The Number One Problem with Teen TV Shows
By Thao Nguyen
Confession time: I am a sucker for teen TV shows. Sure I’m a year out of college and working a “grown-up” job, but damn is the drama in high school enticing. My high school experience was about as tame and mundane as it gets, so I’m a little obsessed with living vicariously through the on-screen antics of the characters on the shows on The CW and Freeform (R.I.P. ABC Family). Love triangles, secret trysts, late night shenanigans, and murders? I live for it all. But, there’s one thing that I really find issue with in a lot of teen shows, and that’s the problematic adults.
The parental and adult figures in a lot of teen shows fall into two categories: obnoxious, oblivious, and incompetent, or bat-sh*t crazy, shady, and villainous as hell. Take for example, my latest guilty pleasure, Riverdale. You’ve got a teacher with a shady past who has having an affair with a student. A father who doesn’t freak out at all when he finds out about said teacher with his son. A mother intent on shoving Adderall down her daughter’s throat and isolating her from all of her friends. And a set of parents who care more about keeping face than about their son’s murder. And that’s just in the first four episodes.
The problem I have with the questionable adult trope is that it reiterates the idea that kids shouldn’t trust their elders or go to them for help. Studies already show that adolescents are more likely to trust their peers than adults, especially when it comes to decisions involving risk. On top of that, nearly 1 in 3 young men, and 1 in 4 young women don’t have positive role models in their lives. Adding more negative adult influences in their entertainment can only aggravate the belief that adults are no good or encourage these teens to grow up and take on horrible behavior themselves.
I’m sure that advocating for better adult representation in teen shows makes me seem like an old fart. But this is one of the few situations where art does not imitate life, and that needs to change. Sure these shows may have vampires running around, teens solving murder cases, and other scenarios that aren’t based on reality, but it’s ridiculous that the most unrealistic element of these shows is that every damn adult is terrible. Having more positive portrayals of adult figures in teen shows won’t take away from the drama or entertainment value. It’ll just give viewers more to relate to and more to look forward to in their real lives.