Glee Wakes Us Up on Bullying…and Teen Life

I was away this week when Glee’s “Never Been Kissed” episode first aired. Being a huge Bon Jovi fan, my 13 year old daughter couldn’t wait for me to get home so she could watch the episode again with me. “You’re going to love it!”, she told me. “But, there are some surprises in the episode…so I should warn you.”

So, we plopped on the couch and got into our watching positions.

I had heard mixed reactions on Twitter about the “Stop Me Up/Livin’ On A Prayer” mash up but I really liked it. After all, this is Glee and they tend to put their own twist on our favorite tunes – which is what we want them to do. To just resing an artist’s song would make the show into a fancy version of video karyoke. One of the pluses of Glee is watching the reinvention of songs many of us either grew up with or have had a long standing relationship with from artists we’ve been following for a long while.

My daughter seemed pleased that I liked the mash up. Being the true Glee expert in our house, that could have made watching the remainder of the episode sticky at best!

It was clear, though, that the episode was truly about Kurt. After the second or third shove into the lockers, my daughter said to me “get ready  – something shocking is going to happen. I wasn’t ready for it the first time I saw the episode. Didn’t see it coming at all!”

When Kurt was kissed by that lug of a football player, my daughter simply turned to me and said: “I told you – shocking.”

I agreed with her – the kiss was a twist to the plot and something not often seen on prime time teen TV but it was not “shocking”. In fact, I explained to her it made complete sense.

“It’s so hard for kids to be different today or feeling different from other kids in their peer group. Discovering you’re gay or lesbian is one of the biggest feelings of “different” there – at any age. I know so many people who truly, truly struggle with this.

The thing is…we often think of bullies as bullying because they are scared of people who are different from themselves but just as often they bully because they are scared of those people being the same. That’s what’s happening here. This football player is supposed to be this macho guy and instead has discovered he’s gay – that’s not easy. So, he’s pisssed off and instead of embracing it and seeking people to turn to, he’s rebelling and actually punishing those he’s attracted to. Not healthy at all but that’s what some bullies…some people in pain…do.”

My husband, who was in the room by now, nodding in agreement. This is tough stuff for young kids. But, we both felt the episode truly drove a very challenging point home about teen life and bullies home in a very well done way – a way that teens, even young teens, can understand.

Teens learn best about tough topics when they have a frame of reference. Shows like Glee provide that for us – they give us a much needed foot in the door with our own teens on some very challenging topics.

If you’re looking for additional talking points from this past week’s Glee episode, here are a few that can help you with your own teens:

  1. Bullies don’t always bully for the obvious reasons – it’s important to uncover the true reasons. In this week’s episode, the football player wasn’t just being a bully, he was actually gay and struggling with that himself. He needs help as much as the person he’s victimizing because he’s in a lot of pain, too.
  2. Teachers must intervene more than just talking to the victim and asking if they are ok. Mr. Schu gave Kurt too much credit by just having a chat and leaving it at that. True intervention has to involve stopping the bully and holding the bully accountable for his or her actions. That wasn’t done for Kurt at his own school and we heard from Blaine a similar experience at his old school. That’s simply wrong. Sadly, that’s also what’s occurring much, much too often.
  3. Bystanders, students and teachers and others, must do something if they see the bullying occurring. To not step in is to be a type of bully – it’s bullying by association. By not protecting the victim and ignoring the problem, the bystander is as guilty of bullying the victim as the bully because it perpetuates the cycle. So, all those friends of Kurt who saw him getting slammed into those lockers were part of his bullying, too, and fed into his pain. For them to truly help, they needed to either stand up to the bully for him or get a grown up to help.

Glee is planning to cover bullying throughout this season so I’ll be intrigued to watch and see how the continue to cover this complicated and important issue with other school groups and with teachers. So far, they are off to a fantastic start – people’s eyes are opening and conversations are starting. I’ll continue to watch, too, and offer my 2cents, insight and talking points to help you talk to your kids.

If you saw this week’s episode, what did you think? What did your kids think? Let me know. The more we all talk and share, the better off all our kids will be.

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