Pop Culture Intervention

Should Adults Play Teens On TV? One Expert Weighs In With Problems — And A Solution.

"We’re all affected by what we see to some extent."

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For as long as there have been teen shows, there have been adult actors playing them. Your favorite high school character is likely being brought to life by someone in their 20s and, according to one expert, this could have some harmful side effects to the young folks watching.


"Teenagers are not dupes, they don't just watch television and accept everything hook, line, and sinker," Susannah Stern, a University of San Diego professor, explains. "This doesn't mean they aren't affected by what they see, we're all affected by what we see to some extent."

Turns out that one of the biggest reasons why you see twentysomething actors portraying teens on television is because of child labor laws. For instance, the video points out how the Riverdale cast is — on average — eight years older than the age of their onscreen counterparts and, at one point, 28-year-old Shay Mitchell was portraying an 18-year-old character on Pretty Little Liars. Seeing these adults in these teen roles matters so much is two-fold, Stern explains.

The first is that young viewers see characters who are "physically impeccable" and meet "every kind of stereotype of idealized beauty that we have in contemporary culture." Stern notes how teens are "at a stage of figuring out what they want to be and how they want others to view them," and that it is "inevitable that they'll engage in comparisons." This can become troublesome because they're seeing mature, fully developed bodies, which they don't have.

The other is that these adult actors in situations we'd imagine teens find themselves in but saying lines that teens wouldn't normally speak. This might suggest, Stern analyzes, that teens are able to have these emotional conversations with love interests — but that isn't necessarily the case. So, factor in the fact that the relationships often build up to sex that seems "spontaneous," something not exactly common in the real world, and there may be some consequences.

"What this suggests is that, to a young person, that it's just going to happen — romance is natural, 'I'll feel it when I feel it,' and we don't have to talk about what's happening or what's about to happen or how much I want something to happen or how far I want to go," Stern spells out. "This can set up young people for problems in understanding issues of consent."

All that said, Stern does come to a conclusion that we should be able to enjoy these shows and the stories they are telling — but that we have to do something in return: actually talk about what we are watching.

Hear all of what Professor Stern has to say here:

(H/T: NBC News Think)

Cover image via The CW


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