Opinion: Why do we need sexualized high schoolers in media?

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Nothing says “smash-hit television” like gliding around child labor laws and producing an unachievable beauty standard for actual high schoolers.  

The process of casting actors in their 20s and 30s as high school students is nothing new in Hollywood. However, as restrictions change due to streaming and intimacy coordinators on set, viewers wonder, “How far is too far?”  

Despite the fact the actors are consenting adults, there is a lingering concern about directors putting pretend-high schoolers in hypersexual and illegal situations. 

High school is a shared experience for most individuals in America, leaving college a mostly uncharted territory for Hollywood. Directors want a story relatable and sensational for viewers to latch onto.  

HBO’s “Euphoria” is an example of this strange and erotic teenage dream. The show continues to receive criticism for its sensationalization of drug abuse, sexual assault, and lack of nuance.  

While some viewers claim it is realistic for present-day high schoolers, others disagree with that notion completely by taking to online forums warning parents and adult viewers alike. 

One reviewer with the username Luna5 on commonsensemedia.org wrote, “What you see in this show, you can’t unsee. It is a lot. Lots of porn, lots of abuse, lots of drugs, and lots of life that doesn’t feel good. I wish as a parent, life was not like this show at all.” 

Growing up, I remember TeenNick’s “Degrassi” was a cause for concern among parents of teenagers. The soap-opera formatted show contained life lessons about the hardships of growing older, and sometimes the episodes discussed teen pregnancy, sexuality, suicide and bullying. 

“Euphoria” takes those hardships, doubles them, and creates a pornographic view of real life.  

Nothing is hot and mysterious about high school that legal adult characters in college or the workplace can’t do. 

Of course, not everyone attends college. Shows outside of high school run the risk of being less relatable. However, most high schoolers can’t relate to being seventeen and doing sex work. If they do, that is not an experience that should be glorified.   

My most notable high school experiences were crying over grades and riding a bus with little air conditioning. Both were the opposite of sexy.  

I find it strange that when the “preservation” of childhood is a raging topic, the idea of teenagers is still overtly sexualized for adults to engorge themselves on. 

The constant stream of child abuse and sexual assault allegations pouring from Hollywood makes these dramatized high school stories even more questionable.  

If it’s okay to portray high schoolers sexually as long as it’s adults pretending for the camera, what occurs behind closed doors? How many child actors have come forward regarding the abuse they received on set? 

Replacing children with adults to play children does not prevent pedophilia. It just keeps the pedophiles out of trouble in the spotlight.  

Sex sells, and television has never meant to portray reality. However, it says something about consumerism when adults pretending to be teenagers in high school is hot and arousing. Where do we draw the line with the risque entertainment of modern media? 

Delaney is a senior writing and communication major with a passion for photography and design. In her freetime, she can be found playing video games or listening to music. She enjoys meeting new people in the ABAC community and telling their stories.

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