Low-fat chips with everything
What am I going to wear?", "How shall I have my hair?" "What about boys?" What indeed. The agonies of adolescence are all-too-familiar territory in Channel 4's Smash-Hitsy guide to teenage well-being, Good Health.
This series tries heroically to contemporise the age-old messages passed down, and duly ignored, by successsive generations: don't stay out late without phoning home; don't pick your spots; don't gorge yourself on sweets. But that does not necessarily mean that its intended audience will pay it any more attention than we did.
In "Filling Up and Filling Out", on sensible eating, a vox pop reveals what parents and school caterers know to be one of the life's incontrovertible truths: that given the choice between a year's supply of chips and a weekend in Disneyland, most children would opt for chips.
"I know it's not healthy" says one boy with unarguable logic, "But I just like the taste." There's not really much you can do in the face of such reason, So, how to stop the frites generation turning into a load of lard buckets, and ensure that the choices they make are just as balanced and nutritious as spinach. Good Health tries hard to persuade its audience with a good humour which runs throughout the series. In the programme on food, for instance one boy is horrified when he sees his mother slinging a six-pack of Diet coke into her supermarket trolley "Oh mum, you can't." He wails "What will my mates say?". Another claims in "Decide for Yourself" that "some of my best friends are girls." Mind you, you can imagine the confessor taking a sharp intake of breath afterwards.
What Good Health tries to do, is to instil a sense of balance in everything, not just food groups. It is the notion that give can mean take later on, and vice versa. Let your parents know you're going to be a bit late for instance, and they're more likely to let you go out with a tangerine mini skirt and a halter-neck top. All right, mine wouldn't have done but the theory's sound and not too patronising.
Trying to encourage this sense of responsibility is well done by a variety of young contributors all from different backgrounds. One girl goes to visit and shop for an elderly neighbour. "I am glad she can feel she can rely on me," she says. This may be a bit daunting for some children to swallow, so one boy says "Me and my brother, right, we look after our bedroom. It's good to be responsible for something." So the goals set are achievable and even a tidy bedroom is worthy of praise.
Other programmes cover work, which again emphasises responsibility, exercise and self image. Judy Simpson makes a particularly effective case for training hard. Just look where it took her: the gold medal winner's podium at the Commonwealth games and the even dizzier heights of the NEC Birmingham, where she can be found whacking nine tenths out of her opponents with a pugil stick on Gladiators. Now there's an incentive for you.
The programmes are served well by the teacher's guide, which has classroom ideas, photocopiable sheets, cross-curricular links and can stand alone as a health education and lifestyle resource. With all this, we didn't really need the series' agony uncle. When asked why all parents regurgitate the same old strictures he says it's because they have more experience and know better. Oh really? A bag of chips to go, please.
The Good Health Guide to Eating, Drinking, Working, Resting and Playing costs Pounds 8.99, the video Pounds 19.99 from Channel 4 Schools, PO Box 100, Warwick CV34 6TZ