The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
With the various streaming services that we have today, there is no shortage of TV shows which revolve around teenage lives. Despite the abundance, there’s a definite lack of storylines that surround college/university-aged people. While the representation of teenage experiences and feelings are important, it becomes a problem when high school characters become sexualized.
I don’t know about you, but when I watch shows such as Euphoria (2019-present), Riverdale (2017-present) or Pretty Little Liars (2010-2017), I start to become uncomfortable with consuming content that sexualizes young characters, even though the actors are adults. It’s not that shows for teens shouldn’t exist, but much of the content that is depicted in these shows can easily take place in colleges/universities instead. While it is the case that teenagers do have sex, we as adults shouldn’t feel comfortable watching, writing, or directing scenes where they’re acting it out.
While Euphoria has numerous full frontal nude scenes of the teenage characters, one particularly troubling thing is the narrative surrounding Kat Hernandez. Kat is a high schooler who starts online sex work as a webcam dominatrix. While sex work is not inherently unethical, it becomes so when a child is partaking in it. Not only that, but it’s illegal and classified as child pornography, something that is glossed over in the show. Euphoria does paint sex work in a positive light, as Kat becomes empowered with her own body and sexuality. There’s no doubt that female empowerment is something that is definitely needed more on screen, however, the fact that they are sexualizing a minor and glamorizing her as a sex worker is dangerous.
In Riverdale, the series starts off with the main character Archie Andrew having a secret relationship with his teacher, Geraldine Grundy. Instead of immediately contextualizing this relationship as an act of grooming and statutory rape, it’s instead romanticized through the exchange of longing looks and steamy car sex. This isn’t the first time high school student/teacher relationships have been glorified either. Pretty Little Liars was notorious for this as one of the main characters had an on-and-off relationship with one of her teachers. The impropriety of this relationship is never truly acknowledged and instead, the show characterizes their relationship akin to that of Romeo and Juliet: star-crossed lovers. With actors in their 20s playing teens and the media romantically representing inappropriate relationships, we tend to forget that that’s exactly what they are — inappropriate.
While the portrayal of sexual empowerment, positive sex work and forbidden love make for compelling storylines, children should not be the ones to carry them out. Giving these narratives to characters in college/university not only takes care of this issue, but also gives 20 somethings content they can see themselves in.