When Teens Aren’t Teens- Inspired by The Vampire Diaries

So what I’m getting from Netflix (or is that Quixster?? what-ever) now is The Vampire Diaries. It’s one of those things I’m taking in because it’s popular and I want to know why, because it’s aimed at an audience that overlaps my target audience. It’s not a bad show, but I find it’s one that I have to make myself pay attention to a lot of the time, and of course I find myself making constant comparisons between it and Buffy.

One of the things that really struck me from season one is how eager these characters were to fall into bed with each other, and how the creators of the show didn’t seem to have any problem showing that to teens at all. I was watching this at a time when I was really gnashing my teeth trying to figure out the level of sensuality I was going to put into Heroes ‘Til Curfew. And we’re not even up to actual sex in my series, partly because I really believe that girls should save it as long as they can manage it because, face it, you’re never going to get as much foreplay again in your whole life as in that period when you’re putting off going all the way.

But since The Vampire Diaries girls are in fiction, they’ll probably always get great foreplay, so it doesn’t matter how easily they fall into bed. It was just that, like I said, I kept comparing to Buffy and remembering what a BIG DEAL it was, what a buzz there was around Buffy and Angel consummating their relationship, and this just seemed so commonplace, all these years later.

I remember that it was when I was making the transition from high school to college, around the same time that the 90210 kids were, that I really started to recognize that the actors who play TV teens are actually much older. (And yet, as you know, I was still shocked to learn how old Tom Welling really is.) Besides all the drama Shannon Daugherty always had going in the entertainment news, I can remember watching the show in the dorm and someone talking about the actual ages of some of the actors and how it kind of blew my mind a bit.

So what I’ve been thinking about lately, is that it’s one thing for older actors to play teens, but it’s a whole other thing for the characters to be running around, acting like adults. Now that I’m in season two, Elena and Stephan are going away to the lakehouse for a romantic weekend. Cool! But wait, they’re not sneaking out the window, she’s not getting her friends to cover for her with her guardian. Nope, she and Stephan grab her bags and are like, Okay, we’re headed to the lakehouse for a romantic weekend! And Aunt Jenna’s all, Okay, have a great time!

Um, what? Because I’m left sitting here on my couch going, Young lady, did you forget how old you are? High school girls don’t get to go off alone with their boyfriends for romantic weekends! You get your ass upstairs and unpack that bag right now!

So thanks, Vampire Diaries, for making me feel like someone’s really old mom. Awesome.

But WTF? BtVS was always very much grounded in where Buffy was in life. She wasn’t conveniently orphaned and given some conveniently negligent, too young, too much trying to be cool guardian. She had a mom who caused complications in her life as a superhero. She got in trouble when she had to miss school for supernatural reasons. She actually did school work and had some concern about her grades (again, because she had a parent). She was always trying to find her way, to continue on her normal path of growing up even though nothing about her life was normal. She expressed that best near the end of the series when she told Angel,

Okay, I’m cookie dough. I’m not done baking. I’m not finished becoming whoever the hell it is I’m gonna turn out to be. I make it through this, and the next thing, and the next thing, and maybe one day I turn around and realize I’m ready. I’m cookies. And then, you know, if I want someone to eat— [eyes go wide as she catches herself] or enjoy warm, delicious cookie me, then…that’s fine. That’ll be then. When I’m done.”

That was really summing up something that was so much a part of the series: Buffy baking. I don’t get that in tVD. I often don’t see that transition from child to adult playing a part in shaping the characters and their reactions to problems that come up in the show. The teens interact with the adults almost as if there’s no difference in status at all. School seems like a set and a backdrop, but not something that really matters in their plans.

I guess what I’m thinking is that, while there’s a certain amount of cool factor and wish fulfillment in having teen characters do adult things, teens really aren’t just adults with tighter skin. When you forget that, when you forget their unique challenges, you lose something.

So what do you think? Am I just annoyed because Elena’s behaving like an idiot martyr in season two and everyone’s falling all over themselves to take care of her? Or can you think of other fictions which support my theory that writing teens like adults doesn’t work so great?

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27 Comments

Filed under Superheroes, Heroism, and Romance

27 responses to “When Teens Aren’t Teens- Inspired by The Vampire Diaries

  1. I can’t think of any specific work of fiction at the moment but YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES to these thoughts. I’ve always wondered if I was really that lame as a teenager (I probably was), or if all these teens everywhere (on TV shows, in movies, in books) were acting suspiciously…not like teens. More like college-aged or older adults pretending to be teens.

  2. I agree with you completely. And yeah, I think teens are watching this and thinking it’s normal teenage behavior, and that makes me wonder if it has become that. Which makes me wonder about their parents, because I know I wouldn’t be cool with it if I were a parent of a teenager. Maybe the generation between my parents and myself just happen to be way more carefree with their parenting.

  3. “I really believe that girls should save it as long as they can manage it because, face it, you’re never going to get as much foreplay again in your whole life as in that period when you’re putting off going all the way.”

    I love you. I could comment on the rest of your post, but I’m not gonna, because that sentence right there? Gold. Using that from now on.

  4. Stacey

    I just wrote a book-long comment and it got erased. Long story short, I agree.
    Main point: Do the parents that complain about swearing, drinking, sex in YA novels let their kids watch anything on CW or ABC Family? I posit it’s because the actors are obviously older that they do.
    You rule. Have a great day!

  5. YES! I stopped watching after that infamous weekend at the lake episode. Beyond the fact that the show had totally departed from the books (which bugged me), I had decided to enjoy it for what it was. But largely the CW seems to have moved to shows where the teens are just adults against a school setting, mostly without real world adult responsibility. They don’t seem to have problems unique to being teens, don’t seem to be struggling with those on top of all the supernatural crap they have to deal with. There are no real life consequences for them, and that makes them unrelatable to most teens. I think if you’re writing about teens , you definitely need to remember to couch it in their real life terms.

  6. Yep. That’s why I stopped watching. It was like, “Okay, we know everyone’s name. It’s naked time!” And I get that teens aren’t the same teens they were ten years ago, but you can’t have them doing this stuff without consequence.

    I also think this is what the networks are looking for because of Twilight and True Blood. It seems like there’s more focus than ever on the steamy love triangle and being on a “team”. That in itself isn’t the worst story idea, but I’m sure there are better ways to do it so the steamyness matters more.

  7. Ok – A) I love your comment “I really believe that girls should save it as long as they can manage it because, face it, you’re never going to get as much foreplay again in your whole life as in that period when you’re putting off going all the way…” O.M.G. I am going to FRAME that. Seriously – wicked!
    B) I agree COMPLETELY! I had these YA/teen TV shows that are so obviously NOT teen shows because NO one in real teen life does that. I mean, we can depart a bit from the norm but heading off the lake for a romantic weekend at 17 – forget about it!
    I think like Kait said – “shows that where the teens are just adults against a school setting, mostly without real world adult responsibility.” was spot on! And it’s not cool.

  8. I love this. I almost snorted my Diet Coke over the “you’re never going to get as much foreplay again in your whole life as in that period when you’re putting off going all the way.” part. I think I’ll save this for future reference for my daughters. As a mom of 2 young girls, I totally agree. I don’t think it makes you sound old to think it’s not okay to say “have a good time on a romantic weekend with your boyfriend,” I think it makes you an adult. If one of mine tried that, she might find herself in handcuffs:)

  9. Could not agree more. I wanted to like watching the show because, like you, it’s viewership overlaps my target audience, however, if I wonder if I didn’t know they were supposed to be in high school, if I would actually see them as high school students. I think Jeremy was the most realistic character in the series and now even he has gone “uber-teen” with his suddenly shaper image. You could easily ditch the whole school back drop and have an adult series.

  10. Oddly enough, these same characters are much more teen-like in L.J. Smith’s books. (It doesn’t hurt that Smith’s vampires, like Anne Rice’s, are celibate. Blood is their sex.) I like the show, but it does irk me that these high schoolers think nothing of downing a double Scotch. Not only are these parents super-willing to let their kids out at night (despite the high rate of unsolved murders and disappearances in Mystic Falls), they don’t lock the liquor cabinet either.

    You’re completely right – these teens are not very teen-like.

  11. Those of us who watched Buffy will always compare other teen shows to it. We can’t help it…there will never be anything else like it.

    I really don’t understand why teen shows can’t portray teens as they should be. My mom would have flipped out if I had said “Oh, I’m going away with my boyfriend for the weekend.” She actually flipped out one time when I wasn’t home by 2 or 3 AM and came to my boyfriend’s house looking for me. VERY embarrassing. But that’s what real teen life is like.

  12. Okay, sorry to hear how many of you relate to what I said about foreplay. Let’s all go live in romance novels! I’m really enjoying your comments today!

    @ Stacey: My mom wouldn’t let me watch Three’s Company because it just wasn’t proper for a man to share an apartment with two women. But she let me read all kinds of questionable stuff. I can’t believe what’s on ABC Family! let alone other TV, and that, in light of that, anyone wants to complain about what’s in my books. But whatever.

    @Sarah- Jeremy’s lookin’ good.

    @Eric- LOL at the scotch and the unsolved murder rate. I know, right?

  13. Amber T

    Ha! The comment about TVD making you feel like someone’s old mom cracked me up and I completely agree. That fully-sanctioned weekend away with her boyfriend (and Aunt Jenna for that matter) about killed the show for me—and made me feel old. At this point I think I pretend they are in college and all living at home, which doesn’t quite work either but it’s slightly better. I think what keeps me watching the show is the pacing and the fact that something surprises me almost every week.

    I totally agree about ABC Family too. I even think that the Disney channel is setting up a lot of this stuff to be “normal” at an early age. The “kids” on those shows always act way older than makes sense for the characters’ ages while all of the adults are portrayed as completely ridiculous—I can’t deal. Teenagers can be smart, mature, and cool, but they aren’t adults. There’s a difference and there’s something great in that. I also agree with what Andrew in terms of steamyness—that it works best when it matters more. Maybe that’s especially true for YA novels/TV. I think your books totally get all of that right, by the way.

    I’m curious, are you saying there are people that have complained about your books?!? Seriously???? Whatevs. That’s weird.

    Not to get too tangential, but did you ever watch Veronica Mars? The first season was some of my favorite TV ever (not paranormal, but set in high school and just really good stuff).

    Obviously I could go on about this stuff forever…

    • @Amber, that’s so funny, and not tangential at all, because I was re-watching the first four episodes of Veronica Mars today. I love her so much and the show was just so smart!

      Thanks for the compliment about getting it right. People have complained about my language and I don’t know what all else. As far as I know I haven’t had any complaints about the new book yet, but I’m sure they’re coming.

      Part of what I love about writing teens is how much everything matters.

  14. Ha! Love your foreplay comment. And yea, I remember 90210 was the first time I realised how much older the actors were than the teens they were portraying. I think teens should be shown acting like teens. There’s enough adult content in adult books and films!

  15. The Vampire Diaries is frustratingly unrealistic in all the regards you pointed out. But what should we expect from the creator of Dawson’s Creek, hmm? Anybody else remember how all the adults in that show never seemed to have it together, and the teens were always giving them multi-syllabic speeches about what was wrong with them?

    I think what bothers me more about the Vampire Diaries is its complete lack of a moral center. Damon killed a whole, whole lot of people, and no one seems to be that upset about it. In the new season (possibly spoiler-y, so be warned) Stephan’s gone bad and has DISMEMBERED several women, but Elena’s still like, “Stephan, I’ll always love you.” Seriously???

    I mean, maybe I shouldn’t talk, considering the love interest in my own books, which were originally YA, I guess, before the characters grew up, is pretty much a psychotic mass murderer, but, you know, at least I keep making sure everyone realizes this is BAD, right? Like it’s one thing to have characters struggle with moral choices and live in a gray area. It’s completely another to throw any sense of right and wrong out the window and never even consider it. Disturbing, in my opinion.

    Whatever. I’ll keep watching The Vampire Diaries, as silly as it may be, because I really do enjoy the show, despite its flaws. It has moments of absolute awesome-ness. Of course, they’re generally followed by moments of complete idiocy. 🙂

    • I must confess that I’m going to have to watch season 3 because I’m totally intrigued by Tyler/Caroline.

      And yeah, it’s one thing to have characters doing bad things, to say this is bad, to have consequences, to have other characters with morality. And another to have someone run around doing bad stuff all the time and no one really cares because being the bad guy is the function of his character. Killing people and stuff…that’s just who Damon is. But we’re all just going to stand by him and give him unconditional support until he changes. Aw. And still even I like Damon better than Stephan who generally bores the crap out of me. Elena broke up with him and he was all with the quivering and I was all, OMG, are you gonna cry?? Oh for shit’s sake, suck it up. Jesus. He totally lost me there. That was not big enough for man-tears.

  16. It’s not just the Vampire Dairies that’s unrealistic; it’s Twilight too. I read that series thinking I totally liked it, until I read the Vampire Academy series. I found that Vampire Academy was more realistic because it had the main character, Rose, be more concerned about something OTHER THAN HER BOYFRIEND. She cared about politics because her best friend Lissa is involved in them and she, Rose, is Lissa’s guardian. There are a couple of other reasons why Vampire Academy trumps Twilight, but if I say anymore I think I will rant and I don’t want to do that on here. My point is, teens need books that relate to who they are as people with heart and soul. After Vampire Academy, I found the only other paranormal young adult series I liked was The Riders of The Apocalypse series by Jackie Morse Kessler. The series isn’t complete yet and I’ve only read one book, but I can tell that this series is good because it talks about something I’m passionate about: teen issues. I understand that non-paranormal YA books might not catch the eye of most teens, but writing books just to entertain them without giving them guidance to how the really world works is just plain stupid.

    • Thanks for your comment, YAWriter. We tend to not be big fans of Twilight around this blog, so you’re in good company. I read the first Vampire Academy novel and I really did enjoy the backbone and lack of wallowing self-pity in Rose’s character. I enjoy the resonance of a book that goes beyond simply telling a story and into something deeper. I hope my books achieve that.

      • Thank you so much for replying to me! I’m new to WordPress and I’m a young user, so I’m glad that I’m starting to connect with people here. I’m especially honored to be commenting on a professional YA author’s blog! I wish you the best of luck with your book series.

  17. Clare :)

    I think the main reason the CW and the screen writers do this is because in no right mind would normal and real life parents let their children do this (go away for a romantic weekend or stay out until all hours of the morning). Real life teenagers know this and live through the fiction characters. The screenwriters do this on purpose because it will attract more viewers from the target audience.

    Ok. Because I am a fan of tVD… Who would you guys pick? Stefan or Damon?

    I LOVE your books!

    • Thanks, Clare. I agree that a big reason the screenwriters do it is because the target audience goes for it. It’s wish-fulfillment. I know that I plot moments like that into my own fiction, things that the characters probably wouldn’t get away with, but because we love those moments, as readers we’ll let it go. Like sneaking out without getting caught, sneaking into each other’s bedrooms and spending the night, etc.

      Right now I’m a Damon girl. There’s little more intriguing than a bad boy. To some extent, the worse they are the better because that’s how much of a challenge it will be to tame and change them. The show does a really good job letting Damon have those moments in which we see his other side peeking out, showing us that he’s vulnerable to change if he only had the right woman’s love. Hopefully we know that, in reality, setting out to change a man–or a person in general–is unlikely to be a wise or happy-making proposition, but that’s why it’s fiction and that’s why we love it.

  18. Pingback: Does The CW Even Know What Teenagers ARE? | Kait Nolan

  19. I know this is an old post, so I hope you don’t mind my commenting.

    I could not agree more. As I said on Kait Nolan’s blog on this topic, my husband and I have dubbed The Vampire Diaries VD. The reason is that if the clap ever hit Mystic Falls, they’d all have it.

    I have been shocked by TV shows featuring young adults for a while. This season, when VD started, I seriously thought maybe Elena and the gang had graduated HS. Imagine my shock to find out they were only seniors. I can sort of justify some of the stuff we’ve seen if the kids are a month or two from graduating HS. But these kids were only juniors.

    Now I sound like somebody’s gray headed mom. LOL Good post.

  20. Having seen neither Buffy nor Vampire Diaries, I’m still going to comment. I am one of those old moms – with a tween and teen. I’ve seen this trend you in other shows and books. The school librarian and I joked about how much freedom young kids had in middle-grade literature. Perhaps my sons haven’t had a fantasy adventure where they discover a new world and defeat a super-villain because of my expectation that they go to school and I know where they are.

    So I get the fiction argument here (none of it’s real, so why not?). Personally, however, I wish our stretching the truth would aim toward getting kids to make the tougher, better choices. So I agree with you, Susan. And without seeing the tv shows, I’m betting my boys would be better off dating a Buffy-type than an Elena-type. Then again, as neither of them is a vampire (that I know of), do they stand a chance?

  21. Pingback: My Thoughts on The Vampire Diaries «

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