Why Adults Shouldn’t Portray Teenagers on TV

What unrealistic expectations are we putting on our teenagers through entertainment?


By: Laila Ali

Seeing adults playing your favorite teen characters in TV shows and movies isn’t new. In fact, it dates back years and years: 23 year old Michael Schoeffling playing an 18 year old Jake Ryan in 16 Candles, 25 year old Rachel McAdams playing a 16 year old Regina George in Mean Girls, 23 year old Luke Perry playing a 16 year old Dylan McKay in Beverly Hills 90210, and the list goes on.

For one, the reason behind this odd choice of casting is child labor laws. In California, minors cannot work for more than five consecutive days, not to mention that they have to go to school, which cuts even more into filming time. 

Body image issues are one huge problem that arises from this type of casting. Seeing other “kids” who are supposed to be the same age as you having unrealistic teen body proportions can lead to low self confidence. Amanda F. Suplee of the Loma Linda School of Behavioral Health revealed that extensive exposure to “thin images in the media” is often associated with eating disorders and body dissatisfaction. Also, adult casting helps fuel the oversexualization of young teenagers. In Gossip Girl, Riverdale, 13 Reasons Why and Pretty Little Liars, all of the characters are high school students, and all of them are sexually active, which is highly inappropriate and also adds on to that sort of pressure on real teens. 

There are some exceptions to this adult casting rule, some adults actually do look like adolescents, Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Maze Runner, Tom Holland in Spiderman and Ralph Macchio in the Karate Kid. Those three may have been in their 20’s, but they really do pass off as teenagers because of their mannerisms and appearance. 

It’s also important to note that not all teen shows follow this “adult casting” trend. Stranger Things, Skins, Saved by the Bell and the most important one, Degrassi: The Next Generation. Degrassi’s producer Linda Schuyler explained the “age casting rule,” which meant that actors had to be the same age as the characters that they were portraying. This helped keep the show from aging and becoming less appealing, it’s easier to keep viewers hooked if they are able to relate to the characters on the show.