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The teenager on television. The number of shows that have attempted to show us what life is like for a teenager is very large, possibly as large as the number of Police Procedurals. The quality of these shows varies from the sublime (My So-Called Life) to the just plain silly (Saved by the Bell).
Many of these shows share some tropes that audiences have agreed to accept, to get on with the storytelling. Some examples...
- Twenty-four-year-old actors playing teens.
- Perfect complexions. Skin conditions are much better in the TV world than they are in the real world. This one grates a bit, when the character is supposed to be suffering a crisis of confidence related to a pimple that the audience cannot quite make out.
- An inability to swear, even mildly.
- This has recently been taken to the other extreme. In many modern-day teen movies (most notably Superbad), just about every other word a teenager says is fuck. While real teenagers do swear, most don't do it to even half that extent.
- A similar inability to talk like actual teenagers, at least ones from this decade.
- Depending on the target audience of the show, they may never engage in sex, no matter how old they are or how many opportunities present themselves. If this is not the case, they often will instead ALL engage in sex whenever given the opportunity.
- This sex will likely lead to a pregnancy for at least one character on the show, or at least a pregnancy scare.
- Not only do some never engage in sex, but they don't even think about it. Not even masturbation. While they might "feel strange" and act uncomfortable around the opposite sex (of course, they are never gay) they don't go beyond that. While it is true that some cultures did (and still do) indeed keep sex a total mystery to teens, most tend to think about it and talk about it (even if they have no idea what it really is). Teens who grow up on farms are going to know about sex from watching the animals, but that is never considered when it comes to this trope.
- Though many will also think of little else, devoting a disproportionate amount of time, energy, and brain power to getting/attracting the opposite sex (usually not the same sex, unless it's an adult show). If this is the case, expect the girls to dress as provocatively as possible, and the boys to be willing to do practically anything to get a girl, to the expense of much else in their life. This trope naturally occurs in Real Life, but is often taken to extreme degrees and/or applied far too universally thanks to Flanderization.
- Though it's not as universal, the concept of teens being emotional and impulsive sometimes undergoes Flanderization, resulting in a character whose existence revolves around taking the most suicidally dumb course of actions in any given situation. This trait is seen less in Teen Drama than in shows with mostly adults and only one teen.
- At the same time, Teens are also capable of putting together incredibly elaborate plots that would give David Xanatos a run for his money. Especially if it's a Revenge scheme.
- Average teens in TV land are frequently shorter than adults. Not so in Real Life. Out in the real world teens are way taller on average than their parents.
- A Poster Gallery Bedroom.
- Rebellious, with black ripped T-shirts (with skulls on them) and jeans with holes in the knees, dyed hair, braces, and a love for rock music.
Note: Teen Drama has entries about the show genre. This entry is meant to capture tropes about the characters.
- Lightly averted by Back to The Future. Biff gets drunk and tries to molest Lorraine, but he's the Jerk Jock. On the other hand, Lorraine is a sympathetic character who both drinks and smokes as a teen, shocking Marty, who naturally thought his mother would as straight-laced as she was as an adult. And no one shies away from swearing. Of course, the actors were still all in their twenties, which starts to become quite obvious by the third movie.
- Harry Potter partially follows this. In the latter books, the teen characters go through lots of romantic drama and "snog" (i.e. passionately kiss or, in American slang, "make out") a number of times, but it's simply never mentioned whether any of them go all the way. Cue fan debates over whether or not Harry lost his virginity to Ginny "off-screen" ("off-page?") during Half Blood Prince. They do swear, but the worst words are taken out with the Narrative Profanity Filter unless they happen to be Fantastic Slurs. The actors in the movies are pretty close to the right age, but they all have good skin. And according to IMDb trivia, the actors' skin was actually digitally cleaned up on the fourth film.
- There's still a scene in the fourth film where Dan Radcliffe's acne is fairly visible, during the Second Task.
- All books which are in the category of "juvenile literature" in the United States until the 1970s.
- Judy Blume's novels for teenagers in the 1970s were among the first to tackle such controversial matters as racism (Iggie's House), menstruation (Are You There God Its Me Margaret), divorce (It's Not the End of the World, Just As Long As We're Together), bullying (Blubber), masturbation (Deenie; Then Again, Maybe I Won't) and teen sex (Forever), and as such have been the source of controversy over the appropriateness of such topics for her middle school audience. They have been banned often.
- Robert A. Heinlein's early science fiction novels contained many teens who seemed rather clueless about sex. This was due to the fact that the publishers marked them as "juvenile" literature (which they pretty much were) and would not accept anything about sex in them. Heinlein was a vocal proponent of the notion that juvenile readers were far more sophisticated and able to handle complex or difficult themes than most people realized. Heinlein was always aware of the editorial limitations put in place by the editors of his novels and stories, and finally broke into adult novels where he could do as he mostly pleased.
- Averted hard in CHERUB, where the teens swear profusely, have fairly normal reactions to sex (and no resultant pregnancy, although James' hormones do lead him to be kidnapped at one point), and on occasion, are only stopped from taking drugs by the threat of being thrown out of CHERUB and sent back to state care homes.
- Max Shulman's Rally Round the Flag, Boys! goes so far as to mention that the teenage characters never actually engage in any sexual activity further than petting, though they do lie about going all the way.
- The British TV show Skins is a conscious decision to avert most of these (except the skin tone one). The characters do swear, have sex, do drugs, etc.
- 2009 Series Misfits follows in the footsteps of Skins, and despite being a sci-fi drama concerning young offenders with superpowers, somehow manages to portray aspects of teen life even more realistically than its predecessor. The characters indulge in all the usual crimes of hedonistic youth, and suffer all the non-glamorous consequences. Also, amazingly, they don't all look like models!
- Attempted aversion in Freaks and Geeks. Judd Apatow seemed to go out of his way to avoid this on by casting a handful of normal-looking, actual teenagers and by having a number of episodes centre around sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but the trope still applied more often than not.
- It only really applied in the sense that the characters swear considerably less than real teenagers, which is mostly because of the limitations of network television. Otherwise, they really did look and act like real teenagers. Also, the "skull t-shirts, poster bedroom, love of rock music, etc." trait is justified with the Freaks, because of who they are. Otherwise, the teens on this show are quite diverse and unique (ranging from the disco-loving Sara to the Chaplin-loving Neil).
- Alexis is a refreshing aversion, as what we see of her experiences imitate reality very well (right down to the teen party where her friend passes out from alcohol poisoning), without any excess drama. It helps that she's probably more responsible than her father and grandmother combined.
- Sally Draper is turning into a remarkably nuanced aversion, particularly for the only major adolescent character in a large ensemble cast.