When adults portray teens in teen dramas

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We’ve all heard that classic phrase: “High school was nothing like High School Musical.” Networks such as the CW, HBO, and MTV have shows portraying the interesting lives of teenagers. They play a large part in how they perceive the world because the protagonists are meant to be reflections of their target audience. However, the actors’ and actresses’ looks, demeanor, and actions are more adult-like than their adolescent viewers. Here are some classic examples.

The Vampire Diaries

Although The Vampire Diaries displays the stories of the Mystic Falls teens as they mature from high schoolers to college kids, their actions as high school juniors and seniors remain consistent throughout the entire series. The characters regularly engage in violence, sex, and underaged drinking in almost every episode with their guardians always looking the other way. One season even featured the lead going out of state in secret as a minor, which was never properly addressed by her family. In addition to these unlikely characteristics, many of the actors were much older than the characters they portrayed. Zach Roerig, for example, played a 16-year-old at the age of 24. 

Gossip Girl  

Full of glamour and riches, Gossip Girl tells the stories of the children of New York’s most affluent families requiring us to suspend our disbelief on several occasions. Aside from the obvious age differences between the actors and their characters, storylines can also be misrepresentative. The character Chuck Bass becomes the boss of a hotel and runs a speakeasy, and somehow still manages to balance these side businesses with school. On the plus side, Taylor Momsen played a high school freshman at 13, which fits the character.


Riverdale, one of the most popular teen dramas to air recently, is one of the biggest offenders on this list given that by the start of the first season high school 15 and 16 year olds are played by actors in their mid twenties and were constantly put in absurd and compromising positions as minors. They all have perfect skin and fully developed bodies and are regularly put in semi nude scenes setting wildly unrealistic expectations for younger viewers. Some of the many examples of risky behavior include a high school junior played by Camila Mendes (25) running a speakeasy and a club as a side business, and a 16 year old girl, played by Lili Reinhart (23), doing a pole dance to be initiated into a gang.

Pretty Little Liars

One of the main story lines at the start of this show (and possibly the most problematic) is the relationship between 16 year old Aria Montgomery and her 23 year old teacher. While it is not the first show to handle such sensitive topics (like Riverdale or TVD), instead of serving as a warning, it  romanticizes the relationship between a minor and an educator.