Teens should play TV high schoolers

By Brooke Hill | Copy Editor

When watching “Riverdale,” do you find yourself wondering how Veronica Lodge or Archie Andrews can look so perfect while still in high school? Did you ever wonder how Serena Van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf could be so flawless at the age of 16, while the rest of us were constantly breaking out and worrying about bad hair days?

Well, Camila Mendes, who plays Veronica Lodge, is actually 23. KJ Apa, who plays Archie Andrews, is 20. Blake Lively and Leighton Meester were 20 and 21, respectively, when they started playing their roles on “Gossip Girl.”

And Jackson Stewart, Miley’s 16-year-old brother on “Hannah Montana?” Let me assure you, I was mind-blown when I discovered that the actor who played him was actually 29 when the show began– 29! He’s playing a role of a boy who’s practically half his age.

It’s not uncommon for high schoolers on popular TV shows to be played by actors and actresses in their 20s. This is commonly attributed to child labor laws that require teachers and guardians to be on set for actors under the age of 18. But in that case, why not get actors who are much closer in age to the roles they are playing, instead of casting actors who are not only much older chronologically but in no way look the part?

Does anyone really buy that Paul Wesley is the perennially 17-year-old Stefan on “The Vampire Diaries?” He was 27 when he began the series and looked at best as if he were a grad student.

Bethany Joy Lenz, who played 15-year-old Haley James on “One Tree Hill,” was 22 years old when the show began. It’s not healthy for 15-year-olds to watch someone who’s supposed to look and act just like them when in reality the actor is seven years older than they are. Also, Nathan and Haley’s high school marriage would’ve caused quite a bit more commotion if they actually looked like 16-year-olds getting married. Sure, the idea sounds crazy, but the actors are in their 20s, so the marriage doesn’t appear to be too early, and no one really bats an eye at the concept.

In the first season of “Gossip Girl,” Chace Crawford was 22 playing high school student Nate, while Penn Badgley was 21 while portraying Dan, both of whom appeared far too grown up. These high school characters are jetting off to Paris, living on their own and starting their own business empires. This is especially true of Ed Westwick, who was only 20 at the beginning of the series. There’s no way a real 16-year-old would have the looks, charm and conniving business abilities that Chuck Bass had. Yet none of this seems unbelievable because the actors are all in their 20s.

Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist and teen and family expert, told Teen Vogue that casting actors in their 20s can complicate an already challenging time for teens.

“It can give the message that they’re supposed to look good all the time,” she told Teen Vogue.

In their 20s, a person is more likely to have a consistent appearance, whereas an adolescent tends to change more frequently.

“Some days they’re thinner, they’re a little heavier, they have pimples, their hair is a little frizzy. It’s all ok,” Greenberg said.

But when teen idols on screen don’t share the same struggles, it can make the teen viewer feel self-conscious about their own appearance.

“That leads to all kinds of body-image and social-comparison issues,” Greenberg said. “And we know that social comparison can be a thief of joy.”

Greenberg explained that teenagers are especially vulnerable to this plight, because they believe everyone is constantly judging them.

“So when they’re looking at models of teens on TV, they’re absolutely engaging in comparison,” Greenberg said. “Very little is lost on teenagers.”

So, the next time you’re watching your favorite TV show set in high school and wonder why the characters seem to look nothing like you did when you were that age, it’s probably because they’re years older than their character. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you, the casting directors are.

Brooke Hill is a sophomore journalism and English double major from Garland.