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“Coming of age” is an transitional phase for every teen and while they are entertaining, movies should strive to be a little more realistic with its portrayal of teenagers.

Above photo collage by Natasha Pile, VOX ATL contributor

From ‘Degrassi’ to ‘Euphoria’: The Idealized Youth of Coming of Age Media

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Growing up, that one thing that we look forward to is “teenagehood,” especially hitting the milestone age of 16. Imagining getting my first kiss from my first love. Going to amazing high school parties and dancing the night away with my friends. Having those outright thriller adventures with my best friends at the latest hours of the night. Not having a care in the world other than where I fit in in the social scene at school. This idea of adolescence originated from the TV shows and movies I loved as a child. As young children, we base a great amount of what our teenage years would be like on the things we see in the media.

I watched “Skins” and “Degrassi” and based what I thought my high school experience would be like, only to realize how overdramatized those shows were, as both I and the shows grew. Over time, Iʼve come to realize that the media we consumed as children led us to believe that high school is meant to be the pinnacle years of our lives. When, in reality, theyʼre more than likely the period of our lives where we are indecisive and experimenting with our identities.

Teen Social Scene

Movies and TV shows tend to over-dramatize and over-sexualize high school life to make them seem more interesting to a younger audience. They emphasize the social scene, such as friend groups and social experiences, and make it seem like having a social life is the most important part of the high school experience.

So, itʼs a no-brainer that many teens growing up feel as if they’re wasting their teenage years if they donʼt meet these unrealistic standards. This includes how we perceive how we’re supposed to look and what we may or may not experience, based on our race, body type, and sexuality.

In a teenʼs everyday life, many are bound to wind up in scenarios involving drugs, alcohol, and sexual interactions. With the amount of limited freedom teens had in previous generations, itʼs no surprise that they jumped at the chance to explore with their allowances, brand new cars, and, more importantly, privacy. A sexual revolution soon swept America and sexual experimentation before marriage became increasingly common. Along with sexual behavior, indulging in illegal actions, such as gang violence and drug usage, grew more common.

Experimentation Becomes Inevitable

With how some teens in earlier generations became more rebellious and individualized from their societyʼs uniformity, itʼs a given that many teens today would also indulge in such actions. Experimentation becomes inevitable during this stage of life, which breeds individuality. When films and TV shows portray said experimentation,  however, they make teens contemplate how their high school experience should be. Experimenting with drugs and partying every Friday is one thing. Being a homebody and only leaving the house when convenient is another. The teenage experience isnʼt synonymous and involves a broad range of different experimental phases. The entertainment industry should treat it as such and strive to portray those different experiences.

Often, teenage characters end up being played by adults in their early-to-late 20s. Casting directors are quite limited with the number of underage actors they can allow on set, due to child labor laws. Besides legal limitations, the performance of sexual situations involving minors can’t be portrayed without raising the issue of ethical concerns. 

Adult Bodies As Teens

However, using adult bodies to portray teens comes with real life consequences on how adults view adolescence and how teens measure their appearances. Itʼs hard to embrace your natural beauty as a teen when the people portraying your life experience are 20-year-olds with glamorous skin and downright gorgeous faces and bodies. It sets up an unrealistic beauty standard for teens to strive for during their time of puberty — a time where it could be impossible to achieve these standards. 

Inappropriate Teacher-Student Dynamics

Many preteens were receptive when “Pretty little Liars” presented the romantic pairing of Aria Montgomery and Ezra Fitz. Viewers tuning into the now-iconic drama thriller were seemingly OK with an underaged girl being pursued by her high school English teacher. And while it is a relationship between fictional characters and doesnʼt harm anyone per se, itʼs the general message it sends to the audience that relationships with such a big power differential are to be praised. It sets minors up to be preyed upon by sexual predators while simultaneously giving adults the green light to pursue underage teens, presumably girls.

What Filmmakers Should Strive For

Hopefully, with new media such as the Emmy-winning HBO series “Euphoria” and the films “Booksmart” and “Eighth Grade” coming out, while still somewhat dramatized, these are examples of what filmmakers should be striving to produce more of.  The entertainment industry seems to be on its way to portraying somewhat more realistic depictions of what being a teenager is actually like in the 21st century.

 

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