I’m no longer a teen, but ever since I was a little kid watching Daria, and a college student watching Skins, and an adult watching Me, Earl, And The Dying Girl, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for coming of age stories. Adolescence is one of the most formative time in a person’s life, on top of the most angsty, most hormonal, most bizarre, most thirsty, most confusing, most heartbreaking, most uplifting…you get what I’m saying. That’s why some of the best movies and TV shows are about teenagers and young adults.
Unfortunately, as a genre, teen narratives often leave a lot to be desired. In 2016, we’re still forced to watch 28-year-olds convincingly play high school juniors, teen TV shows sometimes seem whiter than they were in the ’90s and early ’00s, and if there’s a gay character around, they seem to only exist as side-kicks to the 28-year-old white hetero star.
Look, I’m not saying a teen show or movie can’t be good if it sticks to a lot of tired cliches and casting decisions; many of my favorites have the diversity of a Donald Trump rally. But isn’t it time for these industries to take more risks to better reflect the multitude of realities that encompass teenhood? I think so. If you still need some convincing, check out this roundup of ten things that are missing from teen movies and TV shows today.
PEOPLE. OF. COLOR.Why was it more possible to see a show about a black teen in the '90s than it is now? WTF? So many other groups are underrepresented, too. I mean, it's criminal that there hasn't been a single show starring an Asian teenager, ever. We can't even find shows about Latino teens either. What about Native American teens? They exist, as well. I know, people think that Native Americans are fairy tale creatures who provided us with dream catchers and mocasins, but I assure you, there are Native American teens out and about, living teen lives. They deserve a narrative, too. Some Girls
Teen Boys Being Vulnerable AFOne of the reasons why I liked the movie Submarine so much was because it was about a teen boy who we see navigate the world without a lot of wannabe macho bravado. Yeah, sure, he wants to have sex like a bunch of other teens, but he also cares about his parents' rocky marriage, he's worried about a girl not liking him, and he even cries. That shouldn't be a rarity. GIVE US MORE BOY TEARS. Submarine
Stories About Actual OutcastsTeen movies and TV shows have a really exhausting history of convincing audiences that its hero is an outcast or a weirdo, but not really having much to show for it. "Wow, they wear...glasses! Such an outcast." "OMG, they're clumsy and sooooo awkward, what a weirdo!" Give me a break. Even worse, so often these shows or movies have to somehow pair up the outcast with a popular character, or the outcast desperately wants to be in a popular clique. What happened to characters like Daria who were unpopular and unlikable and we were just...okay with that? What about Freaks And Geeks where all of the romance drama was kept within their circle of freaks, like most romance drama is? More shows about weirdos and unpopular kids who don't want to be popular, please! Daria
LGBTQ Main CharactersYes, main characters. Not side pieces who are only there for comic relief and brief lessons about tolerance. Stories about lesbian teen girls shouldn't be relegated to tiny indie films like Pariah or Blue Is The Warmest Color. What about a show that centers entirely around a gay teen boy? What about a franchise about a non-binary person? They exist, tell their stories in a real way. Faking It
Normal TeensAre we, as a culture, finally growing out of having TV shows and movies about teens with supernatural powers or teens who are living in dystopian universes? Like, not that those stories aren't interesting, but they tended to oversaturate the teen market to such a ridiculous extent. Why am I more likely to see media about a vampire teen than a Muslim teen? A movie like Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, which is literally about a girl dying of cancer, felt more normal than half of the movies about teens that have come out in the past few years. Me, Earl and the Dying Girl
Characters And Conflict That Move Beyond Cliched CliquesYes, some shows are getting better at moving away from cliches. I mean, let's look at cheerleaders cliches, for example. Bring It On showed us that cheerleaders can be sweet, Glee taught us that they can be bi, and Awkward taught us that they can be overweight. But so many TV shows and movies are still stuck with the mean girls trope (be it in cheerleaders or fashionistas), idiot jocks, and socially inept nerds. There are smart jocks, cheerleaders who couldn't care less about making an unpopular girl's life a living hell, and geeks who are terrible human beings. Where's the complexity? Awkward
Uncomfortable NarrativesThe movie Diary of a Teenage Girl is about a teen girl who has a relationship with her mom's boyfriend. That's dark AF, but I feel like most "dark" teen movies generally don't go too far beyond, "this character has cancer and is dying." It's time to push the envelope a bit. Diary Of A Teenage Girl
Gritty Content Without Being PreachyThere really need to be more shows that depict the grittiness that encompasses teen life without feeling like a Very Special Episode. Shows like My So-Called Life and Skins did a pretty good job in that regard, depicting the characters drinking and doing drugs and dealing with the consequences (or lack thereof) in a way that felt real, in a way that didn't come off as condescending to the viewers. We deserve more content like that, of teens being teens and making bad decisions without it feeling like a long lecture. My So-Called Life
Young TalentIt's so refreshing to see awesome teens like Rowan Blanchard star in TV shows. Hell, it's refreshing to see teens actually playing teens instead of 20-something-year-olds trying to pass for 15-year-olds. But we should be able to see this on more than just Disney Channel or Nickelodeon! I know, there are legal reasons why people prefer adults for teen roles (teenage actors can only work for a set number of hours per day, adults don't have those restrictions), but come on, something can be done. Girl Meets World
Unnecessary Celebrity CameosI'M JUST SAYING. They were a staple of the '90s, and they need to come back, okay? They were so fun. If Britney Spears could appear in Sabrina The Teenage Witch and Usher could show up in She's All That, then we should be able to rely on more than just iCarly reruns for celebs to pop up unannounced for literally no reason in a TV show or movie Sabrina The Teenage Witch
What movies or TV shows that have come out within the last few years don’t brought something new to the table? Tell us in the comments!