10 Teen Tropes That Actually Work

Teen cinema and television have long been disregarded as frivolous and unserious, and all teen tropes have been questioned over and over. However, it is amply clear that stories of young people, their school lives, their romances, and everything in between are essential — both for teens as well as older generations looking to relive their glory days.

The coming-of-age experience is a universal one, which is why these movies and shows, like Mean Girls and Glee, are full of formulae and truisms that overlap with each other. Despite the bad rap that teen cinema gets, it actually has many tropes that carry positive messages and honest truths about that stage of life. It also helps that they are fun to watch.

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10 The Redemption of a Mean Character

Rachel McAdams as Regina George in Mean Girls

Movie mean girls have often been looked down on, but their characters can be catty, silly, and also have wonderful redemption arcs. It’s no secret that teens can be awful to each other, whether it is because of their personalities or hormones. Seeing these initially unkind and inconsiderate characters learn from their actions and attempt to improve makes for a pleasant watch.

Sharpay Evans from High School Musical is an excellent example of how a disagreeable character can change throughout high school and actually wish well upon those they hate, like Gabriella. The ultimate mean girl, Regina George of Mean Girls, also had a redemption arc after her accident, where she tried to practice kindness with her peers. It sends out a hopeful message, especially to younger audiences.

9 Friends Like Family

Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger standing at the door of the Hogwarts Express

In an age where found families and blended families play crucial roles in people’s lives, it’s important to note that teen movies have represented these since the start. Young people tend to depend on their friends to solve big crises and get appropriate support in teen movies, even when they have loving family members. This trope is even more heartwarming when a character does not have a biological family, or at least an involved one.

Movies such as The Perks Of Being A Wallflower depict beautiful relationships between Charlie and his new friends, Sam and Patrick, who help him overcome many of his mental health struggles by just being in his life. Harry Potter may be a fantasy movie series, but the bond between Harry, Ron, and Hermione is truly special and goes beyond blood ties.

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8 Teens Exploring Their Sexuality

The girls of the fight club in Bottoms stand together in the gym

High school romance movies are plenty and not as vacuous as people would believe. Adolescence is a time of exploration and fascination, especially when it comes to sexuality. Teen cinema that depicts young people exploring their sexualities and preferences provides a positive framework for young viewers to look up to.

Movies like Bottoms and Love, Simon represent the LGBTQ+ community, which is important for teens as they should feel seen. Even movies with heterosexual relationships, like Twilight weren’t afraid to depict desire and curiosity, which makes these movies even more likable.

7 The Jock Finding Other Interests

Zac Efron spins a ball on his finger in High School Musical

Social cliques and hierarchies can be some of the most annoying high school occurrences, and many teen movies tend to perpetuate them. This is why it’s refreshing when stories like High School Musical and even the television show Glee had male protagonists who broke out of limiting stereotypes and followed their dreams.

Troy Bolton was a jock through and through, but it was heartening to see him pursue singing and be a part of the school musical despite the social pressures. Similarly, Finn Hudson also dismissed the expectations that other high schoolers had of him and became a part of the Glee Club in school.

6 Coming of Age

Cher, Tai, and Dionne pose in a Clueless poster.

Coming of age can mean different things for different people, and fortunately, there are enough teen movies that depict all the highs and lows of adolescence. Whether it is finding love, discovering one’s identity, or even just learning a valuable life lesson, coming of age is a trope that will always be beloved in teen cinema.

In Clueless, Cher Horowitz reached an epiphany about her role meddling in other people’s lives, while 10 Things I Hate About You saw Kat find love and softness belatedly. Conversely, Lady Bird saw a more realistic journey of self-realization that had highs and lows. Maturing and finding themselves were different in all of these movies, and all of these narratives were different but moving at the same time.

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5 High School Is Tough

Jodi and Dunkleman walking together in Tall Girl 2

Romanticizing high school can work for many movies, but a realistic representation of school life is much more relatable. The truth is that being in school is hard, and very few people have a seamlessly fun experience. With all the changes that youngsters have to deal with, they also have to put up with academic and peer pressure, among other issues.

Kayla, in Eighth Grade, had to persevere through tough times at school, which was what made the movie so much more genuine. Even Netflix’s Tall Girl, which was an airbrushed scholastic environment, also dealt with the kind of insecurities and bullying kids regularly face for the smallest things.

4 Socially Aware Teenagers

Vivian holds up an issue of her zine in Moxie.
Moxie. Hadley Robinson as Vivian in Moxie. Cr /NETFLIX © 2020

There was a time when socially aware teenagers were painted to be weird in teen rom-coms. This was quite common in Eighties teen movies especially, but the trend has petered out. In more recent films, it is acceptable and even preferable for teenagers to be aware of social, political, and economic issues and raise their voices against injustice.

There have been entire movies like Moxie that revolve around young protagonists taking a stand against the system. Sick of the humiliation of girls in her school, Vivian launched a zine that amplified their voices and started a feminist movement with her fellow students. A teen comedy tempered with social awareness is never a bad thing.

3 Parents Who Are Involved and Friendly

Emma Stone in Easy A

The involved and invested family member is no longer considered annoying. Having parents and siblings who truly care about the protagonist is heartwarming to watch, especially regarding careers, sexuality, and even just choices teens make in school.

Films like Easy A saw Olive Penderghast ruin her reputation in school to help others, change her wardrobe completely to lean into the critique about her, and then suffer the consequences of her actions. She was able to go through these milestones in her life because her parents never forcefully tried to put her on another path. They truly supported her in all of her decisions, allowing her to make her own choices and make her dreams come true.

RELATED: 10 Great Teen Movies That Redefined The Genre

2 Casting Real Teens

Elsie Fisher walking the halls in Eighth Grade

A casting decision that most film and showrunners take to date is picking older and uncannily beautiful adults to play teenagers in movies. These years are awkward and certainly don’t guarantee physical perfection, and seeing perfect faces and bodies in teen movies can be discouraging. This is why it is so important for actual teens to play teens in all their flawed glory.

Eighth Grade actually cast kids from the eighth grade; Austin Abrams and Justice Smith were in their late teens in Paper Towns, and Hilary Duff was 16 years old when she acted in A Cinderella Story. These characters looked and sounded like actual adolescents, which enhanced the movie and made for a better watch.

1 Different Academic Trajectories for Everyone

Drea and her friends sit together by a fountain in Do Revenge.

An Ivy League university or even college at all, is not the only option for teenagers to follow when they’re through with school. Thankfully, both movies and TV represent new and extraordinary paths for their protagonists, and not all of them involve Columbia or Stanford University.

In Netflix’s iconic Do Revenge, Drea nursed ambitions for Yale that were put in jeopardy by her ex-boyfriend and fake friends. However, even when she got her spot at Yale back, she chose to forgo Yale for other dreams. Never Have I Ever was also lauded for Paxton’s character arc, where he took time off from college to teach and then went back to do another course in education, thus charting his own path for the future.

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