The opening shot: a car drives through a school car park and parks directly next to a bunch of cheerleaders who, even though it’s the first day of school, are dressed in their school colours and gossiping about the car that’s just pulled in beside them. Exiting from the car, a tall, dark-haired white boy, wearing a leather jacket even though its hot as fuck outside. He’s also sporting ripped jeans, and he has a tattoo which you catch a glimpse of when he leans back into the car to grab his copy of The Catcher in the Rye, but nothing else he’ll need for his studies. His white shirt comes up ever so slightly, showing his V-lines and an amazingly chiselled body. He is mysterious, he is good looking, and everyone stares his way. The cheerleaders wave flirtatiously, and the hench American footballers scowl and continue to throw a ball at each other while talking about this year’s football season (even though the school year has only just begun).
Behind our mysterious figure is a fully-developed girl, only a few inches smaller than the boy. She exits from the car, and she’s flawless. She has no sort of acne, has perfect hair, and she displays a pink strapless top with a denim jacket over it, shorts, and black boots. She has a small backpack that doesn’t hold the capacity to carry any sort of book she’ll need for the day. She lets out a sigh and says something like, ‘I can’t wait until I can drive – only 2 more years.’ She says this even though she clearly is not fourteen years old. The boy laughs, ‘I only got my licence this summer and already my little sister is planning to get hers.’ He is definitely older than sixteen, and the two of them do not look related. But through the magic of television, we all fall for it. We want to be them.
This is the start of every teen drama ever created, give or take the location and the relationship between the characters. There are always cheerleaders, footballers, a mysterious new kid, and a sibling who is clearly not the age they are supposed to be. Clear skin, fully developed bodies, a chiselled physique, tattoos, beards oiled and grown out, and not to mention all of the underage drinking and drug taking. This really isn’t an accurate representation of teenage life at all.
Where are the 3am breakdowns because you’re struggling, not with your love life but with your exams? Where is all the acne? Where is the scenario of trying alcohol once and throwing up for 6 hours solid? Why do all these shows think that fifteen-year-olds can chug an entire bottle of vodka and still make it to class for nine the next day? Why do these shows think that cocaine, MDMA, and the new type of drug that the ‘nerds’ concocted in the science lab are easy to come by when you’re a teenager? The reality is getting an older sibling to buy you a Smirnoff Ice or a WKD, having one bottle and being off your face drunk. Not only are these shows perpetrating an unhealthy lifestyle amongst teens, they’re promoting unrealistic standards to those watching.
Using age inappropriate actors to play teenage characters can lead to body dysmorphia, and feeling unfulfilled with your life at the ripe old age of sixteen. Seeing these twentysomethings actors play such young characters, especially when their body is no longer pubescent, is harmful to watch. It leads to young people idolising those who they see on television, as someone they need to be, while they themselves continue to develop. Their bodies are still shaping, and pursuing an unhealthy lifestyle at a young age in order to achieve a certain look as seen on TV can lead to your body shutting down and no longer being able to develop in the way that it should.
Not only this, but also seeing the characters on screen and comparing their lifestyles of parties and non-stop fun, can lead to a feeling of missing out on your own teen life. Wondering if that’s how you should be spending your time, because it’s all that these characters seem to do, is simply unhealthy. You should be told to live your own life doing whatever you please, and that if you continuously long for something different, it can lead to depression and poor mental health.
Annoyingly, these shows are addictive and easy to binge watch. But TV producers and writers desperately need to become more aware of what they show on the screen. From a skewed representation of everyday life to mental health issues, we all experience teenagehood differently. Perpetuating these common tropes is perilous; and it can lead to much more than simply an addiction to the series.