I got a pimple last week. An embarrassing middle-of-the-face kind of situation. The type of blemish that would be the subject of an entire subplot on a sitcom in the early 1990s. I haven’t had a proper pubescent breakout in a few years but my recent dermatological issues seem appropriate given the fact that I’ve been spending a lot of my leisure time thinking about teenagers (no, not like that).
Unless you were one of those genetically blessed wunderkinds that peaked in high school, your teenage years were probably the most awkward period of your life. And yet, despite all the terrible realities of adolescence — the acne, the unrequited crushes, the cliquey Mean Girls — we seem completely obsessed with capturing every single moment of this unfortunate phase and putting it on television.
I hate to admit it, but I know I’m not the only 20-something who finds shows like My Super Sweet Sixteen and Teen Mom to be equal parts horrific train wreck and totally engrossing must-see TV.
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And this isn’t just an MTV phenomenon. When done well, compelling teen-centric shows like Degrassi (in all its incarnations) can transcend their target demographic and captivate a much wider, older audience. Coming-of-age kids and their misguided life choices are television gold, but they’re even better off-screen.
From Harry Potter to Twilight to Gossip Girl, more and more well-read grownups are slipping off book jackets and covertly skimming hardbacks plucked from the shelves of the Young Adult section. The Hunger Games, that dystopian world-meets-teen-angst trilogy that everyone keeps talking about, has spent over 100 consecutive weeks and counting on the New York Times bestseller list and it’s not just babysitting money keeping it there.
I know plenty of smart and successful people in their 20s and 30s who spend hours dissecting novels geared toward the 13- to 17-year-old set — devouring these addictive page-turners at rapid speed (not a difficult task when you’re reading size-16 font) and using hushed voices to postulate over the predictable love triangles.
We all deserve a break from adulthood every once in a while. Indulging in teenage pursuits, whether in sexy sci-fi fantasy lands or all-too-real reality shows, provides a nice distraction from our real-life responsibilities. However, when I find myself swooning out loud over a barely legal actor playing a teenage werewolf, I know that maybe it’s time to grow up.