners is the series' main source of entertainment. Also meant to be part of the "fun" is watching the girlfriends' shocked, often tearful reactions when they watch recorded interviews and hidden camera footage of their partner's unscrupulous behavior. Meanwhile, counseling sessions seem to focus more on what's wrong than on actual solutions to the couples' relationship problems.
What makes the show even more problematic is its failure to address the women's willingness to put up with their partners' chauvinistic boasting, promiscuity, and other unsavory acts. Not to mention the fact that these women -- some of whom appear to have some serious self-esteem issues -- are desperately trying to change these men rather than empowering themselves to walk away and find someone who will treat them better. Bottom line? This series contains some very troubling -- and potentially dangerous -- messages about what makes for a healthy relationship.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the idea of changing someone in order to "improve" them. Is it realistic to think that you can (or should) change another person? What if the person doesn't want to change? Can participating in a reality show really make someone a better person? Families can also discuss relationships and self-esteem. Should anyone tolerate being disrespected in a relationship? When does having personal differences in a relationship cross the line into being abusive? How can people in abusive relationships get help?