In this Parents article, Mindpath Health’s Kiana Shelton, LCSW, discusses teens’ current obsession with Gypsy Rose Blanchard and provides guidance to parents about whether the content is appropriate for teenagers.
Seriously, does navigating screen time ever get easier? From worrying about what a little tube time might do to an infant’s development to trying to coach a teen through a social media landscape that they know better than adults, it’s rough out there. A new trend combines social media, teens, and TV, and mental health professionals recommend parents get ahead of it (or play catch-up).
Some professionals are noticing adolescents’ newfound interest in Gypsy Rose Blanchard. Unfamiliar?
“Gypsy Rose Blanchard is a young woman who, along with her ex-boyfriend, murdered her mother, who was perceived to have Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a psychological and behavioral disorder,” explains Kiana Shelton, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker with Mindpath Health in Katy, Texas. “This story unveiled a history of chronic abuse starting in Gypsy’s childhood.”
Her mother forced her to believe she was suffering from serious illnesses and this history is the subject of numerous documentaries, including The Prison Confessions of Gypsy Rose Blanchard. Additionally, Blanchard has taken to social media since her release to share her side of the story and provide a glimpse into her post-prison life. She was released seven years into a 10-year sentence.
Why are teens interested in Gypsy Rose Blanchard?
Every person is different, and some teens may have little interest in Blanchard’s story. Still, mental health professionals can hypothesize some of the primary reasons adolescents are eager to follow her and learn more.
For starters, the unique nature of the story may be compelling. “There is severe child abuse, murder, and deception,” explains Holly Schiff, PsyD. “There are plenty of documentaries and TV shows about her and her story, and this has sparked public interest. While her mother’s extreme form of abuse is horrifying, it also is captivating.”
Dr. Schiff says teens may sympathize with Blanchard because of the abuse. The nature of media may also play a role. “Media also tends to sensationalize true crime stories,” Dr. Schiff says. “In this case, we also have the fascination with crime and punishment, and everyone has an opinion as to whether what she did was ethical, moral, right, or wrong.”
Also, a majority of teens are on social media daily, especially TikTok. That means they will likely come across viral content on Blanchard and that alone can be enough to pique their interest.
Should teens watch movies about Gypsy Rose Blanchard?
“Both The Act and Mommy Dead and Dearest are rated MA, for mature audiences, so just by that rating, it would not be advisable for teens to watch them,” says Mirela Loftus, MD, PhD. “The gory details of the recreated murder, as well as the sexually inappropriate content of the communication between Gypsy Rose and her boyfriend, warrant the mature audience rating.”
While ratings provide some baselines, every teen and family is different so personalization is critical.
“Because of that, there are some things parents should consider when assessing the appropriateness of documentaries about Gypsy Rose Blanchard for their teens,” Shelton says. “Consider the teen’s maturity level as mature content and graphic language will be present. If a teen is not mature enough, some of what they will be exposed to in the documentary may be too much for them to process.”
How to discuss Gypsy Rose Blanchard
First, you’re the parent—you’ll get the final say on what you think is best for your child, regardless of what friends, family, or even professionals advise.
You might be thinking “hard pass” from the jump based on the details of Blanchard’s story. But approach your child with an open mind.
“I would challenge parents to ask their teen why they would like to watch the documentary, as this may give more insight into their maturity level,” Shelton says.
Dr. Loftus advises that, when possible, screening the documentary your teen is interested in alone or with any applicable co-parent first.
If you’ve decided to give a teen the green light to watch the documentary, experts suggest viewing it together.
“I would strongly encourage co-viewing with built-in moments to pause and reflect with your teen to ensure they interpret information accurately,” Shelton says. “Think about creating a safe space that ensures your teen feels comfortable asking challenging questions. Providing this assurance can allow them to ask questions, express their thoughts, and share insights they may have gathered.”
Parents can also ask questions. Dr. Loftus suggests prompts like:
- Have you heard of…?
- What do you think about this?
- Is this worrying or scaring you?
“Help answer their questions so that they do not need to resort to searching online,” Dr. Loftus says.
One common challenge might be differentiating between being sympathetic toward the abuse Blanchard suffered and the crime.
“[Murder] doesn’t excuse [the abuse], justify it, or rationalize it and make it okay. The baseline rule of murder not being an acceptable course of action should be underscored,” Dr. Schiff says.
That’s something Blanchard has also discussed during her appearance on The View, saying, “There are other ways out. I did it the wrong way.”
Know that you can’t hide from it
A parent can tell a teen they can’t watch a documentary, but that doesn’t mean they won’t hear about Blanchard, see a social media post, or even watch the content at a friend’s house. If an adolescent is interested in Blanchard, experts suggest having conversations about her.
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