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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at KU chapter.

We all have our favorite teen movie and show. Whether it be a comedy or drama, set in reality or a supernatural world, or even in this decade, it’s an eternal genre. We grew up watching movies like High School Musical and couldn’t wait until high school. Then we got there, and realized Troy Bolton was a fantasy, but at least we could live vicariously through One Tree Hill wishing we could be as cool as Brooke Davis. And now, we are out of high school and we watch Pretty Little Liars, nostalgic for meeting our friends at the lockers in between classes. This genre is universal no matter if you’re 6, 16, or 26 years old. Starting with Rebel Without A Cause all the way to today with the audacious HBO show Euphoria, we love watching teens get the Hollywood treatment. But then why is it so widely ridiculed?

Warner Bros. Television

Maybe it’s because they can be quite cliche and unrealistic. Or maybe it can be complete bonkers sometimes (here’s looking at you, Riverdale). But let’s be honest, we wouldn’t watch them if we couldn’t relate to them in some capacity. When you’re a teen, you exaggerate things. The smallest test or fight between friends can be blown out of proportion. That’s exactly what a teen drama is- exaggerated reality. 

Dean Buscher/The CW

When someone asks what my favorite show is, I’ve had the same answer since I was in 6th grade- Gossip Girl. And everytime I say that, depending on the person, I either get an excited head nod with a smile, or the biggest eye roll in the world. But I don’t really care. This is MY show. It’s New York. It’s glamour. It’s a soap opera (I have been watching General Hospital since I was a fetus). It has the lovable mean girl. It has boys who know how to dress. And best of all, it helped me find my two biggest passions in life, fashion and acting. However, some people view this (at the time, at least) edgy show as, well, trash. Along with many of my other favorite shows. 

You name a teen drama TV show or teen movie and I’ve probably seen it. And if I haven’t, I have probably heard of it, and can tell you at least one character or actor from it. Everything from Beverly Hills, 90210 and classic John Hughes movies- I have grown up watching these films and shows. They have been an essential part of my cinematic life. And yes, some of it is, well, not the best. There are clichés, tropes, problematic moments, definitely some (let’s be honest here) trashy seasons, episodes, and movies out there concerning teens.

More recently, teen shows have been gaining traction with more than just the 13-25 year-old demographic. Starting with Glee, a awarding-winning FOX musical comedy, teen shows have started gaining more adult audiences. Glee is about a high school glee club filled with every type of teen you can think of, and no I don’t mean archetypes. I mean representation. Glee featured kids of all different religious backgrounds, races, disabilities, sexualities, and of course high school cliques. This was super mind-boggling at the time. And the show went on to win multiple Golden Globes, SAG awards, and Emmys.

Another groundbreaking show that even adults tune into is Euphoria. Dare I say, this is the best show on TV right now. It’s visually stunning, moody, ambitious, smart, and bold. It’s also focused on the modern teenager. The girl who watches makeup tutorial after makeup tutorial. The douchebag boy who is well, just plain shitty to girls online. What it’s like to have a modern long distance relationship. What it’s like to have a mistake or private moment blasted about online. And it’s a teen show on HBO, an adult TV network. 

So, if the teen genre is as ‘trashy’ as people claim, then why have such sophisticated adults become hooked on it? Thanks to streaming services having nostalgic shows and movies like Dawson’s Creek and Clueless, maybe it’s because of nostalgia. Or maybe it’s because while teen shows and films can be quite daring and wild, they are actually good.

Every generation has that one show or movie that was every teenager’s parent’s worst nightmare. In the 90s, it was Beverly Hills, 90210 and Cruel Intentions. In the early 2000s it was Gossip Girl and the American Pie franchise. Today, it’s Euphoria and Assassination Nation (both made by Sam Levinson). All these shows and movies, due to their edgy, risque, and mind-blowing (at least for the time) content, appealed to a small, but significant, amount of adults. Yes, maybe it was parents making sure what their kids were watching was appropriate. However, it was also because what they were watching was actually intriguing to them. 

The Lala

This is because of nostalgia. They are seeing ideals from movies they grew up watching like The Breakfast Club and Fast Times at Ridgemont High be told to a new generation, their kids. They watch The Vampire Diaries, Friday Night Lights, and Sex Education and are shown similar ideas that those classic and iconic movies had. I may have grown up watching John Hughes and Natalie Wood’s ‘teen recklessness’ movies like Splendor In The Grass, but not everyone does. So, seeing those same ideas passed on from generation to generation in a more universal, modern, and creative way is quite awesome, in the actual sense of the word. 

But what do I mean by ideals? I don’t mean tropes. Yes, teen show after teen show has the classic love triangles and never shows kids doing homework. I mean topics that teens everywhere deal with. Teachers, colleges, friendships, relationships, and stresses are things everyone, young and old, teen or adult has dealt with.

The teen genre also brings up difficult topics. Sometimes well, like in Euphoria, where labels are written out, and sometimes controverisal, like Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, but either way, it’s still bringing the topic to the forefront of people’s minds and starting important conversations about mental health, sex, abortion, toxicity, sexuality, identity, race, and much more. These topics weren’t widely talked about during the era of Sixteen Candles and Splendor In The Grass as accurately and often as they are today.

Erika Doss/Twentieth Century Fox

Like I said before, this genre can get pretty wild, but that doesn’t mean it’s ‘trash’. It means it’s doing it’s job, to entertain us. If all these characters did was do homework, go to class, and hang out with friends, we wouldn’t watch. The more wild, crazy, and fantastic, the more interesting it is and the more we watch. Yes, some aspects are meant to be realistic, relatable, nostalgic and some aspirational, but mostly it’s meant to entertain us. 

The teen genre is the universal genre for TV and film. It can be edgy, smart, and it’s always evolving. When we’re kids, we watch it and can’t wait until we get there. While it may not live up to all our expectations, it is certainly aspirational and relatable. And once we are out of high school, it brings us a sense of nostalgia. That’s what makes it such a fun genre to watch, and why we keep tuning in for more. 

get in loser mean girls
Paramount Pictures




Hello! My name is Sami Gotskind! I'm from Chicago and graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Acting and Journalism. I also working on getting a certificate in Fashion Styling from the Fashion Institute of Technology. I was a writer for Her Campus KU from 2020 to 2022 and for Her Campus Nationals since 2021. I was also the Writing Director for Her Campus KU in 2022. I love film, TV, fashion, pop culture, history, music, and feminism. My friends describe me as an old soul, an avid Euphoria fan, a fashion icon, a Swiftie, an Audrey Hepburn-Blair Waldorf fanatic, a future New Yorker, and a Gossip Girl historian. Look out for me on your TV screens in the near future! Thank you for reading my articles!