Created By: MartyD82 on April 3, 2013 Last Edited By: willthiswork on April 4, 2013

Teens Are Social Butterflies

The tendency for television and films to depict teens as having absurdly active social lives.

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Puberty is usually the time when children start to break away from their parents and crave a life outside of them. Naturally, this involves putting more stock in external friendships and especially romantic relationships. What's more, this is usually when children begin forging their own identities and establishing a clique of like-minded friends with whom they regularly hang out.

Film and especially television, however, tend to blow teenage social lives way out of proportion and (in the most egregious examples) depict external social lives as being the only aspect of teenage life that matters. Teens will be shown to have ridiculously large and diverse friendship circles, hanging out together almost every day at a common Malt Shop with little in-fighting or disdain between them, as well as little regard for things like homework, family problems, etc. In the rare instance that a dispute does arise, you can expect it to be resolved by episode's end and completely forgotten afterwards.

Meanwhile, just about every parental dispute will be about the teen's social life and how it's adversely affecting his/her schoolwork, relationship with them, etc. And the punishment will always be a grounding from hanging out with friends. Whereas, as any Real Life parent of a relatively normal teenager will tell you, most disputes have little or nothing to do with the teen's social life. In fact, in this age of internet and video games, you're probably more likely to see parental disputes over the teen's lack thereof.

The likely reason for this trope is the Nostalgia Filter. Since Most Writers Are Adults, they like to remember the fun parts of their teen years (which were usually whatever social activities they were involved with) while filtering out the less exciting parts (just about everything else). Another reason might be because most teen-centered shows are aimed at a younger audience, who probably doesn't want to see the drama and sense of societal disconnect that often comes with being a teenager. So the easiest solution is to depict the main characters as having the most active and carefree social lives possible.

This is most common in teen shows aimed at a tween audience. You can also expect older teen movies, especially, to invoke this trope.

Examples:

Television:

  • Saved by the Bell is, perhaps, the king of this trope. We see the five main characters constantly hang out together, with new friends coming and going. And rarely do we see the individual characters alone or with family.
  • Beverly Hills 90210 is a slightly less extreme but still notable example. Even when, for example, the Walshes have a family activity (such as a Karaoke night), just about every main character is bound to attend and hang out with each other.
  • Family Matters plays this completely straight with the Winslow kids, at least until they go off to college.
  • Doug is the middle-school version of this trope. See also: Free-Range Children.
  • Averted with Claire on Six Feet Under, who (much more realistically) has a few notable friends but spends just as much time with Ruth, David and Nate running the family business.
  • Similarly averted with Meadow on The Sopranos, who's shown to be a pretty responsible student and reasonably close to her parents.
  • Rayanne on My So-Called Life is a much more realistic example of a teenage social butterfly, as her ridiculously active social life is shown to compensate for her lack of any real family life.
  • Averted on Freaks and Geeks, as the show's characters (even the more popular kids) have relatively small and cliquish friendship circles. And there's a LOT of in-fighting between them.
  • Played COMPLETELY straight on Dawson's Creek.

Film

  • Narrowly averted with Fast Times at Ridgemont High. While we see the main characters hang out together quite a bit, it's mostly just because they work at the same mall. Most of the film is spent showing them at work, in class or on individual dates rather than deliberately hanging out together.
  • Averted in The Breakfast Club. Even Claire, despite being the most popular girl in school, has a rather small group of actual friends. And, later in the movie, she admits to being annoyed by their general superficiality.
Community Feedback Replies: 7
  • April 3, 2013
    Chabal2
    Spongebob Squarepants: Pearl, Mr Krabs' Bratty Teenage Daughter, has such a social life complete with Girl Posse. She at one point gets a job at the Krusty Krab but does her best to get fired as "it's cutting way into her social time".

  • April 3, 2013
    Random888
    The reason for this is Rule Of Drama. It's the same principle whereby your average Work Com or workplace soap builds its plots around the employeess' social lives rather than their actual jobs. Humans are social creatures and they find stories about human relationships to be interesting dramatically. Generally speaking, humans do not find stories about finishing a homework assignment on time to be interesting dramatically.
  • April 3, 2013
    MartyD82
    With that said, I wonder if this is entirely tropeworthy? It seems, at least in "Tween Shows" (ie. teen shows made mostly for an 8-11 year old audience), this is a Necessary Break From Reality. Adult shows, on the other hand, can afford to be a little more honest about these issues. Hence the fact that most of the straight-players I listed were shows/movies aimed at pre-teens and early-teens, while the aversions were shows/movies aimed more at adults and older teens.
  • April 4, 2013
    Arivne
    Some of the OP examples violate TV Tropes rules.

    For example:

    There's no information on how Dawsons Creek is an example of this trope, so it's a Zero Context Example.

    Same as the above, and Zero Context Example lists the phrase "[Name] is this trope." as an example.

    Not only is this a Zero Context Example but it also violates Example Indentation: each separate work receives its own one bullet listing.
  • April 4, 2013
    AmyGdala
    So, shows tend to show teens interacting rather than being alone? Don't shows generally do that with all characters? That's more or less essential for all plot.
  • April 4, 2013
    willthiswork
    2nding Arivne's "do not launch with ZCE" sentiment, I know this is still in the discussion stage but be completely sure these issues are fixed before launch please.
  • April 4, 2013
    MartyD82
    This is a very esoteric trope, because you really only find it in teen shows that are actually made for a tween/early-teen audience. Just as shows made for adults will often show adults doing the exact same thing (hanging out together all day, etc.). What drove me to suggest that this may be a trope is the way parents on these kinds of teen shows will often be, for whatever reason, disapproving of their teens actually having a social life. So maybe a better trope would be "No, You May Not Have A Social Life", depicting shows/films/whatever where the parents disapprove of their kids having social lives?
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