How Teen TV Helped Me Grow Up


Maybe it was Marissa Cooper’s spectacular overdose on pills and tequila in Tijuana. Or perhaps it was Degrassi Community School’s battle-of-the-bands: Ashley and Craig working out their post-breakup angst via competing songs (sample lyric: “You’re the dust in my eye/you’re the rock in my shoe/you lied, lied, lied”) and confrontational T-shirts (sample graphic: Craig’s head engulfed in flames).

More likely it was somewhere in between those two seminal television events—seminal, at least, for me—that I realized something was wrong. I had watched every episode of “The O.C.” at least twice; the pilot, more like four or five times. I had scoured the Internet (unsuccessfully) in hopes of downloading the songs in that “Degrassi” episode (though at least I can listen on YouTube) and had (successfully) used my immense press powers to snag a shirt like the girl-band wore. I had developed inappropriate (and borderline illegal) crushes on “The O.C.”’s brooding, smoking, punch-throwing Ryan and on “Degrassi”’s cheating Craig.

Worst of all, I had commandeered the TiVo I shared with my then-fiancé, in our grownup, fully-furnished condo, which we purchased with money from years of gainful employment, to obsess over the high drama of high schoolers. And that seemed particularly rich for a 28-year-old woman who had, as a teenager, spurned “Beverly Hills 90210”—a defining show for her generation, with characters who shared a birth year with her—as trifling, unrealistic, unrelatable, and immature.

At a time when my life couldn’t have been more adult, I was suddenly addicted to adolescent angst.

And in the five years since the quick onset of my teen drama addiction, it’s only gotten worse, thanks to a proliferation of youth-focused entertainment. ABC Family is setting ratings records constantly these days, most impressively with its smash “Secret Life of the American Teenager”—which ended its first season two years ago as cable’s No. 1 scripted show in adults 18-34 and only continues to grow. (Don’t get me started on the narcotic qualities of the network’s “Make It or Break It,” “Greek” and its forthcoming “Pretty Little Liars” … oh, the beach hours I lose each summer to ABC Family.) The N, home of “Degrassi,” recently rebranded itself as TeenNick to capitalize on the teen-programming explosion. The CW lives purely on the basis of teen-centric series such as “90210,” “Vampire Diaries,” “Gossip Girl,” and “Life Unexpected.”