It’s bold, it’s sexy, it’s witty, it’s stylish, it’s… for teenagers? My current guilty pleasure is ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars. I am 22 and should NOT be watching what is commonly referred to as “Desperate Housewives for teens;” however, I started watching it to have something to talk with my 14 year old sister about besides homework and could not stop, even on my own. Pretty Little Liars is a riveting drama for teens, centered on the lives of four friends whose fifth member of their troupe mysteriously disappeared the summer previous, disbanding the friends and driving them apart as they tried to cover the secrets that died with their friend, Alison, and the night of her disappearance. They start receiving texts, notes, and messages from a mysterious “A,” presumably eponymous for Alison; as “A” threatens to reveal secrets that could ruin their lives, reputations, popularity, relationships with their family, and potentially land them in legal trouble, Aria, Spencer, Hanna, and Emily reunite as friends to protect their secrets and solve the mysteries of Alison’s murder. The cast of teenage acting is strong and everyone from my generation will appreciate Holly Marie Combs (Charmed) in the role of Aria’s mother, albeit a sign of our age; it is a slippery slope from seeing our favorite WB stars in “mom roles” to hearing Ace of Base on oldies stations. Set to the eerie tune of The Pierce’s Secret, the opening credits are stylish, capturing the artifice of the world the girls create for themselves: with not a semblance of truth or reality to be found in their lives, the girls hide under their perfect fingernails, perfect hair, and perfect makeup, all of which is applied to Alison’s corpse, a girl who was eventually buried by lies and artifice because “two can keep a secret if one of them is dead.”
While some parents may find that Pretty Little Liars addresses topics that they would prefer their high schoolers rather not view, they are pertinent issues to high schoolers today. Pretty Little Liars engages matters that many parents are not willing or ready to accept as realities of today’s teenagers; however, it can lead to meaningful discussions with your children. I urge watching the show with your children to generate meaningful dialogue with them about bisexuality, relationships with older men, teen sex, underage alcohol use, drug use, and the price of popularity. Simultaneously, parents are urged to reflect on the effects of their life choices and actions on their teenagers, as the show addresses the strain financial problems and divorce put on children and the aftermath of being too distracted to notice what is going on with children before they are entangled too seriously to extricate themselves.
Pretty Little Liars makes parents uncomfortable, as it should, forcing them to face the consequences of their own actions and the reality that their high schooler faces much more serious issues than they did. The show is in touch with the issues of today’s teenagers and bravely addresses them, rather than hiding them, the way that many parents would like to do and highlights the destructive nature of secrets and lies that parents force their teens to keep by making themselves unapproachable and judgmental. Its bold confrontation of bisexuality is commendable, forcing parents to accept the realities of the changing face of sexuality. Emily and Maya explore bisexuality, leaving their parents in the dark, even after revealing their secret to their friends, because of the emphasis their fictional town of Rosewood puts on “perfection,” leaving the relationship between Emily and her mother strained. Ponder your definition of perfection for your child: a relationship maintained by the lies your child manufactures to preserve your sense of comfort, or having a healthy, open relationship in which you know your child, rather than the version of your child that they present you with for fear of rejection. Rather than being kept in the dark like Aria and Emily’s parents, use the show to discuss these topics with your child in an open way, improving your relationship with your child and their sense of acceptance while they face the world of high school. The girls of Pretty Little Liars are tormented by the secrets they keep from their parents and society, burying all semblances of self-expression, candor, and sincerity in favor of acceptance.