The Trouble with Teen Movies

Olivia Newman, Editor in Chief

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It’s a Saturday evening. You’re flipping through the television channels when you stumble upon the movie “She’s All That.” Or “Another Cinderella Story.” Or “Freaky Friday.” While each may have different characters, plot lines, and messages, they are all classified as teen movies, which means they share one common feature: bullying.

The bullying that occurs in these films is usually of a specific type: The football player and his buddies see the nerd with his calculator in the hallway and shove him into a locker. The cheerleaders fill the chubby girl’s locker with soda so that when she opens it, she gets drenched. The huge, bodybuilder of a senior beats up the scrawny freshman who accidentally bumped his backpack.

I don’t know if times have changed or movie writers have just forgotten what it felt like to be in high school, but in my four years of being a student, bullying has rarely been carried out in this manner. More often, it happens in whispers, through subtly closed off circles, through feigned compliments that turn into mocking giggles as soon as backs are turned. It happens over the internet: in group chats that exclude one specific person, in comments of “GORGEOUS!” under an Instagram post that the commenters definitely do not think is gorgeous. This cyberbullying is particularly prevalent in the lives of current teenagers, who have almost unlimited access to social media, and it “can have such a negative impact…[and] can do great harm to a whole peer group, or to school culture more generally.”  These more subtle types of harassment seem to be more prominent in a high school setting than physical attacks, and hurt much more.

Most teen movies fail to capture this kind of bullying accurately, and in this way contribute to an unrealistic view of high school life. Bullying can have very strong effects on teenagers, “causing depression and anxiety…disrupting [teenagers’] sleep, [and] causing gastrointestinal issues and headaches.” If movies continue to portray bullying in the wrong way, not only may these symptoms be increased as teenagers begin to feel that their own experiences are invalid, but people will not be able to recognize true bullying behaviors. Kids are taught constantly in school not to be a bystander, but even the most noble of students cannot be expected to intervene when they don’t realize that someone is being bullied. Teen movie writers need to take on the responsibility that comes with targeting the adolescent demographic, and complete research and focus groups to make sure that they are portraying one of the most common experiences in teenage life accurately. This, if nothing else, they owe to their viewers.

Works Cited

Klass, Perri. “In the Fight Against Bullying, a Glimmer of Hope.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Dec. 2017

Strickland, Ashley. “Bullying is a ‘serious public health problem,’ experts say.” CNN, CNN, 21 June. 2017

Olivia’s editorial is one of 26 runners up in the New York Times’ annual Op-Ed contest, which received nearly 10,000 entries! Please join the entire staff in congratulating Olivia on this incredible achievement.