Have you ever wondered why the portrayal of teenagers in the media can be harmful to the public?
Body image issues are perhaps the most common among the many insecurities a teenager face. Whether you’re wondering if your body is growing right, comparing yourself to others constantly, or just wanting to look good, certainly there are enough factors that can affect your mental stability. This is worsened once you turn on pretty much any movie or show with teenage characters in it, and see these 20-something fully grown actors playing 15 year olds on TV. They all seem to have matured physically very fast and this can only cause more body image problems for actual teenagers.
Drugs, Alcohol and Partying
Additionally, there are so many things these characters do that no real teenager ever actually goes through. Drugs, lots of alcohol drinking every night, and insane parties that more so resemble college years than the supposed 15-16 year olds we’re watching on screen. Euphoria is a prime example of how entertainment media takes teenage characters and makes them act like adults in the worst way possible. It’s undeniably a great show, but also very twisted and dark. There is NO benefit to having the setting for the story take place during high school years. Even college for most people is nowhere near as crazy as Hollywood makes high school look like, but at least by college years everyone is an adult legally. Whereas showing on screen a 16 year-old, played by a literal 25 year old, overdosing is just not the right move. By this point you’re not raising awareness or acting as a truth teller of any kind, you’re just writing messed-up stories involving kids for no reason other than monetary gain.
Sex is another thing that Hollywood loves to ham up. Again, showing very young characters on screen having constant intercourse is just plainly weird. Supposedly, this is why studios hire much older adults to play teenagers so they can shoot them naked and stimulate certain scenes without having to worry about anything. Shows like Riverdale, Elite, or 13 Reasons Why, in pretty much every single episode have intimate scenes as if they’re portraying old married couples and not literal kids.
The human brain evolves a fair amount during adolescence. A lot of teenagers need therapy to get through some of the unexplainable emotions that they are dealing with on a daily basis. However, you rarely see anyone even mention mental health as a real issue to be dealt with in entertainment aimed at young adults. No matter what life-changing event these characters are going through, by the time the next episode starts they will have already moved on emotionally. It’s such a strange approach to a very real issue that affects pretty much everyone at any age, but especially people going through their early formative years.
Another key plot-point in young adult media is death. Almost every show ever has death be a part of it at some point, and some, like the aforementioned 13 Reasons Why, have death be the main point of the story. Suicide is brushed aside so easily, merely as just a result of bullying, when that’s something so utterly heavy that no one can properly deal with alone. How is every teenager in every movie or show a potential murderer? How is every teenager okay with their friends dying constantly? Perhaps the real problem is that a lot of the time it’s so clearly obvious that an out-of-touch 40 year old wrote these shows with immature dialogue and nonsense plot points.
Actually Good Portrayals
There are some actually good coming-of-age entertainment pieces in media. The movie Eighth Grade directed and written by Bo Burnham is a great example of someone who understands what it’s like to be the age of the character they’re writing for. Some other good teenage entertainment include movies like The Half of It– which has positive queer representation and religious exploration, Moxie– a girl-power movie that’s written by women who understand the topic, The Edge of Seventeen– explores teenage emotion with clever writing, and Lady Bird– an incredible coming-of-age movie also nominated for many Oscars.
On the other hand, great shows include Derry Girls– a plenty funny and light-hearted portrayal of young girls, Reservation Dogs– dives deeper into identity in a well thought-out manner, and Better Things– the story focuses on a mother raising three daughters whose identity and growth is explored as well.
All that being said, most everything is subjective by nature and that’s especially true of art and entertainment. Just try not to let harmful portrayals of people your age impact you negatively in any way. After all, behind every teenage movie or show there’s usually just a middle-aged writer who has no idea how teenagers think nowadays trying to make a living.
Picture: Shutterstock / 2037012371
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