By Nathan Phan and Sania Syed
Rosemead, Calif. & Los Angeles, Calif.
Drugs, sex, alcohol: the perfect recipe for the party-crazed teenager so prevalent in pop culture. Society has grown so accustomed to this negative image that aspects of what many teenagers actually do — take multiple AP courses, stay inside to study for the SATs and care for their younger siblings — are entirely ignored. In short, the portrait that society has painted of the average teenager is flawed, displaying unrealistic stereotypes that have become too universally accepted.
Many mediums of entertainment portray teenagers as emotional, overly dramatic and immature subjects who cannot make rational decisions. One example is the TV show “Glee,” where main characters Rachel Berry and Quinn Fabray constantly bicker about seemingly insignificant issues in their social lives. Often on TV shows like this, the teenagers spend their nights and weekends partying — leaving actual teenagers to wonder how they have time to do this amidst homework and upcoming college applications. These portrayals make real teenagers feel they are missing out on components of the high school or teenage “experience” that the media likes to grossly exaggerate.
Frequently on TV shows, parents do not interfere with discipline or their child’s education. An example of this would be “iCarly,” where the parents of the main character are nonexistent and basically written out of the storyline. Yet, as every teenager knows, parents often hold their children to extraordinary standards.
Another unrealistic aspect of these shows is how their teenage characters “live in the moment.” Fictional teens rarely seem to be preparing for any sort of higher education — a concept that can influence the young, impressionable audience that is watching. This is especially unfortunate because it is no longer possible to find an adequate-paying job with just a high school education.
Additionally, an immense emphasis on sexuality dominates shows about teens. Reality shows like “16 and Pregnant” and dramas like “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” focus on teenage pregnancy, which can easily lead viewers to associate unprotected sexual activity with adolescents. Despite these claims, the Office of Adolescent Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, concluded that the national teenage pregnancy rate has declined in the past 20 years.
Of course, not all shows portray teenagers inaccurately. Series like “Degrassi: The Next Generation” have featured teenagers who don’t conform to the common media stereotype. They aren’t necessarily nerds or jocks, and they aren’t one-dimensionally irresponsible.
Many would point out that plenty of teenagers are extremely rebellious — and that’s true. However, most teenagers are far more complicated. They may be competently handling immense burdens, facing stressful decisions and struggling to discover themselves in a realistic way.
Being a teenager should not be viewed through a lens where recklessness and immaturity are the only notable attributes. Just like any age group, teens are human beings learning to adjust to a new stage in their life. They should be depicted as individuals, not stereotypes.