How screens pressure teens

April 6, 2020

Collage by Exposure, adapted from an original image by Andrés Rodríguez from Pixabay

Do TV/movie dramas give impressionable young people a false depiction of life? Nicole Colucci investigates

Now we’re in coronavirus lockdown, many young people will have even more time to binge on their favourite teen dramas.

As streaming services like Netflix have risen in popularity over the past decade, teenagers have been able to access huge amounts of TV and films. With so much freedom of choice, it has become much more common to watch films and series targeted at young people.

With the most impressionable members of society as their audience, it would be refreshing to see more dramas conveying realistic youth issues which only seem to be addressed in a handful of British series (for example ‘Skins’ which was aimed at a much older demographic).

However, there appears to be less emphasis on important problems such as eating disorders and more on futile deep crushes, feuds and cliques. Is this because producers feel younger viewers need a sugar-coated version of reality? Or is it because we choose to escape reality by watching characters with perfect lives rather than addressing our troubles?

You got your freshmen, Preps, Jocks, Nerds, Girls Who Eat Their Feelings, Girls Who Don’t Eat Anything, Desperate Wannabes, Band Geeks, The Greatest People You Will Ever Meet, and The Worst. – Mean Girls, 2004

As exemplified in the 2004 film ‘Mean Girls’, social cliques seem to be a key ingredient of any film or series aimed at teenagers and young adults. On the surface, characters appear as a close group of friends, filled with loyalty and similar interests: a family.

However, this can be very damaging to young people in terms of the intensified pressure it places on us to conform to a regimented category. These depictions are unhealthy as they may cause young people to feel a lack of belonging, hold us back from expressing our true identity, or even build a mentality of inferiority or superiority to others.

Where is it written that Mathletes can’t be friends with the Plastics, and the Band Geeks can’t date Jocks? Friends are friends, no matter who they eat lunch with.

I want life to start happening. I want to fall in love and want a boy to fall in love with me back. – To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, 2018

A central aspect of the teen drama is deep crushes and initial unrequited love, which ultimately end in a lifelong romance for the protagonist. After witnessing so many successful and effortless romances on screen, falling in love often seems a priority in teenage life, leaving many impressionable young people longing for their feelings to be reciprocated.

After all, it is much simpler for a teen drama to coerce teenagers into feeling like nobody loves them, through an entertaining script, rather than teaching us the importance of self-love with a ‘tedious’ one.

With the focus of love being placed on others, we can often forget the act of self-love, which is a much more positive route to a happy ending.

In the end, it isn’t about popularity or even getting the guy. It’s about understanding that no matter what label is thrown your way, only you can define yourself. – The Duff, 2015

The parallels between the stereotypical ‘happy ending’ in most teen dramas cause us to create unrealistic standards and expectations on what this should look like. It makes us feel like a whirlwind romance and a lovely summer is all we need for the perfect ending.

But is there such thing as the perfect happy ending? Everyone has a different perception of happiness and we cannot let the default frame of fiction disappoint us: there are downs as well as ups in our lives.

So, while it can be difficult to differentiate fiction from reality with all the conventions of the genre, it is important for young people to understand the fabrication and manipulation of reality used in scripts is purely for entertainment and should not influence us into following this idealised teenage lifestyle.

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