How the glorification of youth in cinema is ruining the teen experience

Coming of age cinema has taken over our screens and brought us laughs, tears, iconic soundtracks and performances. But is it doing more harm than good?

What makes a coming-of-age story so brilliant in cinema is the euphoria and joy it brings viewers. Although many of them tackle complex and difficult issues, there is always that final moment, where the protagonist finds the glimpse of light and no doubt there is a powerful song playing in the background. Think, Don’t You (Forget About Me) at the end of The Breakfast Club. As much as I absolutely love a coming of age story, they all have one thing in common that I think could potentially be distorting a lot of young people’s ideas of what it is to be a teenager; they glorify what it’s like to grow up.

Whether it be blow out parties, a turmoiled first relationship, a perfect (or entirely over dramatic) first time or thrilling road trips, they all seem to portray the life of a teenager as a rose tinted world where everything is heightened, dramatic and always has a happy ending. I grew up in the era of Disney Channel, which meant I was watching High School Musical (a lot), Camp Rock, Jonas, Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging, and when I got to high school and started becoming a teenager, I realised that it was nothing like I thought it would be.

These movies that I loved so much and that all centred around teenagers, made me believe that my entire teen life would be about boys, parties, making the friends I would have forever, finding myself and my passions and becoming exactly who I was meant to be. The truth of it is, for most people, being a teenager is pretty mellow, and nowhere near as exciting as the movies make it seem. I made one life long friend in my teen years, I had no exciting road trips or days skipping school with my friends, and even now in my twenties I still don’t really know who I am, nor have I figured out what I’m supposed to be doing with my time.

I understand why coming-of-age stories romanticise life the way they do, because it’s entertaining and makes for a great movie, and don’t get me wrong, I don’t want coming of age movies to change. All I’m saying is, every once in a while I’d like to see a story showing what it’s truly like to be a teenager. The intense mental changes that you go through, the overthinking and stressing about becoming an adult, being pressured into choosing a path and sticking to it, the ebbs and flows in friendships, and the reality of getting up every morning, going to school and going home.

The rise in popularity of these movies is distorting the ideas that young people have when going into their teen years. I had an expectation that was unbelievably far from reality, and I thought for many years that it was just because I was boring and uninteresting that my life wasn’t that way. When in reality, it’s because no ones really is.

Have you ever noticed that as much as you feel joyous and uplifted after watching these films, you also can’t help but feel a little sad too? That’s because you’re suddenly sucked into this world where you feel like you’re a part of an idealised and beautiful teenage experience, and when it’s over you are taken back into the reality that being a teenager isn’t all it’s cut out to be. Young minds are so impressionable and curious, that they should be able to see these coming-of-age films that we all love but also see real, authentic films that show the reality of growing up, and know which one is true.

Screen writers quite literally have young audiences in the palm of their hands, and I think that should be used to tell them something real. Young people are living in such a distorted reality of Instagram, TikTok, and a ferocious lack of privacy, and film has the opportunity to take their attention for a few hours, and instead of sucking them into an even more fake world than they’re already in, every now and again it should take them somewhere real.