In pop culture, especially TV shows and movies, teenagers are often portrayed as being selfish, constantly doing the wrong thing, and the bane of their parents’ existence. In reality, however, we’re not all bad. Yes, we’re totally self centered. I’m not going to lie, the majority of the time we don’t think about how our actions will affect anyone but ourselves. We also have our moments where we scream like a 2-year-old and say horrible things to our parents that we later regret, followed by a slam of our bedroom door that shakes the whole house. Sure, we sometimes make mistakes, but who doesn’t?
Our bad rep is pretty much deserved, as far as these things go. Other things that are considered synonymous with teenagers though, (like sneaking out your window to meet a boy, getting arrested, and having a house party and breaking everything) is less stemmed from reality and more from pop culture, in my opinion. While we’re not the most considerate of people, we can also act mature (it’s rare but it happens!), make good decisions, and make our parents proud. You rarely see that side of teenagers being portrayed in pop culture. No teenager is perfect — but no teenager is completely “bad” either.
So if you want to check out a more realistic portrayal of teenagers in pop culture, consider checking out these seven shows (rated from least accurate to most accurate):
7. Least accurate: Gossip Girl
Despite everything that made Gossip Girl so incredibly ridiculous (the fact that they looked more like 22 than 16 for starters), Blair and Serena’s on-again, off-again best friend-ship is actually a pretty good portrayal of what teenage girl friendships are actually like. And while there is no single Gossip Girl in high school, the show does highlight how every single person contributes to keeping the gossip mill running — a concept that you’ll find in any high school across the world.
On the downside though, it portrays teenagers as being nothing more than selfish young adults who will stop at nothing (even hurting their parents) in order to get what they want (Jenny), manipulative and power hungry (Chuck), willing to talk badly about their friends behind their back if it’ll help their own personal gain (Dan), controlling bullies (Blair), and airheads who constantly need a knight in shining armor to rescue them (Serena).
It also features Serena being sent to jail, Serena having an affair with her boarding school teacher, Dan being a baby daddy to a baby that turns out not to be his, Chuck attempting to force himself onto Jenny, and Jenny trying to disown her own parents (and much more).
Photo source: Wikipedia/ The CW
6. The Secret Life of the American Teenager
Although this show is admittedly entertaining, it’s definitely not an accurate portrayal of teenagers. The show’s creator, Brenda Hampton, obviously sought more dramatic teenage storylines (possible drug use and getting arrested wasn’t enough for you?), because after an 11-year stint on 7th Heaven, she has created characters which go beyond kissing on the couch or holding hands at church.
The protagonist, 15-year-old Amy (who just so happens to be the daughter of Molly Ringwald), loses her virginity at band camp when she has a one-night-stand with mysterious (and desperately needing therapy) Ricky.
She gets pregnant and then starts dating another guy who says, “I love you” on their first date. Not recognizing the very obvious signs to run away screaming and never date him again, he ends up proposing to her two weeks later (she says yes).
Even more surprising than a teenage boy seeking commitment is the fact that neither of their parents seem to have a problem with them getting married.
I won’t get into the other characters, but here’s all you need to know: they all sleep with each other. One, because his girlfriend refuses to sleep with him. Two, because they have parental issues. Three, because he just got married at fifteen, and obviously it’s the best way to celebrate. Four, because she’s at band camp, and oh look! Free time, and she didn’t bring a book. And lastly, because her boyfriend wants her to, but she regrets it because her father dies on the same day, and obviously it’s God smiting her.
The characters are relatable in little ways, like being whiny, self deprecating, awkward, and wanting to be in a relationship to fit in. In saying that, though, they’re not representative of the “average” teenager. I’m not going to get into the sex education of high school, but the average teenager isn’t treating the halls of high school like a Las Vegas wedding chapel and getting married at 15 – nor like the Playboy mansion and sleeping with someone new every week as it seems to be on this show.
The shining light in this show is Amy’s sister, Ashley. She’s sarcastic, wants her parents to get back together after their impending divorce, and ultimately protective of her sister. She’s pretty much the only one in the whole cast that is relatable to teenagers. (Except for maybe Molly Ringwald, but it’s not the 1980s and this isn’t a review for The Breakfast Club).
Photo source: Buddytv/ABC Family
5. The Fosters
The “realest” character is Mariana — she’s sassy, sarcastic, sometimes lies, and good God, most of the time you just want to scream at her to make better decisions. Also, as evidenced with the latest episode has no idea how to flirt. (Welcome to my world, Mariana). She has a good heart though, and desperately wants to help her mom, even when her mom is just using her for money.
She’s not a very good role model, but in all honestly, few teenagers are.
Jesus and Brandon are accurate representations of how annoying it is when teenagers are convinced they’re in love, and the world becomes even more revolved around them than it was before, and you just want to roll your eyes and hit your head against a brick wall when they proclaim how much they “love so-and-so” and how “you just don’t get our love for each other because you’ve never been in love.” Although, it’s somewhat more bearable on the screen, because it ends after an hour, and you don’t have to read their grammatically incorrect love messages that they post periodically on each other’s Facebook walls, every time you update your newsfeed.
Despite their annoying insistence that they’ve discovered the meaning of true love, neither of them is really a “bad” teenager. Even though they periodically disagree with their parents, and their siblings, both are are representations of how teenagers can be annoying, yet mature at the same time.
Callie, on the other hand, is not very relatable to the average teenager. She’s interesting and makes the show what it is, but she represents the minority of teenagers (the ones doing their best in difficult circumstances) rather than the majority.
Highlights: Mariana trying to help her mom, Brandon trying to help Callie, Callie trying to rescue her brother from his abusive home, Mariana telling Jude it’s okay to be himself, Jesus protecting Mariana from getting into trouble.
Downside: Mariana sells her brother’s ADHD pills (she does have a good reason, though), Mariana gets drunk at a party, Jesus bribes someone to buy his girlfriend the morning after pill, and Brandon considers selling fake IDs.
Photo source: tumblr/ABC Family
4. Pretty Little Liars
Basically everything that comes out of Hanna’s mouth perfectly sums up the teenage existence. Her (horrible, devastating, he’s the perfect guy and it made me cry) break up with Caleb was just as devastating as it would be in real life, except for the part where she refused to drown her sorrows in ice cream, because when do you need ice cream more than when you break up with someone?
Emily is basically a needy basket case, which is realistic, because we all know that teenagers go from confident and convinced they know everything to needy and clinging to their parents in 0.2 seconds (normally when there’s something really expensive that needs to be paid for).
Aria is self-centered, oblivious and goes through an awkward “I don’t know who I am” phase which, like acne, crushing on celebrities and awkward flirting attempts, is basically what being a teenager is all about.
On the other hand though, Pretty Little Liars features two things that really bring down it’s score:
Firstly, the PLLs wardrobes; because, um, excuse me, where in the world do teenagers dress that well, all of the time? I’m lucky if I look that good a few times a year.
Also, Spencer is much too smart, sassy and conniving to be representative of the average teenager, unless we’re talking a Regina George mixed with Veronica Mars mixed with a Nancy Drew crime-solving super freak. You know those comebacks that you want to say when someone insults you, that you don’t come up with until hours later? She actually comes up with them on the spot, and actually says them. She’s (or the writers of the show, whichever) that good.
Spencer also highlights an issue that has become increasingly popular within teenagers lately: using pills to stay awake, in order to study. (Newsflash: good grades aren’t worth damaging your health).
(Yes, I’m ignoring all the breaking and entering they do, as well as all the other illegal stuff, because they were doing it for a greater cause).
Photo source: Giphy/ABC Family
3. The OC
Yet another show with teenagers who have parental issues (Marissa, Summer and Ryan, I’m looking at you). While Marissa, Summer and Ryan are all great characters in their roles of constantly going through a crisis, always needing to be popular and tortured and brooding respectively, only one character is self absorbed, sarcastic, awkward and affectionately tolerating their parents enough to represent the average teenager: Seth Cohen.
Highlights: Ryan helping Seth make friends, and Seth teaching Ryan the meaning of family.
Downside: Marissa shoplifts, and Ryan steals a car.
Photo source: static.tvtom/The WB
2. Modern Family
Haley and Alex, like most siblings on TV, juxtapose each other. While most teenagers don’t fit into clear cut extreme definitions of “dumb” or “smart,” “popular” vs “has no friends to speak of” or “cool” vs. “nerd”, Modern Family does an excellent job of portraying teenagers; from our manipulative, cunning ways (like Haley suggesting to her mom that they were both adults and therefore she shouldn’t be punished for being drunk at prom), to our belief that we know more than our parents (when Claire thought Alex’s date was gay, and Alex steadfastly told her he wasn’t).
Photo source: nicolebyopi/ABC
1. Most Accurate: Melissa and Joey
Just, yes. Ryder and Lennox perfectly capture what it’s like to be a teenager. Ryder plays the oblivious teenage boy, who often does dumb things, makes stupid mistakes and will do pretty much anything to be kissed by a girl. Lennox plays the snarky and sarcastic teenage girl, confused about her love life and seeking to stand out from the crowd while still fitting in. Lennox is kind of like the artsy BFF who would write an angry poem about her ex and tape it to his locker, while Ryder is like the boy you would date if you were 12 and hadn’t realized that “dating” went any further than playing video games on the couch, while sitting at an arm’s length away from each other.
Downside: Ryder gets suspended from school.
Photo source: Pinterest/ABC Family