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TV Teen

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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. If they're high schoolers; this is averted for middle schoolers.
  • 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, or the idea of having bad acne is a single pimple.
  • An inability to swear, even mildly.
    • In movies at least, this tends to be taken to the other extreme. For example, in Superbad, just about every other word Jonah Hill's character says is "fuck". While real teenagers do swear, few do it to even a fifth of that extent.
  • A similar inability to talk like actual teenagers, at least ones from this decade.
  • High school settings being dominated by Alpha Bitches with Girl Posses and Jerk Jocks on the sport teams.
  • 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. They may devote a disproportionate amount of time, energy, and brain power to getting/attracting the opposite sex (almost never the same sex), but won't go beyond kissing, and sometimes not even that far.
    • If this is not the case, they often will instead ALL engage in sex whenever given the opportunity, and the girls will dress as provocatively as possible, including in school. This sex will likely lead to a pregnancy for at least one character on the show, or at least a pregnancy scare.
    • Basically they are portrayed as either atypically cleaner or atypically wilder than most people's adolescence with no middle ground, and whichever one will be presented as the norm in their verse, which one often hinges on whether or not Dawson Casting is in effect and if they are the central cast or not. If they're either the main characters in a family/Disney show (with maybe some much less important or previously non-existent character being the opposite in the Very Special Episode, perhaps Wrong Genre Savvy) or they themselves are less important characters than the adults in a work (in these they tend to spend much of their screentime brooding), they will be squeaky clean, very chaste, never party or drink, though in teen comedies/dramas anarchy is basically in effect and the teens will be hypersexual, party and drink constantly without parental repercussions and occasional parental encouragement, unthinkable of happening in other genres.
  • 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. Especially if it's a Revenge scheme.
  • Average teens in TV land are frequently shorter than adults. Not so in Real Life.
  • 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.
  • Borderline non-existent or ridiculously clueless and cynical parents. The relationship between them is almost always badnote .
  • A complete awareness of and engagement with all things "trendy/popular." This is particularly common in shows attempting An Aesop.
  • Generally, in television, you can expect Teens to have ridiculously active social lives. There will be little or no in-fighting or disdain within their friendship circles, and nearly every parental dispute will be about how the Teen's social life is adversely affecting his/her schoolwork, relationship with them, etc. Punishment will inevitably be a grounding from any kind of social activity for an X amount of time. As any Real Life parent who's raised a teen will tell you, however, most disputes (even among the most popular/sociable teens) have little or nothing to do with the teen's social life. Unless, of course, he/she is involved with a gang or cult.
  • Teens are often seen wearing the "latest" and "trendy" clothes that look like they were very expensive (often regardless of whether or not they should be able to afford such things).
  • Whenever they are seen at school they are often seen in the hallways, lunch room, and rarely in class.

See also: Hollywood Homely, Cousin Oliver, Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome.

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 be as straitlaced 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 between chapters 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.
    • Jo had no problem having them swear, but has stated that "my editor wouldn't let me." Well, until Deathly Hallows, that is. The films added Ron's catchphrase of "bloody hell!".
  • Averted in the Tunnels series, complete with both Will and Chester swearing occasionally. Regardless, there is a possibility for the film series to have Dawson Casting.
  • All books which are in the category of "juvenile literature" in the United States until the 1970s, with a few (very controversial) exceptions such as The Catcher in the Rye.
    • 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? It's 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 in the CHERUB Series, 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.
  • 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 the boys lie to each other about going all the way.
  • Averted in Tempest: A Novel. The main cast of the series are almost all in their late teens and early twenties, and behave accordingly. While they do swear, drink, throw wild parties, and even have sex, they never do so to an excessive amount, and the fact that they do so is never brought up and treated as normal. Despite all this, for the most part all seem rather mature for their age.

Live-Action TV

  • Our Miss Brooks: Features High-School Hustler and Teacher's Pet Walter Denton, who carried a very squeaky voice over from the radio. Also in the main cast is Spoiled Sweet Harriet Conklin, the principal's daughter. Showing up from time-to-time, is the dumb but good-natured Stretch Snodgrass - or his brother Bones.
  • 1970's bittersweet BBC sitcom Butterflies focused on the usual sort of well-off middle class family living in a nice part of London. Put-upon housewife Wendy Craig is taken for granted by her husband and two teenage sons - who in the 1970's talked, at best, in teenage slang that was only ten years out of date. Even in the late 1970's when most kids were getting into punk rock, the two sons stood out horribly as Teenagers That Time Forgot, talking hippie argot that would have been horribly stale and dated in 1967.
  • 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!
  • Mostly averted on Freaks and Geeks, barring some occasional Dawson Casting and slightly less swearing than normal.
  • Castle's daughter 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.
  • On Mad Men Sally Draper is turning into a remarkably nuanced aversion, particularly for the only major adolescent character in a large ensemble cast.
  • Pick ANY live action Disney Channel sitcom, chances are that just one of 'em will feature at least 50%-75% of the rules of being a TV Teen. Averted sometimes with the recent Nickelodeon sitcoms, they at least try to take risks.
  • While Boy Meets World followed about half of the rules of the family-friendly model of a TV Teen, it came up with a few creative ways to Lampshade and justify them in-universe. Most of the plots revolving around teens' emotional impulsiveness/stupid decisions went to the character of Shawn, who was noted in the show to have delinquent tendencies and an impressively terrible home life with tangible effects, and the other characters were mostly exempt from these issues. Also, while Cory and Topanga didn't have sex until they got married, their relationship was also remarked upon by the characters themselves as being highly atypical (they first started crushing on each other around the age of six, and dated steadily since age 13).
  • I Didn't Do It tries to justify this by framing each episode as the main characters telling an authority figure what happened. It seems to be becoming a Deconstructive Parody of the sort of Kid Com it's surrounded by on Disney Channel.
  • Apart from the Dawson Casting, The Inbetweeners generally averts this. The characters swear constantly, don't have sex (at least until the movies) and generally act much like real teens.

Web Original

  • The Asylum is an inverted version of this, with them, nevertheless being dark and brooding, being sophisticated, yet spout foul language and dark comedy.

Alternative Title(s): Hollywood Teenager