23 Teen Drama Storylines I Saw No Problem With When I Was 15, But Now I Find Super Irresponsible

·13 min read

Hi, y'all! I'm Hannah, and I grew up obsessed with teen dramas!

me dressed as Blair Waldorf at age 15

I watched...well, I was going to list the shows, but then I realized it was basically all of them.

Hannah Marder / Facebook

It's still fun to go back and rewatch my faves — but there are a lot of things that really don't sit well with me now that I'm an adult.

NBC

Here are 23 things from teen dramas that now seem really messed up to me:

1.Verbally and physically abusive boyfriends and toxic relationships being portrayed as romantic:

MTV

As a teenager, I absolutely WORSHIPPED Chuck and Blair from Gossip Girl, and I wasn't the only one. Presenting abusive, creepy, and toxic behavior as romantic is so damaging to teenagers, and it's time to just give it up. Blair ending up with Chuck on Gossip Girl and Lydia saying she still loved Jackson on Teen Wolf were both so bad, but even toxic couples like Damon and Elena on The Vampire Diaries reinforced some damaging ideas about love.

2.And stalking and obsession being portrayed the same way:

The CW

On The Vampire Diaries, Stefan literally admitted to following Elena around so he could learn everything about her, and Damon snuck into her bedroom at night. But Serena calling Dan’s incessant stalking and invasion of her privacy a “love letter” on Gossip Girl really took the cake for me. Although Ezra getting close to Aria, his 16-year-old student, to write a book about Alison on Pretty Little Liars is a close second.

3.Attempted assault scenes being portrayed as a turning point that spurs growth:

Spike after attempting to assault Buffy

This has got to be the worst trope. Characters like Spike from Buffy or Chuck from Gossip Girl hit their low point when they attempt to assault an old flame who has rebuffed them. Both Blair and Buffy end up dating them again, and their "love story" continues. I can't decide which is worse: Buffy, which was extremely explicit in saying that Spike tried to rape Buffy but still brushed over it, or Gossip Girl, which pretended that Chuck had done almost nothing wrong. I'm not saying this doesn't happen, but presenting these stories as love stories is super damaging and normalizes domestic abuse and assault.

Cw Network / ©CW Network/Courtesy Everett Collection

4.Or literally just not a big deal:

Vicky telling Tyler she said no and that he's hurting her on The Vampire Diaries

Chuck attempts to assault both Serena and Jenny in the Gossip Girl pilot alone. Tyler tries to assault Vicky in the pilot of The Vampire Diaries, and in the same show, Damon kisses Elena even as she tells him to stop, then kills her brother when she pushes him away. All three characters remain protagonists, and we rarely hear about their attempted assaults again (except for brief mentions that serve the male character's arc or growth).

The CW

5.A lot of times, teen dramas also imply that there wasn't consent and it's played for humor or stated casually:

Quinn tells Puck "I had sex with you because you got me drunk on wine coolers and I felt fat that day"

Teen shows have a lot of drunken hookups, and consent isn't always clear — especially when one character is a lot drunker than the other. This often ends up being framed as a "mistake" on the part of the woman rather than potential assault on the part of the man.

Fox

6.Or they'll have a full-on relationship where one party is too young to give consent:

Freeform

I'm not sure why teen shows still find this "edgy" (looking at you, Riverdale). It wasn't when Pacey slept with his teacher in Dawon's Creek, and it's not now, either. It's creepy and gross, and the actors playing 16-year-olds sleeping with their teachers are never ACTUALLY 16. That makes these relationships look like they're between two consenting adults and obscures the true creepiness. If Lucy Hale had been an actual 16-year-old, seeing her with Ezra on Pretty Little Liars would've been a lot more disturbing.

7.Or they'll romanticize situations where there's a serious power imbalance in the relationship:

Tripp and Serena on Gossip Girl

Tripp and Serena on Gossip Girl were problematic, but the One Tree Hill example pictured above was particularly bad. Alice was super-abusive toward Mouth, and then Skills suggested it might be because she had feelings for him, so Mouth kissed her out of the blue. Then it turns out Skills was right and they started sleeping together. I'm not saying these things never happen, but there's just such an inherent power structure in the boss-employee relationship, and it makes these examples just gross. The idea that people are looking to their employees for sexual partners is disturbing.

Cw Network / ©CW Network/Courtesy Everett Collection, The CW

8.Moving on...let's talk about queer-baiting:

Veronica and Betty kissing on Riverdale, Derek pushing Stiles up against a locker on Teen Wolf

Veronica and Betty's kiss on Riverdale was 100% unnecessary. It was literally just to give viewers something to GIF, and to tease them with a relationship that would never happen. And Teen Wolf played up Stiles and Derek's relationship so much because the viewers loved it, but never took the logical step of verbally acknowledging any sort of attraction between them because that could turn off some viewers. Either don't make the relationships sexually charged or just put them together!

The CW / MTV

9.And the only actual queer relationships being toxic:

Freeform

Adam literally bullied Eric on Sex Education and later was ashamed to be with him. Paige tried to drown Emily for swim team–related reasons on Pretty Little Liars and then they DATED for most of the show. Kurt and Blaine became so toxic, but Glee presented them as their token gay couple. Queer representation is great, but it feels like there are very rarely any positive couples to root for, and that reinforces the idea that queer couples are wrong or don't work.

10.And female characters having a relationship with a girl, then their sexuality never being addressed again:

Adrianna kissing Gia on 90210 and Marissa kissing Alex on The O.C.

I really loved both Adrianna and Gia on 90210 and Marissa and Alex on The O.C., and both were cut too short. That's fine — not every relationship needs to last forever. But having these relationships never mentioned again made it feel like Adrianna and Marissa were just going through a "phase." The shows acted like they were finally going to give some great pansexual or bisexual representation, and then they completely backed away and pretended it never happened. Even though these were actual queer relationships, it still felt like a form of queer-baiting to me.

The CW / Fox

11.And sexuality overall being presented as super rigid.

Kurt saying "Bisexual's a term that gay guys in high school use when they want to hold hands with girls and feel like a normal person for a change"

Willow being gay and not bisexual in Buffy is absolutely valid, and many people do realize they're gay even after having strong relationships with members of the opposite sex. But the way they always said she was "gay now" or "newly gay" made it clear that they viewed it as a shift or even a choice, and it also felt like they ignored even the possibility of sexual fluidity or bisexuality. Also, there are so many problematic comments in Degrassi, Glee, and Faking It about bisexuality, and I can't even think of a teen drama that addresses pansexuality, asexuality, or any other sexualities other than 100% gay or 100% straight without it being some kind of insult.

Fox

12.Queer characters dying for absolutely no reason, often just when their relationship with a same-sex character had started (aka #BuryYourGays):

The CW

I've talked a lot about how teen dramas do queer couples dirty, but the #BuryYourGays trope is the absolute worst example of this. Queer couples (often fan favorites) often end with one or both members dying — think Clarke and Lexa from The 100, Nora and Mary Louise from The Vampire Diaries, Willow and Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Many times, the death feels unnecessary to the plot, or occurs right after some sort of declaration of love or implied sex scene (or even because of that scene), making the death feel especially connected to being queer. Tara dies right after having sex with Willow, literally a day after they've reconciled, and only because she's in Willow's room. Lexa dies taking a bullet for Clarke. Mary Louise dies for Nora. Supernatural — not a teen show, but a CW show — is probably the worst offender, with Castiel getting dragged to super-hell right after admitting his love for Dean. It's almost as if queer characters are expendable or destined to be tragic, or that the show doesn't actually know how to write a queer couple.

13.The male protagonist being depicted as morally superior, when they’re really just as bad as everyone else:

Clay in 13 Reasons Why

God, Clay really started to piss me off in later seasons of 13 Reasons Why. And in The Vampire Diaries, Stefan acted like he was the good brother, when in reality he’d killed hundreds of people, likely more than Damon. And don't even get me STARTED on Lucas Scott from One Tree Hill. Boy was a serial cheater and pretended he was so wise, when he was actually calling a different girl "the one" every week. These characters exist to be the moral compass of their shows and teach us lessons, which means that when they do bad things, the show seems to present them as "right" or "okay." Even when they're definitely not. This honestly just reinforces the whole "Nice Guy" persona and the idea that men deserve more acceptance/forgiveness for their bad behavior than women do.

David Moir / Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection, The WB/ Courtesy Everett Collection, Alan Markfield / CW / Courtesy: Everett Collection, Dean Buscher / The CW / courtesy Everett Collection

14.Everyone getting into Ivy League schools:

The CW

NO ONE is a shoo-in for Harvard. It always pisses me off when characters who are never shown studying, and are involved in maybe one school club, get into schools like Yale. Also, there are more schools than just the Ivies, and a ton of people don't go to college. Stop setting unrealistic expectations!

15.And, actually, going to college at all:

The WB

Let's be real — do we really even want to see these characters go to college? Besides, it's far from the only option after high school, and many times a lot of the issues around student debt and financial aid are ignored. Can we have more characters that don't go to college, please?

16.And then having careers RIGHT out of college, or even before it's over:

Brooke at her store in One Tree Hill

Bonus points if they started their company/book/career in high school, like Brooke and Lucas from One Tree Hill. It often takes people a while to get a job, ESPECIALLY their dream job. Maybe it's because a lot of the characters are rich and have connections, but still: A 22-year-old is much more likely to be working a service job than being CEO of a business, a famous novelist, or a magazine editor-in-chief.

Fred Norris/ The CW / Courtesy Everett Collection, Giovanni Rufino/CW Network / courtesy Everett Collection, The CW

17.Characters always ending up with their high school sweetheart:

Adrianna cuddling up to Navid on 90210

Does this actually happen? Of course it does! But does it happen as often as teen dramas depict? No!!! Teen dramas make you feel like if you didn't fall madly in love in high school, you're just never going to find love. Or that your toxic high school relationship was actually the most romantic pairing you'll ever experience. Let the characters branch out for once!

Scott Humbert/The CW Network / courtesy Everett Collection, Fred Norris/ The CW / Courtesy Everett Collection

18.Mental health facilities being depicted as dangerous, creepy places with evil doctors:

Lydia in Eichen House in Teen Wolf

Look, I get it. Creepy mental hospitals run by evil doctors (like Eichen House on Teen Wolf or Radley on Pretty Little Liars) make fun storylines! But only having these, and not good hospitals and doctors, perpetuates ugly stereotypes about mental health facilities that could prevent teenagers from seeking help. Effy's example was particularly bad because Skins was just a show about normal teenagers, and her psychiatrist ended up being evil and killing her boyfriend. We just...don't need that.

MTV, Freeform, E4

19.A suicide-related storyline for shock value:

Nathan about to crash his racecar in One Tree Hill, Chuck about to jump off a building in Gossip Girl, and Cheryl about to drown herself in Riverdale

I am 100% here for a mental health storyline that's done well. Teenagers absolutely need to see depression and other mental illnesses depicted. BUT, so often we see a despondent (usually male, though Cheryl from Riverdale is a good female example) character attempt suicide (like Nathan on One Tree Hill) or threaten to attempt suicide (like Chuck on Gossip Girl). They're saved by a good friend or girlfriend, and then IT IS LITERALLY NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN. We never see them getting help.

The WB / The CW

20.And along the same lines, unnecessarily graphic sexual assault, self-harm, and suicide attempts:

Hannah right before Bryce rapes her in the hot tub in 13 Reasons Why, Alex after she slits her wrists in One Tree Hill, and Tyler right before Monty sexually assaults him in 13 Reasons Why

I obviously didn't include the actual triggering parts of the above scenes (that would sort of defeat the point of me calling them out), but the screenshots are from the scenes I'm referring to. From the graphic sexual assaults of Hannah, Jessica, and Tyler on 13 Reasons Why to Alex's graphic suicide attempt on One Tree Hill, teen TV shows often would rather show something for shock value than be mindful of their viewers who may have actually experienced these things.

Netflix / The CW

21.Suicide attempts and self-harm for supernatural reasons rather than mental illness:

Scott about to blow himself up on Teen Wolf, Elena about to let herself burn in the sun on The Vampire Diaries, and Caroline cutting herself because she's compelled on The Vampire Diaries

I feel like shows do this to avoid the problem I just brought up...aka so they can use a suicide attempt or self-harm for shock value without having to deal with the repercussions of a character with mental illness. It's super triggering and inappropriate, and even further glamorizes self-harm and suicide.

MTV / The CW

22.And just in general, mental health storylines only lasting briefly or for drama's sake:

Freeform

Pretty Little Liars was just straight-up offensive about mental health. Mona's mental health was handled very poorly, and Spencer was just brushed over after a couple episodes. The PTSD the characters experienced after the dollhouse only seemed to last a few episodes. It's not the only offender, though — remember when Lydia kissed Stiles in Teen Wolf to stop his panic attack and it was this big romantic moment? Also, how many teen shows can you remember that actually used terms like depression or schizophrenia or PTSD, and how many presented therapy in a favorable light, if at all?

23.And finally, a happy ending meaning kids and marriage:

Hanna reveals she's pregnant and Aria says her and Ezra are adopting

Why does every teen drama feel the need to end this way? Remember the Pretty Little Liars finale, which shoehorned in a storyline about Aria's infertility in the series finale and then ended the show saying that she and Ezra had decided to adopt, while also making Hanna pregnant and having Emily and Ali raising the twins? Gossip Girl was also similar. While we all appreciate a happy ending, I wish they were a bit more diverse than "and then they all got married and had kids!" That's not the end goal for a lot of people, and that's okay!

Freeform

Now, this isn't all to say that teen dramas need to always be realistic, or only depict things in healthy ways.

Netflix

But teenagers can be really impressionable, and I do think that teen dramas should be more mindful of some of the things they are glamorizing or normalizing.

What teen drama tropes or aspect did you not mind as a kid, but find pretty messed up now? Let us know in the comments!