I grew up loving Degrassi: The Next Generation. As a teenager, I felt as if the show talked about a lot of things that happened in high schools—but it didn’t actually depict my life.
This new Degrassi: Next Class is different, though—they even said on Twitter, “If you’re a teen, this is your life.” The episodes premiered January 15 on Netflix.
The Canadian teen drama Degrassi has been around for most of the last four decades, never failing to take a topic and look at it from a current cultural perspective. One of the series’ directors, Stefan Brogren, said of the series: “The drugs have changed, but the problems are still the same.” The show uses some of the classic high school storylines—fitting in, dealing with pressure, and family relationships—but it also dares to talk about the things we often refuse to address.
Shows like Degrassi can give youth workers a pretty accurate look into the lives of teens. Although an average teen may not have personally experienced every storyline of the show, their access to social media and the news means they’ve certainly been exposed to these situations. Because of this, I’m thankful that shows such as Degrassi aren’t afraid to talk about these issues. Their motto is “If they’re talking about it in the hallways in the schools around the nation, we need to be talking about it on the air.”
While binge-watching season one of the show on a Saturday evening, I discovered that Degrassi affirmed these things about teenagers today:
- Teens have the same body issues that have always been around, but teens can now edit their photos to hide their perceived flaws. But don’t worry, they still resort to the same things we did: stuffing their pants/shirts.
- Cyberbullying has evolved: now teens can leak one another’s addresses online. In one episode, one teen called the police and said another was holding people hostage in his house.
- Teens are playing games that they don’t realize sexualize women and make them villains to beat.
- Teens aren’t discussing sex before they have it, and they’re not talking about what consent looks like. In one episode, a teen in a relationship assumed that because he and his girlfriend had sex once, he was entitled to it again.
- Teens who are sexually active are afraid to get checked by a doctor when they suspect they may have an STI, but they’re not afraid to utilize online web encyclopedias to self-diagnose.
- There are so many different types of social media that even teens have a tough time keeping up. “Did you check Hastygram DMs? FaceRange? Email? Wait . . . isn’t he in grade ten? OomfChat.”
- We have an especially anxious and high-performing generation of teenagers who see self-medication with prescription anxiety pills as low-risk.
- Teens meet others online and “fall for them” through messaging.
- Masturbation isn’t just a thing that males do. Females are also exploring their bodies, and it’s not as taboo a subject anymore.
- Feminism isn’t just about equal opportunity—it’s also about considering the needs of a female versus those of a male and how to make that equal.
- Teens “catfish” each other, meaning they create false profiles to get reactions, gossip, and bully one another.
- Even with all this going on, teenagers still experience the same problems we did in the past: terminal illness, abusive parents, hit lists, friends dating one another’s crushes, etc.
As a youth worker, you may encounter any or all of these scenarios with students. I’ve found that it’s easy to be judgmental of students, but shows like Degrassi help adults access empathy that allows them to understand what students are going through as they make decisions.
What are some things that television is teaching you about teenagers?
HEATHER is a Junior High Director in Indianapolis, working with a talented and diverse team of staff and volunteers. Heather has the privilege of writing on various youth ministry platforms across the interwebs, but you can find her blogging about her life in ministry over at HEATHERLEACAMPBELL.ME.