The Hold Pop Culture Has on Teenagers
Updated: Nov 21, 2022
Teenage years are typically times of uncertainty and confusion. This can be (up to some point) credited to adolescents’ immature prefrontal cortex, which remains undeveloped until the age of 25. Said structure works as a decision-making center, and will not be completely formed or connected to the brain's emotional response area until adult age. There, a brief psychological explanation on why teenagers tend to be more emotional rather than rational. By being so sentimental, reckless and impressionable, teens are more fragile and can be easily led by the media in following trends blindly, influenced by aspects of pop culture they are immersed in.
A prime example of said harmful influence can be seen in the 13.3% augmentation of worldwide teenage (10y-17y) suicide rates in the month that followed the release of the infamous TV series 13 Reasons Why. The same rates went 28.5% higher in America. Based on Jay Asher’s 2007 young adult book of the same title, the series follows the story of a teenage girl who leaves behind thirteen audio recordings on cassette tapes before killing herself; each one addressed to a person who influenced her decision to commit suicide. After being transformed into a show, 13RW had no control over its audience and ended up in kids’/early teens’ hands. With very graphic self-harm scenes, the show was met with strong backlash from mental health experts for portraying suicide in an inaccurate and potentially dangerous manner.
The series “Skins” (2007-2013) is also one to romanticize serious topics and characterize them in a damaging manner. It follows a group of teens from the city of Bristol, and most characters are shown to do multiple drugs (and have the time of their lives) while suffering little to no consequence. Skins also tackled alcoholism and binge drinking, as most of the characters are drunk quite often despite being underage. This type of glamourization may mislead the audience: statistically, more than 50% of high-school students try illicit drugs before the end of senior year, and 90% of the alcohol they consume is by binge drinking.
Until the age of 25, people generally lack the ability to act whilst considering long-term consequences. Pop culture segments such as entertainment may influence young populations especially when avoiding the demonstration of realistic outcomes to poorly-made decisions. This, however, has been recently perceived and movement towards change has started: the explicit self-harm scenes in “13 Reasons Why” were removed more than two years after the show aired online, and “Skins” was canceled after 7 seasons for being “too controversial”. Pop culture should, ideally, be helpful to people dealing with serious issues, but for that to be possible their representation must be made in a healthy and sensible way.