Skip To Content

    22 Times Teen Shows Romanticized, Glossed Over, Or Just Irresponsibly Handled Serious Topics

    Please cool it with the student-teacher relationships.

    by ,

    Teenagers make dumb choices. This is nothing new, and it's not surprising when it happens on teen shows.

    Fox

    But some storylines take this way too far, to the point where it feels really damaging and irresponsible to present to kids. It's totally fine to portray real, sometimes upsetting issues that teenagers face — we should talk about difficult topics! However, it's also important to handle these stories with care and consideration.

    Netflix

    There's a difference between depicting an issue and glamorizing it.

    Here are 21 teen show storylines that just totally missed the mark:

    WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

    Content Warning: Some of the following contain mentions of sexual assault, suicide, and disordered eating.

    1. First, Marley’s eating disorder being glossed over on Glee:

    Ryder tells Marley he "doesn't want to kiss a girl with puke on her breath"
    FOX

    2. Everyone thinking it was "cool" that Ryder was molested by his babysitter as a kid on Glee:

    Artie: "As in a teenage girl? Why are you ashamed of this?"
    FOX

    Is this (unfortunately) a fairly realistic reaction for teenage boys to have? Probably. But the show never called out this attitude as wrong, and that's where the problem lies.

    3. CeCe/Charlotte turning out to be trans as a “twist” and it being used to explain her evil actions on Pretty Little Liars:

    CeCe is revealed as the villain
    Freeform

    4. Bryce's "redemption" arc in Season 3 of 13 Reasons Why:

    Ani defends Bryce and says he was a "human being who was actually trying to change"
    Netflix

    13 Reasons Why handled a lot of serious issues really poorly, but this storyline was one of the worst. I get that they were trying to make the audience feel something for Bryce's death, but the whole "he was trying to change" thing just felt like a gross message to send about a character who was literally a serial rapist who had previously shown zero remorse for his actions.

    5. Tristan consistently making anti-bi remarks that were never called out or framed as wrong on Degrassi: Next Class:

    Tristan calls Miles a "manwhore" and says "Is there another name for someone who humps anything that moves?"
    Netflix

    To be clear, this kind of sentiment is unfortunately very real even within the LGBTQ community, and we would have no problems whatsoever with the show portraying that. The problem here was that, unlike Degrassi characters who expressed anti-gay or anti-trans remarks and were immediately framed as wrong, Tristan was never held accountable for anything he said or did. Having Tristan constantly invalidate Miles' identity and then portraying the relationship as amazing and romantic is a problem because it sends the message that behavior like this is just something bisexual people should put up with from their partners. Excusing it by saying the character was just insecure or jealous just doesn't cut it when we already have so little bisexual representation on TV.

    6. Nathan’s suicide attempt being glossed over on One Tree Hill:

    Peyton asks Nathan if his accident was really an accident, Nathan says he doesn't know
    The WB

    This is one of two conversations Nathan has about his possible suicide attempt. In the other, he quips that he'll check out Dr. Phil. This incident is never brought up again, because apparently he "feels different now" and that's that. 

    7. And the same happening with Cheryl in Riverdale:

    everyone screaming as a crying Cheryl falls through the ice
    The CW

    Cheryl talks to Veronica and later reveals to Toni what happened, but that's basically it. We never see her get any actual help.

    8. Age-gap romances being portrayed as romantic on One Tree Hill:

    Peyton and Pete Wentz
    The WB

    Peyton dated Pete Wentz (we still don't get this storyline!) while she was in high school, Brooke had a fling with her teacher, and Nathan's Uncle Cooper — who was almost 30 — slept with Rachel while knowing she was 17. We know Rachel initially lied to Cooper about her age, but the fact that he then slept with her again once he knew the truth really crosses the line.

    9. The eating disorder jokes on Legacies:

    girl: "I'm gonna eat you alive," Lizzie: "Why? So you can throw me up later?"
    The CW

    There were multiple jokes about eating disorders, specifically about bulimia, like this throughout Season 1.

    10. Landon kissing Hope in her sleep only an episode after Hope mentioned that “a non-consensual kiss is never an answer” when it came to her and Josie on Legacies:

    Landon kisses Hope in her sleep
    The CW

    We know this was supposed to be a nod to Sleeping Beauty, and while we think the whole trope of "kissing someone awake" is problematic in itself, our issue wasn't so much with the kiss as it was with the fact that the writers made a very clear point in the previous episode to frame such a kiss as non-consensual — but only applied that to Hope and Josie, and acted like it was totally fine when it was Hope and Landon. It felt like a huge double standard and it just shouldn't have happened.

    11. Spike's attempted rape of Buffy being used for character development on Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

    Buffy: "You tried to rape me, I don't have the words," Spike says he doesn't either but he's changed
    The WB

    Spike assaulting Buffy was clearly his impetus to get a soul — almost like he had to do it in order to grow, and Buffy's pain was the price for it. Using sexual assault as a tool for character growth just really shouldn't happen.

    12. Chuck trying to assault Jenny and Serena in the pilot and it just kind of never being brought up again on Gossip Girl:

    Chuck assaults Serena and Jenny
    The CW

    13. Audrey's comments on Aki's potential bisexuality on the new Gossip Girl:

    Aki says he can go to both parties, but Audrey says he has to choose, and later taunts him about "choosing"
    HBO Max

    Audrey's continued comments on how Aki should choose between men and women feel really outdated, and no one calls Audrey out for continuing to put Aki's sexuality down as indecisiveness. To be fair, the show does address Audrey's anti-gay comments as wrong and she apologizes for those — however, the specifically anti-bisexual aspect is never brought up. Similar to the Degrassi example mentioned earlier, even shows with lots of LGBTQ representation rarely call out harmful remarks about bisexuality and often fail to even frame such attitudes as wrong in the first place.

    14. Using a scene where police and protesters clash as the backdrop for a sexy/exciting scene on the new Gossip Girl:

    Julien and Obie run from a protest-turned-riot and kiss
    HBO Max

    The protest looks like it's devolving into a situation with police brutality. Playing sexy music during it and using it as a way to create cool lighting and smoke in an illicit kiss scene between Julien and Obie feels pretty cheap and wrong.

    15. Annie committing a hit-and-run and then being blackmailed into an abusive relationship because of it on 90210:

    Annie crying in her car after she hits a man and later kissing Jasper unwillingly
    The CW

    Annie was being abused, and we feel like that wasn't adequately addressed. And look, we know it's a TV show, but the consequences of drinking and driving and manslaughter really were not properly represented here — she gets, like, three months of house arrest and then everyone just moves on.

    16. The way domestic violence was portrayed between Jamie and Jeanette on Cruel Summer:

    Jamie and Jeanette
    Freeform

    This show actually did a really good job of handling serious topics for the most part. However, one thing that bothered us was the way the show seemed to use Jamie punching Jeannette in the pilot for shock value and then writing him very inconsistently afterward. The show initially did a good job of making it clear that domestic violence is never okay — however, they kind of messed it up when they had Jamie and Jeanette get back together in the end and portrayed it as sweet.

    17. Sue committing “sue-icide” as a joke on Glee:

    Sue fakes a suicide attempt with gummy vitamins
    FOX

    18. The way Tyler's attempted school shooting was handled on 13 Reasons Why:

    Clay jumps in front of Tyler's gun and begs him not to shoot up the dance
    Netflix

    Tony and Clay take him to school the next week like nothing's happened. Tyler needed actual help, not Clay and Tony babysitting him and BRINGING HIM TO SCHOOL the next week with the people he was about to kill.

    19. Chuck trading Blair for a hotel on Gossip Girl:

    Jack: "I told Chuck I'd take either you or the hotel, he chose to give me you"
    The CW

    And then they got back together a few episodes later.

    20. Polo watching Carla and Christian have sex without Christian's consent on Elite:

    Carla and Christian having sex
    Netflix

    21. Jackson treating Lydia abusively on Teen Wolf:

    Jackon physically intimidates Lydia and says she ruins everything
    MTV

    Jackson was emotionally and borderline physically abusive multiple times, and yet their story ended with Lydia admitting her love for him and helping save him. He never apologized for his behavior, nor was it ever properly addressed.

    22. And finally, basically every instance of a student-teacher relationship:

    Aria and Ezra on Pretty Little Liars
    Freeform / Courtesy Everett Collection

    The relationship between Ezra and Aria in Pretty Little Liars is the worst offender (they get MARRIED), but student-teacher relationships are romanticized in almost every teen drama, including Riverdale, Degrassi, Dawson's Creek, One Tree Hill, and Gossip Girl. Unless a student-teacher relationship is explicitly portrayed as predatory and not okay, there's no reason for this trope to keep popping up in teen shows.

    What teen show storylines did you find irresponsible? Tell us in the comments!

    TV and Movies

    Get all the best moments in pop culture & entertainment delivered to your inbox.

    Newsletter signup form