The depiction of teenagers on TV has drastically changed in the past 15 or so years. In the 1980s and 1990s, pre-teen and adolescent girls had television role models like Blossom Rousseau and Donna Jo (DJ) Tanner from the shows Blossom and Full House, respectively. Today, teenage girls are exposed to Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus. Blossom and DJ were both driven, intelligent characters with strong moral guidelines. Knowledge of their lives behind their characters wasn’t really there. The saavy pre-teen could probably have figured out that Candace Cameron (who played DJ on Full House) was the younger sister of teen heartthrob (and star of another popular sitcom, Growing Pains) Kirk Cameron, but the obsession with celebrity life definitely did not exist at the time.
Now, all any internet-saavy pre-teen (is there any other kind?) has to do is go online to learn about Lindsay or Miley’s most recent trip to a club, drug experimentation, or inappropriate tryst with a much-older man. These women are not celebrated for their integrity and intelligence, as Blossom and DJ were (remember the episode where Blossom was heartbroken that her low SAT scores would keep from going to Stanford?), but instead for their looks, decreasing weight, and various scandalous exploits.
The argument could of course be made that DJ Tanner and Blossom Rousseau are characters and Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus are real people (neither of whom has probably even taken the PSAT, let alone any more difficult standardized test), but a close examination of the actresses behind those characters shows women infinitely more suitable for being role models than Miley or Lindsay.
Mayim Bialik, who played Blossom, earned a PhD in Neursocience from UCLA, and Candace Cameron, guided by a strong Christian faith, married and had children. They managed to transition from child stars to functional, happy adults, something no one seems to be expecting to happen to Lindsay or Miley.
It’s not so upsetting that these young and privileged women are leading such ridiculous lives, but it’s worrisome to think of what kind of message they are sending to young girls who look up to them and love their music and movies. The culture is such that the public seem to have access to celebrities’ every move, and if these girls’ every moves consist of going to clubs, taking drugs, and gallivanting with a revolving door of inappropriate men instead of reading Of Mice and Men for their upcoming English test, going to soccer practice, and planning for college and their futures, it’s likely to influence the way some young girls view their current and future lives.
Finding intelligent, responsible, and motivated teen role models might be a challenge, and they definitely don’t all have to have to PhDs in Neuroscience to be great role models (although, seriously, Blossom has a PhD in Neuroscience from UCLA! How cool is that?), but something has to change, and soon.