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Opinion: Teen dramas blur the line between fiction and reality

Teen dramas can help spark conversations about mature topics, but when do these shows start to glamorize rather than educate?


Teen dramas open conversations about mature topics, but it is often difficult to draw a line between educating and glamorizing.

Everyone loves a good binge-worthy show that has the audience gripping the edge of their seats, wondering what will happen next, and trendy teen dramas are no exception.

While the glitz and glitter of shows geared toward younger audiences like "Euphoria," "Glee" and "13 Reasons Why" could be beneficial in sparking a conversation about mature topics like the downfalls of drug addiction, exploring sexual liberation and the effects of sexual assault, when do these shows begin to glamorize these topics rather than educate?

On one hand, it is important for adolescents to be educated on the matters covered in teen dramas since it could help them navigate the challenging lives they will face transitioning into adults. However, it is important to consider whether these shows are the appropriate means for providing this education.

"I think having teen dramas that deal with such hard topics is kind of like a double-edged sword," said Manuel Elizalde, a sophomore studying law and policy. Elizalde said these shows have the power to either influence their young audiences to avoid destructive habits or teach them how to indulge in risky behaviors.

It’s no secret that media, especially when consumed so vastly by a specific age group, has lasting effects on teenagers who could be viewing these very real-world experiences for the first time. TV shows and movies can often present unrealistic scenarios for the purpose of drawing in more viewers but portray them in a way that appears less concerning for the age group.

Marissa Sidur-Rodriguez, a senior studying forensic psychology, said she never felt very connected to reality TV shows as a teenager, since although teens do engage in sexual activity and experiment with drugs, "no one has any inhibitions. It’s all party-fun time. But that’s not really the case."

In regard to how media exposure to teenagers is correlated to eating disorders, research in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology published by Guilford Press Periodicals cites how susceptible adolescents are to body image issues, and that it's directly related to their consumption of media.

Exposure to shows where over-sexualization of teenage characters is a prevalent theme, drug use and alcohol abuse are normalized and very serious topics are mishandled happens more often than not, and can cause irreparable damage to social dynamics that could seep into adulthood.  

"Obviously teen dramas are exaggerated and meant to teach, but I think that having such dramas also causes teens to see the fun side of doing drugs without many of the consequences," Elizalde said.

Another controversial topic discussed when analyzing shows catered toward adolescents that portray teenagers in high school is the casting decisions, which also have a hand to play in setting the stage for unrealistic standards of adolescent experiences.

Nowadays, it’s almost uncommon for an actual teenager to play a teenage character in a show. In "Euphoria," almost the entirety of the main cast playing juniors in high school are actors in their late twenties and even early thirties. Seeing an older cast engaging in adult behaviors under the guise of being teenagers can disorient audiences and lead them to see things like substance use and underage sex to be not as harmful as they can be.

Guillerly Mendez, a senior studying English, said she respects the effort that teen dramas put into creating awareness for drug abuse, mental health issues and other habits that kids develop while still in school.

“I totally respect like what these shows, you know, put the effort in making… I guess like this awareness for drug abuse, mental health issues, things that go on in schools that still could probably continue existing this whole time," Mendez said.

While not sure whether she would consider the TV shows beneficial, she valued that it was important to be "aware of the types of problems that people can get themselves into and what happens in their own personal lives that not everybody could experience as well."

The role of the audience should be to look toward more nuanced forms of getting an education about subjects that involve sexual violence, sexual liberation and substance abuse. 

These shows, like any other binge-worthy hit, should still be enjoyed but watched with a certain caution and understanding that these shows are made for entertainment and shouldn't be used to solely base a livelihood and education.

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Analisa ValdezEcho Reporter

Analisa Valdez is a reporter with the Echo, focusing on covering the arts and entertainment world. Analisa has been apart of the State Press for two and a half years and is in her third year at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 

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