Using Glee for teachable moments to teens

I am a “Gleek.” I admit it.

A Gleek is a self-described lover of Fox’s show, Glee. The show features a diverse group of teens who are in the school’s show choir. Glee focuses on the lives of these teens, in and out of school, while emphasizing certain storyline elements with entertaining Broadway musical-type performances.

The show itself, however, is not the point of this post. Last week was an unexpected episode whose value could go beyond entertainment. It was a great example of how simply watching TV with your kids could start a conversation about real issues that they are facing everyday. Glee was a “teachable moment.”

Before I continue, I should certainly mention that Glee is not for every family. This show has mature themes including social issues, sexuality, and relationships. If you have not seen it before and are interested in checking it out, you may want to do a private screening before family viewing is allowed.

A recent episode was set during the high school’s Alcohol Awareness week. The main storyline included one of the glee club members, Rachel, choosing to host a party at her home while her parents were away. At the same time, the glee club director, Mr. Schuester, was going out on the town with a fellow teacher to “blow off steam.” Both story-lines graphically showed the immediate consequences of alcohol intoxication. And, more importantly, followed through with the clumsy and awkward “next day.”

The show certainly wasn’t perfect. It failed to address certain consequences of the character’s choices. And, some could argue it glamorized alcohol. I agree. However, my argument for watching TV with your kids is that regardless of the topic and regardless of the specific program, starting difficult conversations with your kids is much easier when you are using popular media as the catalyst. Using a popular show like Glee, that your teen may already like, allows parents opportunity to throw out questions or comments to reveal what your kids may be thinking about an otherwise awkward topic.

The goal of these conversations is not necessarily to find an “answer,” but to get your kids to talk about real stuff that they are dealing with at school or with friends. Focusing your efforts to find these opportune moments can allow any parent to start unexpected, unscripted, genuine conversations. Talking about drugs and alcohol (and other sensitive subjects) is not a “talk.” It’s a continuing, evolving conversation. Actively creating teachable moments will show your children how much you love them, by frequently talking to them about what matters.

So, while I was watching Glee, here are some questions I thought might stimulate conversation with pre-teens and teens.

  • They look like they are having a lot of fun at that party. Have your heard of parties like this at your school?
  • Have you seen any of your friends drunk? What did they do?
  • What do you think Rachel’s parents would say if they found out she had this party while they were away?
  • How are these kids going to get back to their house? Do you think they can drive?
  • If you saw your friend acting like her, what would you do?
  • Do you talk about drinking with your friends?
  • Did you see how Mr. Schuester made a bad decision while he was drinking alcohol? What could he have done to prevent that from happening?
  • That looks really embarrassing. Do you think that would happen if they were not drinking?
  • What could Rachel have said to her friends if she was not interested in drinking?
  • If someone offered you a drink, what would you say?

As parents struggling with the challenge of hard conversations, keeping your eyes open for these teachable moments can ease the process.

Talk a little bit. Listen more. Learn. Teach.

Most importantly, enjoy the moment.

Natasha Burgert is a pediatrician who blogs at KC Kids Doc.

Submit a guest post and be heard on social media’s leading physician voice.

Comments are moderated before they are published. Please read the comment policy.

  • DialDoctors

    Terrific article! We can use popular media as the catalyst for conversations with children. These conversations are usually awkward, and children or teens feel like they are in an interrogations room been looked under a magnifying glass. Its great how we can use tools such as Glee to talk about important subjects and making these dialogues more hip and cool rather than weird and intimidating. But even these celebrated shows address issues as autism or diabetes.
    *Tell me I should eat my wheaties, (you know what)
    Hell to the no (Hell to the no)
    Tell me I’ll come down with diabetes
    Hell to the no (Hell to the no)*
    Above you’ll find a part of the lyrics to ‘Hell to the No’ which Mercedes Jones wrote as part of the ‘Original Song’ episode which aired this season. Obesity is currently the single most talked about issue regarding children and teenagers. Let’s use these popular shows as tools to raise awareness and keep our family and friends safe with topics such as these.

    • Natasha Burgert

      Thanks for the comment. I did not know that Mercedes Jones wrote that!

  • health blog

    Nice post. Agreed that we as parents all need to find opportunities that naturally lead to discussion of everything from sex ed to drug & alcohol issues.

  • Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD

    Great post! I love Glee. I’ve been watching it with my nine year old daughter and twelve year old son. I agree about its value for providing an opportunity to discuss topics that otherwise cause my twelve-year old to cower with embarrassment. Recently, for example, we discussed teen pregnancy and homosexuality in high school (we’re watching season 1 on Netflix). The content is a little mature for my nine year old, but given her older brother and her natural inquisitiveness, I think that she is ready for it too.

  • Natasha Burgert

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, Dr. Pullen and Dr. Mavromatis.

  • Dr Stephanie Smith

    This is a great post! I am so excited to see other health care providers talking about using popular media (especially Glee) as a way to connect/communicate with their children. Your talking points are fantastic.
    You may be interested in reading a similar post of mine, Why I Let My Kids Watch Glee

    • Natasha Burgert

      Thanks for commenting Dr. Smith. It’s always nice to meet another Gleek.