The problems of using adult actors to play minors in TV

Tilly Williams discusses the questionable decision to hire adult actors for teenage roles

Tilly Williams
29th February 2020
Credit: IMDb
Across numerous popular TV shows, adult actors are used to portray high school students. Initially, this does make sense as adult actors can work far more hours and have more experience, but this also opens them up to being sexualised in the media.
Credit: IMDb, Eric McCandless/Freeform - © 2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

The fact that the actors aren’t actually minors means that directors have more creative freedom in some senses as they can be put into more risqué situations, which wouldn’t be accepted were they the age they’re portraying. For example, in shows such as Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars, student-teacher relationships are romanticised. It isn't shown as shocking or wrong, as we are seeing two adults together, which could lead to the normalization of these age gaps. These relationships should be warned against, not glorified. In Pretty Little Liars, the age gap between the actors is only 3 years. For the viewers, this relationship appears normal and less problematic than if the viewers saw a 16-year-old and a 33-year-old together. Young viewers could idealise these relationships and fail to see the problematic nature.

It forces teenagers to feel as if they must grow up faster or mature quicker

There is also the issue that the actors playing high school students are adults with hair and make-up teams behind them, normalising and unrealistic level of beauty. Teenagers see this and question why they don’t look like that. This could lead to serious image issues as it sets the bar for beauty standards to be far too high and impossible for the youth to obtain. In a way, it forces teenagers to feel as if they must grow up faster or mature quicker, so they can be like characters they’ve idolised on TV.

It tricks adolescence to normalise adult behaviour and feel a desperate urge to fit in

Issues also arise when these shows display adult themes such as heavy drinking, drug misuse, sex or violence. It further normalises these as standard behaviours for teenagers to take part in. It appears less shocking when it's 30-year-old actors but it is disturbing to watch if it was someone under the age of 18. It tricks adolescence to normalise adult behaviour and feel a desperate urge to fit in, feeling this is appropriate for their age group.

Credit: IMDb

It also encourages the sexualisation of minors, as adult women playing teenagers are subject to the male gaze, in tight-fitting clothes. The men are shown shirtless in locker rooms and the audience is supposed to enjoy the exposed actors despite the fact this would be massively inappropriate if the actors were the age they’re portraying. And once normalised in the minds of viewers, it becomes less of a stretch to start to sexualise minors in real life, since we’re already being encouraged to do so on TV.

To conclude, the rapidly increasing use of adult actors portraying high school students in the media is widely problematic and it needs to be re-evaluated. While it initially makes sense due to the fact child actors will not have the experience or the same available hours as adult actors, it’s becoming manipulated and incredibly damaging to impressionable and naive viewers.

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