I know my students watch “Pretty Little Liars.”
Here’s a secret: I do too.
I don’t WANT them to watch it. I think it’s too mature in content for them. I think parts of the show are trash and it irritates me, yet I watch it. I don’t advertise that I do it, but I do it.
But what happens when a student tells me that they love that show? Personally, I’m not going to say, “OMG I DO TOO” because I don’t want to advocate it. I’m not going to say, “That show is trash. Dump it” because that shames them and they’re just going to do it in secret.
So why not have a redemptive conversation about it?
Pretty Little Liars is a show about 4 teenage girls whose 5th best friend went missing. Since a body that was assumed to be that friend was found, they’ve been receiving mysterious text messages from “A.” These messages use all of the secrets they told their missing friend to blackmail them to do things for A. Meanwhile, the Liars have many relationships, all of which are broken or inappropriate. One is dating her teacher, one a female, one the town freak (the only guy she dated who was actually of legal age), and the last a flaky sketchy guy. The show glorifies all of their relationships, and draws viewers in. The Liars also have a ridiculous amount of money, crazy fashion, and participate in underage drinking.
You probably are like, “Heather, why do you watch this smut?” Well, because the story-line itself is fascinating. There are many twists and turns that keep viewers like me in. I also will defend myself by saying that I am very picky about what I watch, compared to your average Millennial. I’m very sensitized towards unnecessary crudeness, and I don’t think PLL crosses that line.
What do you like most about the show?
What do you not like about the show?
Have you ever told someone a secret, and then they used that secret against you? How did that make you feel? Have you ever done that to someone else? How do you think that made them feel?
Can you relate to any of the lies they’ve told?
What does the show teach us about the lies that we tell? They come up eventually, and we can’t hide from them forever.
Are their relationships healthy or toxic? Why?
Which character can you relate to the most? Honestly, it’s hard to relate to them, because their stories are so wild.
How do the Liars treat each other? Are they quick to blackmail each other, or do they stand by each other no matter what?
What does the show teach us about friendship?
How realistic is this plot?
What would you do if someone was bullying or blackmailing you through text messages? Have you ever experienced this?
The best thing to do when talking through this is to not condemn or shame students for their answers. Ask them questions and help them work through it. Ask questions in a way that is provocative enough to engage thoughts, and leaves some room for grace.