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Imagine that you are making a show which features teenagers alongside adults. You want to avoid Dawson Casting, so you try to hire actual teens for these roles. But wait, these kids are taller than half the adult cast! The boys even have stubble and beards, and the girls... Basically, they don't look immature enough. Half of the audience won't even believe that they are real teens. So how do you make them look definitely younger than those middle-aged adults? Let's hire the shortest ones possible!
In Real Life, the exact opposite is (usually) true. Most people reach their full height at adolescence, which can exceed their parents' if genetics are kind, while diet and nutrition during the formative years are also important. They might not be a whole head taller than their parents, but usually not a head shorter. Also, note that the issue here is that they are shorter than the adults around them, not that they are short in general.
Part of this can be the visual effect of a show shot from a child's or teen's perspective. The adults tower over our protagonists in terms of authority, and the best way to demonstrate that is make them physically much taller (or the child physically much shorter) than they actually are or conceivably would be. This is especially true in animated shows, which can oftentimes have the child reach no higher than the parents' knees despite almost nearing adolescence. Again, it's a visual clue as to the power dynamic.
Anime & Manga
- All the pilots in Gundam Wing; especially weird in how they otherwise look way older.
- All but one of the teen characters in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Shinji is especially noteworthy; his father is 6'1"/185 cm, extraordinarily tall for a Japanese male, yet at fourteen he like an 8-year old. One might reasonably expect him to be at least 5'6" or 5'8", but Japanese female adults of average height (5'3" or so) loom over him. The only recurring teenage character who actually looks fourteen years old is a minor character, the guy from Osaka.
- Not that this stops them from being Noodle People.
- Considering Shinji is fourteen we can assume he's just recently hit puberty and hasn't reached a growth spurt yet.
- Gun X Sword contains several teens who are notably shorter than the adults around them. Compare Joshua to his older brother Ray for a good example. Joshua's age is never given, but he's probably in his mid to late teens.
- At the beginning of Dragon Ball, the 13-year old Goku doesn't seem to even stand up to (normal height) 16-year old Bulma's waist. Bulma herself is rather short compared to adults in the series.
- Possibly justified by the fact that he's not human, therefore human biology doesn't apply to him.
- By the time Dragonball Z hits, this trope is averted. Teenaged Future!Trunks is almost as tall as Goku, and the 16-year old Gohan (seen closer to the end of the series) is one of the tallest members of the cast
- Averted (mostly) in Sailor Moon, the main cast of girls are fairly tall, almost as tall as Usagi's mother and Mamoru (who is, barely, a teenager at the start of the series) is shown as being as tall as any adult. It's even averted with younger characters like Usagi's younger brother who is kind of short at the start of the series but in the second season of the anime seems to have something of a growth spurt as he enters adolescence and starts catching up to the other characters in the height department.
- Compare the sizes of the adults and the teenagers in Code Geass. It's surprising to see the 17/18 year old Lelouch, Kallen, and Suzaku compared to the 24 year old Clovis and the 28 year old Schneizel, Cornelia, and Jeremiah. Assumedly, in the Code Geass universe, you don't quit growing until you hit 30. Which, of course, would explain how a big guy like Charles (who's a towering 6'8") started out so small, or had kids who barely reach his collarbone. Here's a collage of the official height charts, for reference.
- Despite being sixteen years old, Edward Elric is shorter than most of the other characters. *Runs like hell*
- Though, to be fair to teens, Ed is stated as being short, even for a teenager. When teenage characters show up, they are often as tall or taller than the adults.
- The canon justifications for Ed's shortness are his refusal to drink milk and the weight of his prosthetic arm (initially made of steal). Winry makes him a lighter one later, specifically with his growth in mind.
- In Gurren Lagann, if you didn't have Word of God to tell you that Simon is supposed to be 14, you'd swear he was at most ten, which isn't helped by his Moe Stare or Tareme Eyes. Apparently he just didn't have a growth spurt until later on, since other teens in the series are more realistic in their hights.
- Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure ping-pongs the issue, depending on the characters. Jotaro, Kakoyin and Josuke are tall and buff, but Koichi (nearly the same age as Josuke, or possibly the same) is a waist-height midget. One teenaged antagonist starts out tall but shrinks to Koichi's height after being beaten, as does another (presumably) adult antagonist.
- Averted for the most part in the Venus Versus Virus manga. A noticeable example happens to one of the younger side characters, Riku. He starts out as an elementary student, maybe ten or eleven. By the end volume he's grown quite tall over the one year or so, being taller than several of the 14 - 15 year olds and almost as tall as his older sister.
- Any issue of Young Justice that had them standing alongside the Justice League. Assuming that Superman and the rest were around 6 feet tall, the YJ kids looked like they were closer to 4 feet. Disconcerting, given that most of the cast was about 16.
- Yes, but considering their hands were the same size as their heads, what say we chalk it up to the artist's style and say no more...
- It should also be noted the members of the Justice League are the pinnacle of human form. Superman's height is given at 6'4" or so, even if Robin was, say, 5'8" or some other average size, he would still look kind of short.
- Subverted in recent in DC continuity. Robin grew about a foot and gained about 60 pounds of muscle compared to his appearance in YJ, Cassie "Wondergirl" Sandsmark actually has ample breasts, and overall the "Teen" Titans now look more like "The Young Adult" Titans.
- In Ultimate Spider-Man, Peter Parker is shown to be about the same height as Aunt May, though most other people tower over him. Hilariously addressed when someone tells Flash Thompson that he thinks Peter Parker may be Spider-Man; Flash dismisses the idea out of hand because "Spider-Man is like, 6 feet tall!"
- Inverted somewhat disturbingly in Darkchylde, where the title character looks like she could pass for a Sweedish bikini model, despite only being 16. Her clothes often being turned into Modesty Rags doesn't help.
- Averted in Zits, where there's a gag that Jeremy would tower over his mother if he weren't constantly slouching. The creative team has stated that they deliberately made Jeremy the same height as his parents to create a symbolic "power struggle".
- Poor Billy Batson is sixteen years old, and despite the fact that he's supposed to grow into his "Marvel" form at some point, he still looks like a short, skinny kid.
- Usually averted in FoxTrot, but in one storyline, Paige invites all of her friends to Peter's Halloween party. Her friends are all ridiculously short and - as Peter keeps reminding us - high school freshmen, meaning they're all about 14 years old.
- Probably how Michael J. Fox got away with playing teenage parts into his late twenties. Interestingly, Back to The Future partially averted this with Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson, both of whom are over six feet.
- Both used and averted in British comic-action thriller 188.8.131.52: of the four female leads who around 18 or 19 two are if anything tall but the petite Ophelia Lovibond and Emma Roberts certainly fall under this. Lovibond in particular has less than a two year age gap between her and the older villain played by Michelle Ryan but because Ryan is much taller, Lovibond seems much younger.
- Mamma Mia. While technically not playing a teen (her character is 20) Amanda Seyfried is considerably shorter than Meryl Streep (who plays her mother.) She doesn't get it from her dad either - all three potential fathers are over 6 foot.
- In her 2012 film Gone Seyfried actually takes advantage of this in-universe. Her character is twenty something but while trying to avoid cops looking for her she joins a group of teens and succesfully blends in thanks to her lack of height.
- Mark Wahlberg's earliest roles were teens, despite his acting career beginning in his early twenties. The man is, depending on the source, no taller than 5'8".
- Heroes is a serious offender, depicting everyone from Claire's schools as shorter than 5'6", with the exception of West. Claire herself is only 5'1" The only characters shorter than Claire are Micah and Molly, simply due to the fact that they're still below the age of puberty.
- However, Elle is 24 and the same height as Claire. She tends to wear heels so she looks taller.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer is all over the place with this. Sarah Michelle Gellar was 5'3" and Seth Green was 5'4", but Charisma Carpenter and Michelle Trachtenberg are both 5'7", while the rest of the cast was of mostly average height. Danny Strong was only 5'2", but his character was meant to be short.
- Buffy certainly is much shorter than her parents: Kristine Sutherland is 5'8!
- Interestingly, Michelle Trachtenberg averts this trope, but by being tall proves the point of this trope because unlike the adult Sarah Michelle and other cast members, she was a teen at the time.
- When Michelle was cast (at age 14) she was within 1-2 inches of being the same height as Sarah Michelle Gellar but during the hiatus between 5 and 6 she shot up was several inches taller than Gellar.
- The marketers seemed to be well aware of this fact: the "Summers Family" figure set consists of Buffy and Joyce at standard figure height, but the Dawn toy is a full head taller than either one of them.
- Lampshaded when Buffy, while under a spell, refuses to believe that Dawn is really her little sister because she's taller than Buffy.
- Veronica Mars: Kristen Bell is 5'1". Then again, Veronica's considered short in-universe as well, even by her fellow teens.
- Averted in Gossip Girl. Blake Lively is 5' 10", Taylor Momsen is 5' 8" (and is only 15 years old) and Chace Crawford is six feet tall.
- The cast of How I Met Your Mother are all roughly the same height -- above average -- making the height of the actress who played Robin's teenage sister stand out even more. Jason Segel and Cobie Smulders being 6 inches taller than the average American male and female. Lucy Hale who played Robins teenage sister on the other hand is 5'2", a full 12-14 inches shorter than the male cast, 4-7 inches shorter than the female cast. Jason Segel: 6'4", Cobie Smulders: 5'9", Josh Radnor: 6'1/2", Neil Patrick Harris: 6'1 1/2", Alyson Hannigan: 5'6".
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Melissa Joan Hart is 5'2" making her much shorter than both of her aunts.
- Averted in Merlin. The title character -- who is probably meant to be in his late teens -- is quite definitely taller than Gaius, his mentor. Though everyone is shorter than Uther, because Anthony Head is just tall.
- Averted in The Sarah Jane Adventures, where the titular adult heroine's teenaged friends started out at 13 being the same height or only a bit shorter than her, and three years later are now all slightly taller than her. Size relations to the children's parents and other adults also vary, with some being the same height, some being shorter and some taller:
- Played straight with Clyde who was cast because of Daniel Anthnony's short stature.
- Averted with Rani with Anjli Mohindra being cast despite being significantly taller than you'd expect a teenager to be.
- Tommy Knight as Luke Smith is the only one of the teens to be played by an actual teenager and prove that real teens aren't short.
- Glee averts this tropes by realistically having the teenagers heights span a wide range, although some of the shorter members may have used this trope to pass as teens. However, "Freakishly Tall" Finn is the tallest member of the cast, taller than even the teachers and parents. Ironically (or not), Finn's actor is the eldest amongst the student cast.
- The daughters on Modern Family look like homunculi compared to the actors playing their parents.
- Well the actress playing Haley the elder daughter is in her early twenties and playing a teenager so fair enough but averted that actress playing Alex the younger daughter is the same age as the actress, so she might potentially shoot up a few inches.
- Unintentionally done in Family Ties. Michael J. Fox almost didn't get the role of Alex P. Keaton because the producers at NBC didn't think it was realistic that the 5'4" Fox could be the son of 6'4" Michael Gross, who played his father Stephen Keaton.
- Also unintentionally played straight in Married... with Children, as David Faustino was cast as Bud Bundy when he was 13. By the time the show ended, he was 23...and was still a head shorter than his family on tv.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has two instances of straight use followed by unintentional subversion:
- Cirroc Lofton was fifteen but could have passed for twelve when he began playing 14-year old Jake Sisko; by the end of the series, when the character was about twenty, he was a shade taller than Avery Brooks.
- Five-foot-tall, twentysomething Aron Eisenberg was cast as the teenager Nog specifically so that Nog would look young compared to other Ferengi (who are, on average, relatively short). An older Nog appears in an alternate timeline, still played by Eisenberg, and is of course the same height.
- Greek: All of the main cast pledges are shorter than their bigs (Rusty to Cappie, Rebecca to Casey, Calvin to Evan). Averted with Lizzi, who's shorter than most of the ZBZ pledges despite being older than everyone in the sorority.
- In The George Lopez Show, this is averted with Carmen, who is about the same height or maybe a little shorter than her mother. However, Max is very short, probably about 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall.
- Averted on What I Like About You. Teenage Amanda Bynes was 5'8, making her taller than adult Jennie Garth who was 5'5. Many episodes would actually have Garth wearing high heels and Bynes in sneakers so that they would appear to be the same height (sometimes even making Garth look taller).
- Played straight on Party of Five. At the height of 5'1 (at that time), Lacey Chabert was shorter than all of the adult cast members.
- Averted on Degrassi. At the height of 5'8, Miriam Mcdonald was taller than her on-screen mother, Amanda Stepto. Stepto is only 5'2.
- Godric and Tommy from True Blood. One is really 2,000 years old but was turned into a vampire at a young age, while the other is an actual teenager. Both are played by shorter actors. The trope is averted with Jessica, however, who's the same age as Tommy but roughly average height (ie, she's taller than him).
- Home Improvement featured an aversion, as the boys all grew up to at least equal their parents in height -- Brad and Mark grew so tall that an eventual gag in the show's opening was to have them stand in front, with their parents having to shuffle around to see past them.
- Averted in Freaks and Geeks. Nick, played by then eighteen year old Jason Segel, is six-foot four and towers almost all other cast members (Except Dave Allen). The others are of average height and played by real teens or young adults. The only real instances of this are Linda Cardellini who is just over five feet tall and John Francis Daley who is at least noted as being short for his age.
- In Spring Awakening the teenage characters are all supposed to be 13-15 years old, but in reality it is not usually feasible for actors near that age range to be hired, particularly with the amount of sexual content in the show. One of their strategies to make the actors look younger seems to be to make sure the majority are shorter than the adult actors. Consider this photo of the original off-Broadway cast where the man six from the left and the woman four from the right are the "adults".
- Averted in Hungary; many of the actors playing teen boys were hired due to being long, lanky, and gawky-looking.
- In The Sims 2, Sims at the "teenager" stage of life are shorter than those at the "adult" stage.
- Though Young Adult (seemingly about 17-21) is just as tall as the Adult stage, within an inch or at most two. The Teen stage does include all of puberty, though, and since the Sims don't grow within individual stages, it would have to be somewhere in the middle of the range (so it wouldn't look weird growing from Child or to Young Adult/Adult) and is thus reasonably justified.
- Kingdom Hearts has main characters Sora, Kairi, Roxas and Namine, ages 15, and Riku, 16 in the second game. They are by far some of the shortest human characters in the entire series, reaching, at times, crotch-level of other characters.
- This is Lampshaded however when they first arrive in the Pirates of the Caribbean world, with the main trio noting that things look really different (as it's rendered in a more realistic style). While Sora and the rest are still human, it's implied they may be a different variety of human than people from other worlds, explaining different appearances and heights.
- You don't notice it in The World Ends With You until an age 17+ character is in the same frame as one of the 15-year old heroes, but damn are those 15-year olds tiny. Beat initially appears to be quite tall, but you later realize that the entire cast of adults positively towers over him. Even given the fact that the average height of Asian women is 158cm (5'2"), Uzuki and Konishi are also absurdly tall compared to the tallest of Neku's gang.
- In Bully the main character Jimmy seems to be constantly shrinking and growing as the scene demands it. For the majority of the game he looks to be a reasonable height for a 15-year old who is perhaps a bit of a late bloomer - he's a few inches shorter than the other teenage characters, and not quite a head shorter than the adults. However, in the cutscenes he's very clearly shown to be at about armpit-level to the principal and his secretary.
- Tales of Symphonia is an interesting example. The trope is averted by Raine and Lloyd; 17 year old Lloyd (at 5'8) is a good few inches taller than Raine, his 23 year old teacher (who is 5'5), however (though we don't know what his mother looked like) his father, Kratos, is 6'1, leaving him in the dust by nearly half a foot. At age twelve, Genis is 4'7.5 to Raine's 5'5, however by Tales of Symphonia Dawn of the New World he's allegedly 4'11, which means he's approaching Raine's height at a roughly normal rate, assuming he's going to be about her height and isn't going to shoot up. Trouble is, his character model hasn't changed at all, so though he should only be 6 inches shorter than Raine at that point, he still looks positively pint-sized next to her, giving the impression of this trope. There's a Z-Skit in the first game where Raine talks about how tall Lloyd is, and a C-Skit in the latter game where Genis wants Raine to notice that he grew a sixteenth of an inch.
- Solatorobo seems to want us to believe Petting Zoo People grow a foot between nineteen and twenty. Of the characters with given ages and heights, the teenagers are all 160cm/5'3" or less and the adults are 170cm/5'7" or more. This can't even be justified by breed: Opéra, a Russian blue cat, is taller than her two servants, Gren the kishu inu and Calua the ocelot.
- PHD takes this trope even further. One graduate student acquires a posse of tiny undergraduates.
- The Homestuck kids are 13, but are about half the height of their adult guardians.
- However their regular appearances are not supposed to be realistic, and the guardians' appearances are more an effect of how they kids perceive them than actual true appearance. When shown in "Hero Mode", they are significantly taller.
- Plus they were originally meant to be age 10 rather than age 13. Then the "all Flash, all the time" plan was dropped and the comic was rebooted three days later, changing the "410" magic number into "413" and aging the kids by three years instantly without changing anything about their look.
- This becomes more egregrious when we see the nearly 16-year old Alpha kids standing at the same height.
- Inverted in Survival of the Fittest's fourth version; most male characters turned out to be around six feet, which is pretty tall for a teenager. The girls, however, seem to have fairly normal heights in comparison. This, of course, has been lampshade hung both in and out of character.
- Straddling the line between this and Artists Are Not Architects, even 15- and 16-year old boys in Avatar: The Last Airbender find themselves more than half a head shorter than almost all but the oldest and most bent over adults. This is most obvious in when Hakoda is onscreen. He's clearly shown to be about average when compared to the other Water Tribe men, and he's more than a head taller than his son (15 or above), daughter (14 or above), and Zuko (16 or above).
- Most of the main characters in WITCH suffer from this, most notably Cornelia, who is the tallest of the 5 girls, but still a head shorter than her mother.
- Noticeable in Sit Down, Shut Up.
- Also the case in Code Lyoko. Most of the teens are between 13 and 14, yet they are all very much shorter than the adults. Even Yumi, who's reaching 15, is smaller than her parents (though she comes close to her father, who's probably of typical height for a Japanese male -- her mother on the other hand is quite tall). Also of note is that the girls are often taller than the boys, or about the same size.
- In King of the Hill, 14-year old Bobby seems to be 3-and-a-half feet tall compared to his parents. All the kids are like this at first, but soon the others begin to grow to average height (note Joseph's growth spurt), leaving people to wonder if Bobby is a late bloomer. It turns out the animators didn't want to put him through puberty simply because they would have had to cast a man as his voice actor, and they had grown attached to his current actress Pamela Adlon.
- In Phineas and Ferb, Candace says explicitly that she's five-eight. Despite this, she and her teenage peers are still shorter than every adult in the show (except the humorously short old people).
- Averted in Total Drama Island, where almost all the teens are taller than the adult host Chris, which is Lampshaded by Beth ("wow, you're much shorter in real life!"). The few adults mentioned on the show are usually the same height as the average height teens, with the exception of Chef Hatchet.
- Most of the 14-year olds in Danny Phantom are ridiculously short for their age in comparison to their parents. All except bullies Dash and Kwan who are both at least as tall as Maddie Fenton. Danielle is an even worse example: apparently twelve years old and she's half the height of Danny himself.
- This is also present in The Fairly Odd Parents, though the Vicky being more than a head shorter than either of the Turner parents isn't nearly as noticeable as the enormous difference between teenagers and younger children.
- Averted in Generator Rex; the main character is 15 years old and at a realistic height for a teen his age. He's almost the exact same height as Dr. Holiday and only slightly shorter than Six, who are both adults.
- American Dad: both Hayley and Steve are far shorter than their parents. Works for Steve since he's a freshman in highschool, but Hayley's in college.
- Speaking of Seth MacFarlane shows, both parents in Family Guy tower over Meg and Chris, despite them being 16-17 and 14, respectively. Chris is a few inches taller than Meg, but still nearly a head shorter than his mother.
- Despite being about 14, Penny and her friends are at least a foot or more shorter than most of the adults in The Proud Family.
- Rugrats: A minor character, Alisa Carmichael (Susie's oldest sister) is 16, but shown to be a head shorter than her parents.
- The main characters of Tiny Toon Adventures are supposed to be teenagers. But as the title makes clear, they're tiny compared with the Looney Tunes characters that mentor them (Tweety excepted, of course.)
- In a very odd example South Park portrayed teen starlet Selena Gomez as barely taller than Cartman and tiny compared with the adults when she 'appeared' on the show, apparently solely due to this trope (in real life Gomez is 5'6 which is actually noticeably taller than the average American adult woman.)