Unrealistic television gives impressionable teens bloated expectations

Glamorized lifestyle can make students feel as if their lives should be more action-filled


In the digital age, television has come to offer solace to teens navigating through the perilous years of high school. When reality seems to be falling apart, the impeccably dressed and flawlessly made-up actors can transport them to a world far away from their own. However, there comes a problem when these beloved teen actors are not teens, but adults cast in roles young enough to be their children. 

Harmful expectations arise when television shows portray teenagers in a more mature light, often exceeding realistic beauty standards while living with more freedom and fewer responsibilities.      

Shows like Outer Banks, Never Have I Ever, and Riverdale depict a perfect teenage life of spontaneous adventures, partying, and falling in love. As a result, high school students feel pressure to live up to these scenes deemed part of the average high school experience. 

“Television shows portray the high school experience as only a simplified version of partying and dating. This could set unhealthy standards for a teenager’s view of high school because it pressures them to copy what they see on screen,” Acalanes sophomore Zoe Latimer said.

This glamorized lifestyle can make students feel as if their lives should be more action-filled or exciting. 

“I’m happy with my life, but watching shows and movies can sometimes make me be like ‘oh I wish I did cool stuff like that.’ I don’t feel like I am supposed to be like them, but sometimes I want to,” Acalanes junior Kyle Pass said.

However, some students recognize that television shows are often out of touch with an average teenager’s personal life. 

“I don’t think that their lives are realistic to what we go through … It’s television, so they can make their lives seem perfect instead of [including] some issues that people go through in the real world,” junior Ethan Torres said.

Furthermore, when adults undertake leading roles as teenage characters, beauty standards come to reflect older populations. In the Netflix hit series Outer Banks, 28-year-old Chase Stokes plays the 16-year-old protagonist, John B. Age differences between actors and their characters create a distorted beauty standard for teenagers and twenty-year-olds. 

“For a lot of people, it can really affect how they view themselves. Seeing adults who are fully developed or don’t have acne or bloat definitely affects people because they think it’s normal at this age to look like that,” Pass said. 

Professional makeup, tailored clothing, and pre-planned angles are just a few steps that actors take to create a character before the camera turns on. Television shows present a polished version of each character, something young audiences often forget. 

“Actors in popular TV shows for teens have the, like, ideal look and body shape so it sets unrealistic views of what high schoolers should look like,” Latimer said. 

Some teens even go so far as to alter various parts of their appearance in an attempt to imitate their favorite characters.

“I watched [Outer Banks] a lot and my mom and my sister kind of edged me into making my hair like JJ’s hair color and then I did that,” Acalanes junior Jake Takeuchi said.

Adult portrayals of teenage characters in television and movie productions have always been a source of inspiration for young people. Teens yearn for the lifestyles and daily routines on screen. Many young teens tend to have on-screen role models, even if their lives are impractical. 

“I think the adults that I looked up to were mostly from television and film. They were the movie stars and celebrities that I was familiar with,” Human Social Development teacher Micole Schwantes said. “I was enamored with the lifestyle that they seemed to have, whether it had been accurate or not. And the glamor and beauty of it.” 

While teens continue to look up to their on-screen counterparts, viewers must be mindful of the messages portrayed by the shows.

“I think that people are reinforced with the idea that only a certain beauty standard is going to make you happy,” Schwantes said.

As adults continue to be cast into teenage roles, the responsibility falls into the hands of the teenage audience to distinguish the difference between on-screen teenagers and real life.

“It’s not reality; it’s a television show; and [viewers] should choose what to watch [to] not feel pressure to look a certain way or live life a certain way,” sophomore Haadeh Sanchez said.