In the television film, out Sept. 2, Denise plays Candice, the mother of incoming high school transfer student, Ava (Savannah May). Although cautious to give her daughter her complete trust due to past issues with lying and drug use, Candice encourages Ava to try out for the cheerleading squad, even though she's a dancer at heart. Ava's skills land her a top spot on the team and subsequent school-wide popularity, which comes with both emotional and physical consequences.
"I haven't experienced what my character has with her daughter, but I definitely can relate to it, and it resonates with me," Richards told TooFab. "The kids I think these days have a lot more pressure than any of us did when we were all growing up, and I think [the movie]'s got a beautiful message in it. It's a story that both adults and teens are gonna enjoy watching. Also, parents will relate to having to struggle with how much do you do with your kids, you know? How far do you go with consequences and dealing with certain things?"
"I think things are getting more difficult for kids because of social media," she continued. "Kids are much more comfortable saying negative things because [there's more pressure with] having to fit in. We all dealt with kids that weren't the nicest kids growing up, but at least when you went home, it wasn't blasted everywhere or continued on after you got home. And that's what I think is very different now with a lot of kids."
"When you're a teenager and you're a girl, of course you wanna feel like you fit in. So I think that those insecurities have been around since we were kids, too," she added. "But I think now, in this day and age, it's a little bit different. It's a little more challenging."
Denise has three daughters: two she shares with ex-husband Charlie Sheen (Sam Sheen, 15, and Lola Rose Sheen, 14), and one she adopted after their divorce (Eloise Joni Richards, 7.) She told us advising her girls on how to deal with bullying and peer pressure isn't always easy because, no matter what she says or how she says it, "their feelings are their feelings."
"I always stress for them to be true to themselves," she explained. "'Don't do something that you don't want to do, and it's okay to be okay with that.' I think that's the biggest thing with peer pressure -- it's wanting to fit in, but maybe making choices that you wouldn't wanna make. I always encourage my girls to be true to who they are, no matter what. And it's hard to do I think especially as they're gonna be getting older. But I think it's important to stand up for what you believe in and be who you are."
In the film, Ava turns to Adderall to cope with the death of her father. It's a drug and scenario that's becoming all too familiar to families today, so we asked Richards how she believes parents can prevent their kids from turning to harmful substances to deal with pain and stress. Unfortunately, she says "you cant."
"I think that you can't stop kids from doing things. All you can do is keep an open line of communication and be there for them and hope that they make good, healthy choices," she told us. "Kids are gonna make mistakes, but it's important for them to learn from there and hope that they do better."
"But you can't stop kids from experimenting; all you can do is hope that they make good choices and don't do certain things -- don't do any of it!" she said with a laugh. "In a perfect world, we would want them to do what we want them to do, but it's not our path all the time, so I think that's the biggest thing is to do our best all the time in raising our children and be there for them."
Denise mentioned keeping "an open line of communication," but that's a tricky concept for some parents to grasp. How open are you supposed to be with your kids? Where is the line between being their parent and being their friend?
"I think every family's different, but for myself, it's important to be the parent always," she explained. "But also let my kids know that if there's ever a situation where they need me or my husband, [Aaron Phypers], that they can feel comfortable just calling, and we'll be there for them. I don't want them to be afraid if they're ever in a situation and not call. That's where I keep the lines of communication open, and reassuring them that if they're in a situation where there's peer pressure and they don't wanna do something, that it's okay not to do it and we'll be there to help them."
Unfortunately, though, bullying doesn't always go away with age. Just ask Lisa Vanderpump, who accused her "RHOBH" co-stars of bullying her to her breaking point. The restaurant mogul ended up quitting the Bravo series she and former friend Kyle Richards helped launch in 2010.
For the most part, Denise stayed out of PuppyGate because, frankly, it didn't involve her. Plus, she was new. But when we asked her if she felt there was substantial bullying present in Season 9 -- her first as a Housewife -- she said, "I think there was some things that were said that were not necessary. We're all adults, and I think that there's times you don't cross a line."
When we asked if she and Camille Grammer were on friendly terms following the explosive finale, reunion and their subsequent Twitter exchanges, Richards politely said, "I haven't seen her since the reunion, but we're all very busy, and all of us have a lot going on."
Unfortunately for fans of the show, Denise couldn't say much about Season 10 -- except for the fact that she will not be watching it with Sam, Lola or Eloise.
"I don't know about Season 10. You'll have to wait and see," she told us. "But for this movie, I love that it's something my kids can watch. They'll be able to relate to it, and I think it's wonderful having positive messages in movies especially."
"My girls are not interested in other things I do, but this [movie] is something that I think will resonate with them, and they'd watch it regardless if I was in it or not," she added, noting that one of those things her girls are "not interested in" is "RHOBH."
"You know, it's a very adult show. I think they have seen a couple episodes, but I've never sat down with them and watched it with them," Denise explained. "But I know that they've been at friends' homes and watched it there. But they haven't seen the whole season, so that's good. There's certain things you don't want your kids to watch or see."
"The Secret Lives of Cheerleaders" premieres Sept. 2 on Lifetime.