The death of teendom

By Grace Hamilton, Staff Writer

With the second season of HBO’s Euphoria underway, I am once again reminded of how we killed the teenager.

Adolescence is about discovery and making mistakes, but it’s also about still trying to be a kid even while your childhood is slipping through your fingers. Yet, modern day social media and television has effectively killed the teenager.

In an ironic sense, the older shows I watch feel younger. Saved By the Bell, Degrassi, Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, Skins — the list goes on. It’s probably because the actors in these shows were actually young when they played the characters in them. Drake was 14 when he starred in Degrassi. Nicholas Hoult was 17 when he filmed Skins. Most cast members in Saved By the Bell were 15.

Now I have to watch actors in their 20s — and sometimes even in their 30s — play teenagers in high school, experiencing high school problems. And it’s just laughable.

And then it’s sad.

In the popular show Outer Banks, the character John B. was born in 2003. For reference, I was born in 2001. Supposedly, I am two years older than him, but I definitely don’t look like it. The actor, Chase Stokes, is turning 30 this year.

I don’t even care about the absurd plotlines of a lot of new shows. It’s not always fun to watch another high schooler go through the same problems you do. That’s the point of media anyway: escapism.

But these actors, and I cannot stress this enough, are not teenagers. They haven’t been teenagers in a long time. I was in high school looking at full-grown adults play someone my age and agonizing over why I didn’t look the same.

And social media has all but erased teendom. As soon as you hit puberty, you are almost immediately forced into transforming yourself into the most attractive version you can achieve. Or you just disappear.

You either adapt, or you get left behind. There isn’t really much of an option.

I’ve certainly noticed that this seems to affect girls the most. They have to dress older, look older and act older. They count down to their 18th birthday so they can start an OnlyFans. They’re abused and manipulated by grown men on the internet — a lot of male TikTok influencers are included in this — who should definitely know better.

What happened to the awkward years? What happened to the mouths full of braces, the acne, the bad posture and most importantly, still being a kid?

Maybe I’m the only one who cares, but I desperately gripped onto my childhood. I stayed young for as long as I could, because I was terrified of the alternative. I’m not arguing that growing up should be terrifying; I’m just saying that maybe we should give kids the chance to grow up.

Instead, we cut out the middle. There are children, and then young adults and then the rest. There is no middle. No transition. No teenagers. We erased them from television. We erased them from movies. We erased them from Instagram and TikTok.

We kept them out. We kept them secret. We said, “This is what it looks like. This is what you’re supposed to look like.”

We told girls to be prettier. To act older. To erase any part of them that was a child. We already do so much to use the societal expectations of girlhood to suppress their childhood. To heap responsibility and duty onto young girls. And now we’ve taken away any chance that they can use a pivotal part of their life to grow and discover themselves while being awkward and silly and young.

We killed the teenager, and nobody cares because society hates teenagers anyway. So now they’re not teenagers. They’re children, and then they’re young adults. There doesn’t get to be an in between because the world doesn’t have the time for it.

We buried the teenager. The only option is to dig it up and pray that we haven’t completely forgotten what it’s supposed to look like.