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Virgins and virtue win teen hearts

Teachers could learn a lot from the TV hit Dawson's Creek about preaching wholesome values, writes Julie Henry.

IT'S about a group of American high-school students but has no drugs or violence and very little in the way of sex - yet youngsters are hooked on it.

As part of Education Secretary David Blunkett's bid to stamp out swearing and "instil a bit of politeness and decency into the behaviour of the next generation", Dawson's Creek could be required viewing.

The teen drama is the new "must watch" phenomenon which can even get them out of bed before midday on Sunday for the repeat.

Videos have just been released and a series of books adorn youngsters' shelves - one was recently distributed free with a copy of a teenage magazine.

But it is light years away from cult series such as South Park and Ali G where foul language, irreverence and downright rudeness are de rigueur. Dawson's Creek is definitely more Waltons than Simpsons.

The series, which has a huge following in America, is set in Capeside, a fictional coastal town in Massachusetts.

The setting is as beautiful and wholesome as the characters Dawson, Joey, Pacey, Jen, Andi and Jack.

Story lines feature the traditional teenage angst of young love and "my parents don't understand me" compaints. But in the first two series, family break-up, under-age sex and low self-esteem, homosexuality and mental health problems have also been tackled.

Underpinning everything is a moral code that has the youngsters agonising over how to do the right thing.

The two main characters are virgins. Dawson has even vowed to save himself for the love of his life. Jen, who sleeps around, is unhappy and trying to change. Pacey, who has messed around at school, is worried about his future.

And in the last series the school "bitch" - the only bad apple in a barrel full of Golden Delicious - was killed off when she got drunk and fell into the harbour.

A straw poll of teachers found that while many had heard of the series, few had actually watched it.

One criticism levelled at the series is that the dialogue bears no resemblance to how real 16-year-olds speak. But Channel 4 claims that the sophisticated and psychoanalytical monologues are a winner with youngsters. A spokeswoman said that teenagers were impressed by the way characters approached complex issues.

Given that the characters are bordering on manic about their school work, respect their elders, and treat every subject with the same thoughtful concern, it might be the ideal tool for PSE classes.

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