Lies We Believed About Teenagers From Movies

By Shreena Bhakta

If I could describe my childhood in just a few words, it would be Goldfish, hand-me-down clothing, and DCOMs. Now if you aren’t a part of Gen Z or you’re not a young millennial, you probably don’t know the magic behind DCOMs. Disney Channel Original Movies shaped my life as a kid. As most of the movies were about teenagers, as a kid, I thought that everything depicted in the movies — the clothes the teenagers would wear, the things they would say, where they would hang out — were completely true. Sadly, when I became a teenager, I realized that all of it was a lie.

I recently watched Geek Charming, a classic DCOM I remember watching as a kid, which follows the story of a “geeky” teenage boy creating a film about a popular girl at his school. Obviously, their worlds are just too different from one another at the beginning of the movie, however, at the end, they fall in love and yadda yadda yadda. That’s not the important part of this story, though. In the movie, the classic hang out spot after school, the cool place to be seen, was the mall. As a kid, I thought that hanging out at the mall with my friends as a teenager would be the coolest thing. In middle school, I even tried doing this to look and feel cool, before realizing that it just isn’t that fun. I never realized where it stemmed from, until re-watching this movie.

So, I asked my friends: what is one thing you believed was true about teenagers you learned from a movie? The answers brought back so much nostalgia and reminded me of my own shocking revelations I had.

My Friends' Thoughts

Cloe: I love movies especially rom coms. They were and are a nice escape and always made the world seem more black and white than it really is. But it also filled me with false simplicities and ideals that in the movie seemed unbreakable when in reality they were as fragile as eggshells. I think the biggest struggle I’ve faced because of rom-coms is the idea that relationships can be more than the male-female binary. I’m bi and think I’ve had a hard time accepting myself and seeing that romance doesn’t need to follow the same trope as Love Actually or Crazy, Stupid, Love. So although I love them and still will spend nights watching them I try to be better about not comparing myself to the chiseled abs of Zac Efron from 17 Again or beautiful faces from Silver Linings Playbook. I’m an awkward teen figuring out love and relationships in the movie that is my life.

Olivia: I thought that once you were a teenager, you would party all the time, which has personally not been my experience. I think that the particular movie was something like Mean Girls or 10 Things I Hate About You, and I think that when I was in early high school (9th grade), I kept thinking like, “Oh when I’m older, that’ll definitely be what happens,” but by the time I was in 10th grade, I fully was like, “No this is not for me, I don’t want this, and also, I don’t really think this is something a lot of people do.”

Jade: This is less an explicit lie and more akin to an overall theme that is present throughout the portrayal of teens in media, but: they always had enough money to get or do pretty much whatever they wanted. There are plenty of movies that deviate from this example, but in those cases one of the focal issues tends to be a lack of funds. Even then, they either use outlandish methods to acquire what they need or someone with money is conveniently present. One of the main examples of this that I can point out is in Gilmore Girls, the main characters are portrayed as struggling for money, yet they go out to eat at least once every day and one of the mom’s “fun quirks” is that she loves shopping. But when you yourself are living as a teenager, money is a limiting factor, dictating what you have access to. There are opportunities that you either don’t have access to or can’t participate in because of financial barriers.

Molly Z.: When I was younger (around elementary school age), I used to be really excited about the “party scene” in high school that I would see in movies or TV shows. Of course, being in elementary school, I wasn’t watching any real shows about teenagers/partying/drinking/etc., but what I saw on Disney Channel and heard from my older cousins made me envision going to absolute ragers at least once a week. Now I know this might not be the typical person’s experience, but my high school experience was definitely not filled with a lot of large or “raging” types of parties or events. I think my younger self would be surprised to realize how mundane high school typically is.

Mara: I grew up believing that in high school there were different cliques. In all of the shows I watched, there was always the popular group, nerdy group, rebellious group, and so forth. Thankfully I realized that was just a cliche, but for the longest time, I really thought that was how high school was. I often wondered what group I’d be in and hoped that I’d end up in the popular group. Now that I look back it was a toxic mindset to have. It frustrates me that teen shows in the past have glorified popularity. I wish there were more shows when I was growing up that encouraged you to be yourself. Individuality is so important in a world where there’s constant pressure to fit in.

Cami: One thing I believed from teens in movies was mostly how they looked. As a kid and even now, teens look so much older on TV than they do in real life. I personally don’t know more than 4 people that come to school with a full face of makeup, yet TV makes it seem like everyone is going to school like that. Also, a cliché about teens is that they party a lot all that time and I’ve just never experienced the party-every-week type of life. Again, I only know a handful of people that smoke or drink at least to the extent shown on TV. I guess on TV everything has to look more exciting than it really is because teen life for me is not nearly as exciting.

I’ve learned so much from the media that I’ve consumed... turns out that some of it are lies. These movies and TV shows, although a big part of my life growing up, have unrealistically defined the life of a teenager. There’s a lot that they don’t show, and it would be really cool to see those parts on the big screen, too.