COLUMN: False representations of high school expose teens to negative habits

If sex isn’t a main part of teens’ reality, why is it so important to teen dramas?

Chelsi Peter is a first-year journalism major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about racial injustice and entertainment for the Maneater.

For more than a decade, the TV industry has been at fault for portraying high school as a space for young teens to drink, do drugs and focus on sex above all else.

Frequently, teen TV dramas film unrealistic events that occur during high school and glorify the experience of students in middle and high school. A recurring scene shown in TV shows are teens attending massive parties every night, which is simply inaccurate. Scenes show kids high off whatever substance and drunk out of their minds, which instills a false reality of high school.

Shows such as "Riverdale," Netflix’s latest original "Tiny Pretty Things," and "Euphoria" all highlight the wrong things about high school. Main characters are never seen completing homework or doing anything related to education. These shows thrive on teen drama and negative ways to cope with stress.

"Euphoria" is about Zendaya’s character Rue, a recovering prescription drug addict, and focuses on a group of high schoolers navigating life with a lot of drug use. In 2016, according to the National Center of Drug Abuse Statistics, 86% of adolescents knew someone who smoked, drank, or used drugs during the school day. Exposure to drug and alcohol use implies to students that it’s cool or part of the teenage experience.

When I was a middle school student, my friends and I were heavily influenced by the TV shows we watched, like “The Carrie Diaries” and “The Fosters.” We transitioned to high school under the belief that it was going to be the best time of our lives; we would go to massive parties and have a ton of friends outside of our friend group. Once you experience high school for yourself, you realize what you see in the TV shows isn’t real. This is exactly what Netflix has done with "Tiny Pretty Things."

The new series takes place at an elite ballet academy where dancers from all different backgrounds push to reach their dreams of dancing professionally and receiving recognition from top coaches. The show doesn't shy away from hard conversations and confrontations with each character.

Themes of sexual assault, eating disorders, bullying, racial discrimination and identity issues are all big themes in "Tiny Pretty Things." However, the show depicts sex so graphically it leaves viewers uncomfortable. The actors and actresses play characters who are supposed to be minors, which makes watching these scenes disturbing.

While some high schoolers do experiment with drugs and alcohol or sex in high school, an overwhelming amount of teens do not. In 2019, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found a significant drop in sexual intercourse between teens. It showed that fewer than 40% of American high school students ever had sexual intercouse, a decline of over 15% since the 1990s. Studies show downward trends in teen sexual activity, but TV shows are quick to implement it into characters’ daily lives.

After all the misconceptions of what actually goes down in high school, many teens are left disappointed and confused as to why their experience isn’t the same as what they see in shows. Our generation today is so influenced by social media that many people forget that what they see in shows is not necessary to have a great high school experience.

Through TV, high school is defined through a series of missions, which lead students on a path towards drugs and sex instead of realistic, multi-dimensional material. Characters throughout the show always tend to have some sort of goal to complete, whether that be finding a significant other or being the popular kid.

Plots filled with sex and gossip leave no room for self-improvement or character building. This is not to imply that sexuality is not important to their identities, or that sexuality isn’t a big part of being a teenager, but it’s certainly not the sole element that defines someone.

Maria Jimenez Moya, an opinion columnist for the The Daily Free Press — the independent student newspaper at Boston University — wrote a piece about the impractical beauty standards that TV shows present to teenagers. Moya mentions that the actors/actresses consistently have the same body type; women show a standard of slim and toned body types while men are fit with washboard abs 99% of the time.

In many ways the lack of body type diversity is similar to the drug and sex issue within the TV industry. If the TV industry continues to create mainstream modern standards, the negative influences TV has on teens will become normal. How can we allow teens to make decisions for themselves if the shows they watch glorify negative ones?

The TV industry needs to take into account the content they produce and the effect it has on teens. They need to realize the continuous production of shows that promote dangerous activities will lead to teens partaking in them. High school is one of the biggest hypocrisies that teens face because of their preconceived beliefs on what it should be. The glorification of drugs and sex through TV creates dangerous trends and addictive habits in teens at a very young age.

_The Marsha P. Johnson Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the rights and lives of Black trans people, and providing relief for members of the community. We at The Maneater encourage you to donate to this cause. Donations can be made at: _

Edited by Sydney Lewis |

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