“Critics” of High School Musical find plain old English insufficient to express their views on the tele-flick.  The general consensus is:

“This is like my fav. movie EVER!!! YAY ZANESSA!!!” I’ve watched it at least a thousand times. I luvvvv it. zac is so hotttttt.”

The first High School Musical came out in 2006 and quickly became one of the Disney Channel’s most successful original movies. The soundtrack followed a similarly prosperous path to the title “best-selling album of 2006.”

I watched the movie this afternoon and I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a sucker for the feel-good cheese fest.  A little cheese can really hit the spot sometimes…gives a person something to churn on while trying to digest the reality shows more artificial than fiction, and the downright poison offered by much of the media today. I turned off the T.V. encouraged that Zac and Vanessa are certainly better role models for kids and teens than Britney. Even so, Disney cannot replace the learning and acceptance that family is meant to provide.

Put Gabriella, Troy and ‘Musical’s’ other singing, studious, determined characters next to the growing string of starlet mug shots, and the super-spoiled mega brats who have floated to the peak of Hollywood visibility on a wave of couture, gobs of money and drama.  Check out The Hills, Wild ‘N Out, and The Real World…in a line-up of the motley crew of characters from these shows the High School Musical personas stick out like wholesome sore thumbs.

How refreshing!  A teen movie whose heroes care about their families and communities and have the modesty to make them nervous for a first kiss!  What a coup—happy Disney fare launching to stratospheric success outstripping everyone’s expectations!  But wait…speaking of stripping…

To Disney’s dismay a dirty little ‘High School’ secret came to light recently—in the form of nude photos of star Vanessa Hudgens that somehow found their way to public light en route to their intended destination—her boyfriend, and ‘Musical’ costar-Zac Ephron.

Let the media circus begin!  Up in flames goes the pure Disney film’s image in an inferno fueled by tabloid frenzy and fan disappointment and anger.  Disney PR is in damage control mode.  Despite early rumors that Hudgens would be cut from High School Musical 3, Disney’s line is: “Vanessa has apologized for what was obviously a lapse in judgment. We hope she’s learned a valuable lesson.”

Maybe Hudgens isn’t the only one with a lesson to learn here.

We all shudder at Britney’s drugged out antics during her come-back turned flop at last Sunday’s Video Music Awards. We whip into a frenzy over Paris and Nicoles’ DUI’s, and get our feathers in a ruffle over Hudgens. It is easy to criticize the latest über famous pop-tart turned washed-up skank. While the debaucheries of famous young adults are problematic, they may be the tip of a much more menacing iceberg lurking in our own homes and communities.

It is harder to face the fact that one’s own pre-teen or teenage child may have looked to the culture for role models, then taken what they learn to even greater lengths.  Teenage suburban America, like High School Musical, has “dirty little secrets”—only much more dirty and much more secret than the embarrassing incident with Hudgens.

Parental fear and unawareness create a vacuum of strong caring guidance for kids and teens. The un-discussed forbidden fruits of sex in every imaginable permutation, and alcohol and drugs, barge into the front door of teen culture—no sneaking necessary.  The harder we find it to talk about these things, the easier it becomes for them to just happen.

Many well-meaning real-life parents with their heads in the sand wind up offering less effective interaction and guidance to their kids than their counterparts on MTV’s “Parental Control,” a show where parents, unhappy with their child’s current partner, interview alternative dates for their child. During the trial dates, the parents and the old boyfriend/girlfriend watch the dates on a TV together—trading slurs of “bleeps” and insults.  The Springer-esque melodrama is hardly what Dr. Phil would call healthy—but at least the parents are involved and speaking up!  This is more than way too many parents can say.

The fact is that junior high kids, and younger, encounter peer culture where casual sex, oral sex etc. are often the run of the mill activities at house parties.  Things continue to escalate in high school (I won’t even mention college).  Just a few years ago in San Diego the police busted a teen-run prostitution ring “involving girls as young as 12” recruited by teenage pimps.  In that operation alone police estimated that “up to 100 girls and 30 pimps” may have been involved.  That’s one way to get some extra cash to dress more like the girls from “Laguna Beach,” and feel as sexy and desirable as the Playboy bunnies on VH1’s “Girls Next Door.”

While every community may not have secret teen prostitutes, nobody is ‘in the clear.’  Binge drinking, drug abuse and sexual abuse are about as common in high school as the SAT’s.  Last week an article by Hans Leetz, “Parents invited to teens’ drinking party: Educational presentation intended to show adults what often happens,” described a tactic that a Southern California teen group is using to try to jolt parents out of their oblivious comas.

Leetz’ article reported that teen actors from a movement called StraightUp will “scare the pants off adults next weekend at a suburban Thousand Oaks house, chugging to the point of vomiting, sexually assaulting passed-out teen girls and making a huge mess.”  Afterward they will stop the act and put the adults on the spot—what do they make of the scene?

Having grown up in Thousand Oaks myself, I can bear personal testimony to the fact that whatever hideous scenarios the players come up with will likely pale in comparison to some of what I saw go on in some of the most beautiful homes and tranquil neighborhoods you could ever hope to see.

Katherine Kasmir, a mother, stand-up comic and founder of StraightUp explains that, “We’re trying to help the parents understand the culture, and about how crazy and dangerous the party-house situation has become…We create a typical teen drinking party, one like the ones going on in every city in the county this weekend,” she said. “Not just the bad kids, the good kids, too.”

The line, “my kid would never do that,” doesn’t fly.  Whether we are in trouble or not we young people need strong support, guidance and role models from family and culture…we even crave them.  The Associated Press and MTV conducted a survey of more than 100 questions to people ages 13-24 that included the open-ended question: “What brings you happiness?”  The “top answer” was none other than, “spending time with family.”  75% of respondents said that “having a good relationship with my parents,” also made them happy.  It doesn’t seem far-fetched to project that the teens with positive mentors and role models are not the same general demographic as the teens running prostitution rings and snorting coke.

It’s amazing what a little face time and frank conversation can do to keep sexuality and other real life issues from becoming “dirty little secrets.”  Where are kids supposed to learn that their lives are connected to and supported by greater goods that go beyond their individual lives?  It is no secret that the young rely on family and community to learn the about parameters, integrity, and what it takes to build a good and meaningful life.  This is nothing new—Plato and Aristotle wrote volumes about how the young depend on their elders in order to develop character.

The good news is that teen culture today has strong gravitation to the positive energy and story of  High School Musical.  More importantly, they treasure their families.  The door is wide open for firm guidance from adults who care. It is a tragedy to miss this opportunity and look to the “least bad” thing in the media to provide kids today guidance on how to live.  The goody-two shoes of the day might have the same stylist as the emperor.