SUBJECTS — Health (social structure of school; STDs);

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Peer Pressure; Bad Associations; Romantic Relationships; Self-esteem; Taking Care of Yourself; Families in Crisis; Parenting;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Respect; Responsibility.

AGE: 15+; No MPAA Rating;

2004; 94 minutes; Color. Available from

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This movie shows the devastating effects of a high school social system in which girls who want to be popular are required to be sexually promiscuous. The result is emotional damage to everyone and a raging syphilis epidemic. The movie follows the stories of several girls and their parents, but the primary victim is Hannah, a bright ninth grader. Despite her overprotective mother, Hannah begins to date a popular older boy. The price is sex. Thrust into an apparently glamorous world of parties, alcohol and group sex, Hannah finds herself in over her head.


Selected Awards: 2005 Young Artist Award: Miriam McDonald nominated for Best Performance in a TV Movie, Miniseries or Special – Supporting Young Actress;

Featured Actors: Marcia Gay Harden as Trish Vogul; Alexis Dziena as Hannah Vogul; Mike Erwin as Nick Hartman; Miriam McDonald as Dawn Gensler; Megan Park as Becca White; Gary Hudson as Bill Vogul; Deborah Odell as Ginnie Gensler; and Rhonda McLean as Kathleen White;

Director: Tom McLoughlin.


This film can be useful in getting kids talking and thinking about high school social systems, peer pressure, and the difficulties that parents have in dealing with sexually active children. See How to Use This Movie in Class.


SUBSTANTIAL. While the scenes of sex are not explicit, this movie shows high school kids having sex and drinking alcohol. TWM does not recommend showing this film to children below the 10th grade. What may impress kids in grades 9 and below is that older students are promiscuous and get to go to exciting alcohol-soaked parties. Students below the 10th grade may be too interested in emulating the older children shown in the movie to fully appreciate the risk of STDs or the emotional damage of peer pressured promiscuity.


See the Possible Problems section above. If your child watches this movie in school or at home, bring the discussion around to the social system of the high school shown in the movie. Ask your children whether the portrayal of students in the movie is realistic and whether there are any parallels between the social system in the school your children attend and in the school described in the movie.


This movie was obviously made by adults to show students the dangers of STDs. However, the film’s transparent attempts to be “with it” and to drive the STD message home make it seem a bit preachy. The best way to approach the movie is to work against its preachiness and get the class to critique how the film portrays high school students and high school social systems. This will lead students to talk about the social system in their own high school.


Before showing the film, tell kids that the movie is a realistic portrayal of how quickly, in the right circumstances, an STD can spread through a high school community. Be up front about the fact that in the movie adults are trying to convince kids to be careful about STDs. Ask the class to watch the movie with the following questions in mind: (1) Are the portrayals of teenagers in this film realistic? What could the filmmakers have done to make the characters of the teenagers more true to life? (2) Are the interactions between the parents and kids shown in the movie realistic? What do you think would have occurred when the parents found out about what their kids were doing? Tell the class that at the end of the movie there will be discussions and written assignments on these questions.


Show the film. It can be chunked with discussions at various points in the film or shown in one viewing with discussions at the end. Revisit the questions posed in the “INTO” section of the lesson. If the discussion lags, ask some of the Discussion Questions set out in the remainder of this Guide.


Have students analyze the social system in their own school community and their own relationship with their parents in written exercises. These should probably be confidential. See Assignments, Projects, and Activities.



Are the portrayals of teenagers in this film realistic? What could the filmmakers have done differently that would have made the characters of the teenagers shown in this film more true to life?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary and the point is to start a lively discussion with students taking and supporting different positions.


1. What does each of the characters value?

Suggested Response:

Becca valued popularity. Dawn initially valued popularity and affection from boys, though it seems her attitude was beginning to shift toward the end of the film. Hannah valued her family, her friends, and being popular. Like Dawn, the allure of popularity wasn’t as strong by the end of the movie. Hannah’s parents valued good grades, a happy, comfortable family life, and success. Nick valued sex and popularity.



Teacher Notes: Ask questions that will get students talking about the diseased nature of the social system at the high school shown in the film. Points to look for in a good discussion are: (1) the culture of the school shown in the film was oppressive to girls; (2) the girls suffered psychological injury; (3) the boys shown in the movie, except for Tommy, were also damaged because their focus on sex deprived them of any loving relationship with girls. Consider one or two of the following questions to get a discussion going.

1. [Ask a variation of the question suggested for the introduction to the movie.] Are the portrayals of teenagers in this film realistic? What could the filmmakers have done differently that would have made the characters of the teenagers more true to life?

2. Does the social system in the school shown in the film remind you of your own school or any other school that you know about?

3. How are the experiences of the girls featured in this movie going to affect them later in life?

4. What did the boys shown in this movie lose by treating the girls the way they did?

5. What do you think of Nick and his friends?

6. What do you think of the relationships between boys and girls shown in this school?

7. What do you think about Hannah as a person?

8. What do you think about Dawn as a person?

9. What do you think about Becca as a person?

10. What do you think about Nick as a person?

11. What do you think about how students treated each other at this high school?

Additional Discussion Questions

12. What does the incident of the near rape of Hannah demonstrate? Suggested Response: Rape and attempted rape are terrible violations of the person being attacked. For that reason, they are felonies punishable by years in prison. However, the boy who tried to rape Hannah was accepted by the group and Nick did not stop him. This shows that when there is no respect for women, criminals will take advantage of the situation.

13. How does Nick lead Hannah into giving him oral sex? Suggested Response: At first Hannah tells Nick that she doesn’t want to have sex with him and he counters by saying, in an annoyed tone, “Do you want to play Scrabble or watch another movie?” He says that he wants to have sex just to get closer to her. Then he says, “Maybe I should just take you home.” At this point, Hannah stops him from leaving, and then gives him oral sex. Nick plays upon Hannah’s desire to be popular and her crush on him in order to get what he wants. She knows that if she turns him down, the whole school will hear about it the next day. While it is ultimately her choice to give him oral sex, she is being heavily influenced by peer pressure.

14. Did any of the boys succumb to peer pressure? If so, who, and in what ways? Suggested Response: Nick did, when Hannah was almost raped. Nick yelled at his friend Brad to stop, but Brad just turned around and gave him a look. Nick shut up and didn’t do anything else, letting Brad continue.

15. What could the girls in this situation have done to take care of themselves? Suggested Response: The girls were in a difficult situation and no choice that they made would have been without sacrificing something that they valued. However, they didn’t need to give in. They could have simply given up on being popular and opted out of the sick culture of the school. They could have changed schools.


16. [Ask a variation of the question on parent-child relationships suggested for the introduction to the movie.] Are the portrayals of relationships between teenagers and their parents in this film realistic? What could the filmmakers have done differently that would have made these relationships more true to life?

17. Dawn’s mother wasn’t acting like a mother. The following exchange happened when Dawn told her mom, Ginnie, about her syphilis.

Ginnie: “Tell me what to do!”
Dawn: “How am I supposed to know?”
Ginnie: “Do you want me to ground you? I don’t wanna stop you from having a good time.”
Dawn: “You want me gone, so you can have a good time!”
Ginnie: “That’s ridiculous! Dawn, honey, I love you, of course I want you to have fun. I’m your best friend!”
Dawn: “No, you’re my mother and I wish you’d start acting like it.”

What is Ginnie doing wrong in this conversation?

Suggested Response:

Mothers need to be leaders for their children and not ask their children what to do. Parents are not best friends of their children, especially when faced with a daughter who has syphilis. Ginnie should be concerned and loving, set limits and try to find out why her daughter acted in a way that would expose her to an STD.

18. What kind of example was Ginnie setting for Dawn? How did her mother value sex?

Suggested Response:

Ginnie was not setting a positive example. She had multiple boyfriends, would stay out late, and failed to provide a stable family life. Ginnie considered sex to be something fun and frivolous, and not something with any real consequences. She was interested in her daughter’s (and Hannah’s) dating life because she was trying to live vicariously through them. Not only did she set a horrible example for Dawn (who chose to emulate her), she also affected her younger daughter who began to follow in Dawn’s footsteps.

19. Is it right for parents to know about their high schooler’s sex life? Or to ask? When does that right cease to exist, if it ever does exist?

Suggested Response:

This is a good question for debate, and will no doubt receive differing answers. Many parents have their own opinion on this subject.

20. Given the nature of the community in this high school, could the parents who were shown in the film have done anything to prevent their kids from becoming promiscuous?

Suggested Response:

Some of the parents could have been more involved in their children’s lives, preventing parties from being held at their houses, keeping track of their children’s activities. Perhaps they could have had a stronger sex education program.

21. When Dawn told Becca and Hannah that she had syphilis, why was Becca so mean to her?

Suggested Response:

Becca felt threatened. Maybe in the back of her mind, she knew all along that something wasn’t right, or that she was potentially exposing herself to STDs, but when Dawn told her about contracting Syphilis, Becca didn’t want to face reality. She didn’t want to think about what this might entail, and possibly she didn’t want this to dampen her sex life.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)

1. It’s clear that the popular boys didn’t respect the girls they went out with. What did the boys lose by failing to respect their sex partners?

Suggested Response:

They lost the opportunity for a meaningful relationship with another person.


(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)

2. When Dawn tested positive for syphilis, the state health worker requested the names of everyone she had sex with. Is this something that actually happens? Why?

Suggested Response:

This actually happens. People who have communicable diseases, such as STDs and AIDS, have a moral and legal responsibility to tell public health officials the identity of the people with whom they have had sexual relations so that those people can be tested for the disease. The concept is that we have a responsibility to each other to fight communicable diseases.

3. Throughout the movie, Dawn’s sister is only seen silently observing Dawn and their mother. At the end of the movie, she goes into Dawn’s room and holds one of Dawn’s revealing shirts, as if she were seeing how it fit her, gazing into a mirror. It is obvious that she is going to emulate Dawn’s actions. Did Dawn have a responsibility to limit her own activities because her younger sister admired her and would follow in her footsteps?

Suggested Response:

Many people are affected by each of our decisions. They are called stakeholders and we have to consider how they will be affected by our actions. In this case, even though Dawn may not have asked for a younger sister and may not have asked her younger sister to emulate her actions, that was the situation that Dawn was in and Dawn should have considered how her actions would affect her sister.

4. Parents in the meeting blamed television, movies and music. Becca’s mother reacted to the syphilis outbreak by censoring movies and music in her household and sending Becca to a religious school. She says “This is a toxic culture and it’s poisoning our kids. Have you ever listened to those rap lyrics? They’re disgusting!” What is the media’s responsibility in exposing children to sex at a young age?

Suggested Response:

The media bears some substantial blame for influencing teenagers, but this does not excuse people from responsibility for their own actions.


  • Students can be asked to write a brief answer to any of the discussion questions.
  • Students can be asked to look at their school as a social system and describe the various groups or cliques in the school and their interactions. Teachers should tell students that their responses will be held in confidence.
  • Students can be asked to look at the relationship between parents and children in their own family or in the families of their friends. Teachers should tell students that their responses will be held in confidence except that as required by law, instances of child abuse or neglect will be reported to the proper authorities so that the children can be protected.



syphilis, communicable, outbreak.



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