By Bridget Sjoberg |
During my adolescent years, myself and many others in my grade loved watching TV shows or movies depicting high school. I never had any older siblings, so high school to me was always a mysterious place that I wanted to learn more about. To gain more insight into what high school life was “really like”, I turned to the only source I knew could give me answers— TV and movies.
Growing up, I absolutely adored watching the High School Musical series and movies like A Cinderella Story. Later on, popular TV shows to watch depicting high school life were Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars and Glee, and programs like The Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf also gained momentum. Even films like Twilight and Mean Girls supposedly depicted people in high school, so to me, that’s what high school was.
I watched movies or TV shows with characters in high school having multiple successful romantic relationships, having plenty of free time to socialize or existing as an underrated social outcast who somehow becomes the most popular girl in school. This obviously gave me incredibly unrealistic expectations about four years that are more realistically filled with confusion and hardships related to growing up.
Although the storylines in many high school movies and TV shows are incredibly unrealistic, what can be even more damaging to kids growing up watching these programs is the fact that many actors hired to play “high schoolers” are often in their mid-twenties— ten years older than the age of an actual high school student.
For example, Pretty Little Liars was a common show to watch for my grade in middle school, as it premiered around 2010 and reached a peak popularity around 2011-2013. The show depicted girls supposedly in high school, but when the show premiered, the four leading actresses were either 24, 22 or 20 years old. For much of the series, the “high schoolers” were actually actresses in their early or mid-twenties dressed by stylists and always wearing a full face of professionally-done makeup.
This trend is still common today, especially apparent in the popular teen show Riverdale. When the show premiered, the characters were supposed to be sophomores in high school, implying that they should be around 15 or 16 years old. In reality, the “high schoolers” on the show range in age from 21 to 28 years old.
Whether it be the unrealistic storylines or the casting of older actors, entertainment depicting high school life can be damaging to the young audience consuming the material. TV shows and movies like Gossip Girl or The Vampire Diaries, despite being entertaining, create an expectation that almost no one can live up to as a teenager.
Creating awareness that high school isn’t exactly as it appears in our favorite programs is important for teenagers to realize, because if you Google “Riverdale cast as actual sophomores”, the image results are almost laughable. Making a greater effort to cast actors in age-appropriate roles is not only more realistic for a high school storyline, but also won’t mislead kids growing up to idealize four years that may not be as glamorous as a TV show portrays.