Why Don't Teens Play Teens on TV?

Actual teenagers look nothing like they do on television. For the majority of shows directed at teens on the CW, MTV, Freeform and Netflix, nearly all of the characters tell us in the first episode that they’re 16 years old, a junior in high school, and can’t wait till the day they are going to get their driver’s license and get out of this town. However, the majority of the time, the actors playing these characters are well out of high school and have been able to drive for quite a while now.

When the first season of Gossip Girl started, Blake Lively was 21 and Leighton Meester was 20. When the Vampire Diaries began, Nina Dobrev was 20 and Paul Wesley was 27. When Teen Wolf started, Holland Roden was 25, and when Pretty Little Liars kicked off, everyone in the core cast (besides Sasha Pieterse) was between the ages of 20 to 24. All of these actors were playing characters in their mid-teenage years and would continue to play these ages for several seasons thereafter. This is not a contained phenomenon, but something that occurs very often in television and movies.

Courtesy: TwistMagazine

So, why do we have these fully functioning adults pretending to be pubescent teens?

The reason most often given is because of the complications underage actors bring to working hours on set. In accordance with child labor laws, actors under 18 must have their parents or guardians with them on set and are only allowed to work a limited number of hours because of their need for schooling. Additionally, underage actors would need to have a teacher on set to aid them in their schooling.

But that’s not really the whole answer; if we were to have actual teenagers playing the roles of teens on TV, the shows we are watching would most likely be very different. In a large percentage of teen shows in the past decade, there have been a lot of sexy, risqué, and violent plot points that have kept the ball of the show rolling. If there had been real 16-year-olds playing the parts of 16-year-olds, then there definitely wouldn’t have been as many sensual shirtless makeout sessions or teens casually discussing murder and death. This is not only because the actors probably wouldn’t be rocking six-pack abs and perfectly shaped boobs yet, but there would also be the looming reminder of, “oh, hey, I’m watching a child right now. That doesn’t sit too well.”

In moments of sexual tension on teen shows, we often forget that the characters are supposed to be teenagers because they are being portrayed by 20-something-year-olds. In our minds, we process it as being perfectly normal for those 20-something-year-olds to be having sex on the screen and to be having it this often. The large age gaps between the actors’ ages and the characters’ ages cause the audience to often forget the supposed age in favor of the general age range they appear. This can cause viewers to begin to see the characters as adults who just happen to be in high school, which can be dangerous when the actual teen audiences begin to view themselves in similar fashions and begin drawing comparisons to these adult "teenagers."

Courtesy: Cosmopolitan

This isn’t to say that every teen watching TV is constantly comparing themselves to every character, because I know that that’s not true. But often unconsciously, the comparisons come up in the back of a teen’s mind and they can’t help but start wondering why everything about them is so different from this character. These comparisons are a thought that shouldn’t be popping up but do anyway because of the popular content that we choose to push out and make mainstream. So, next time you are hanging out with your sibling who’s still in high school and bingeing their favorite show, pull out one of those terrible photos everyone you love refers to as blackmail and help guide them down reality as much as you can.