Some of the most popular movies and TV shows of all time have been set in high schools. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Clueless, Mean Girls, Glee and Pretty Little Liars all center around high schools students. Graduates love these shows because it brings them back to their glory days, and current students love them because they're relatable to their own situation.
Fictional high schools might be relatable, but they're far from realistic. The picture-perfect celebrities portraying teens seem to spend their afternoons hanging out instead of doing homework. They don't worry about getting enough sleep at night, breaking out from stress, or when they're getting their braces off. They're graceful and confident instead of awkward and anxious. But some of the biggest contradictions between movie and TV high schools and real high schools are these eight concepts:
Many high school based films and shows costume their characters inaccurately. Instead of dressing students in normal school clothes, boys on athletic teams wear their letter jackets throughout the halls, and cheerleaders wear their uniforms to class. Wearing a letter jacket indoors is ridiculous - Who wears a wool coat inside a heated building? And, conversely, wouldn't cheerleaders be cold wearing short skirts and sleeveless tops in the winter?
Glee is the number one culprit of this high school error. McKinley High's "Cheerios" wear their short-skirted uniforms and bouncy ponytails to school every day, and the football team never takes off their letter jackets. In a real high school, however, the cheer squad would only wear their uniform during a performance and jackets are only worn outdoors. Even on a spirit day, cheerleaders might wear bows on their hair, marching t-shirts, or school colors, but never their uniform. Besides being school property and worrying about damages, most cheer uniforms would be against the school dress code, which leads us to out next high school film error...
Despite Mean Girls supposedly taking place at a public school, the only dress code Regina George and her friends had to follow was "on Wednesdays we wear pink." However, most schools have a strict dress code, so students' outfits don't distract from academics. Some of the rules we've seen most violated in high school movies and TV shows include skirts shorter than fingertip length, open-toed shoes, hats, tank tops and crop tops. In a real school, the students would undoubtedly be sent to the office and told to cover up a little bit more.
In every high school TV show, at least one teenage girl finds herself pregnant. In Glee it was Quinn; in Degrassi it was Manny, Jenna, and Mia; and in The Secret Life of the American Teenager it was Amy and later, Adrian. Although teenage pregnancies certainly exist, they're way overdone as a plot point in high school shows.
According to CBS News, pregnancy rates for teens were at 3 percent in 2010. However, when you factor in how many students will have an abortion, miscarry, or drop out of school, you're likely to see less than one person in your class carrying a pregnancy to term. Maybe TV shows and movies should find a more relatable issue to center their stories around in the future.
In the classic high school rom-com, Clueless, Cher plans out her outfit, pours her dad orange juice, picks up her friends and hangs out on campus all before the first bell of the day rings. As if! Although movies and TV shows often show students lounging around with their family, spending time with friends and eating a full breakfast before school, the truth is most students go to school so early, it's sometimes still dark outside when they leave.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of high schools begin first period before 8:30 a.m., with some starting as early as 7:00. With teens having to catch the school bus at least 30 minutes before first bell, there's a good chance their parents won't even be out of bed when they leave, much less up and making them a pancake breakfast.
In most high school movies, all the students are divided into incredibly specific cliques. In Mean Girls, for example, Cady's friends map out the whole cafeteria by groups like the "jocks," "cool Asians," "burnouts" and "preps." In another teen flick, High School Musical, the main characters are from different cliques - Troy is a basketball player and Gabriella is a math nerd. Consequently, when they become a couple, it's so shocking that the whole school is up in arms, even breaking out into song and dance in the cafeteria telling them to "stick to the status quo."
In real schools, however, the lines are way more blurred. It's common for students to spend the most time with those who are in their classes and extracurricular activities, but there's no drawn out hierarchy or rules about who can talk to who. Some "exclusive" cliques may form, but they don't make up the majority of high school friendships.
In movies and TV, parents seem to go out of town all the time, leaving their teenage children to throw huge house parties with hundreds of guests and endless booze. High school films like, Mean Girls, Clueless, 21 Jump Street, and 10 Things I Hate About You all feature parties like these that give characters a chance to let loose, hook up and be rebellious.
For an actual high school student, however, if the lucky combination of their parents leaving town and their 21-year-old sibling buying them a case of beer do occur, which is rare in the first place, the chance of their get together turning into a huge rager hardly ever happens. Teens are more likely to spend their Friday nights at the movie theater or at a football game, rather than partying.
Less than half of high school students both have their drivers license and a vehicle to use, and yet, students on TV and in movies are able to go everywhere they please. When the sophomores on Glee went to their favorite restaurant together, for example, they all somehow got there from their house without a ride. High schoolers in the city might be able to take a bus to various destination, but in suburbia, you pretty much need a car to get anywhere. In another example, in Clueless, Cher fails her drivers test and then goes shopping at the mall by herself to feel better. But how did she get to the mall and back without her license? Movies and TV shows seem to always just let that discrepancy slide.
Most high school students range between ages 14 and 18, but the ones in the TV and movies appear to be much older because the actors usually are. In the classic film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, for example, Alan Ruck, who played Cameron, was actually 30 years old. In the cult movie Mean Girls, Rachel McAdams was actually closer in age to the actress who played her mom (Amy Poehler) than Lindsay Lohan, who played her classmate Cady. Additionally, Cory Monteith and Mark Sailling were both 30 when they were still playing high school students on Glee.
So why cast actors who are so much older than their characters? Besides their increased acting experience, another reason is that they don't have the awkward adolescent look of real teenagers. TV and movie teens always have orthodontic-free teeth, clear skin and developed bodies. Men don't stop growing until age 18 to 24, but freshman in films are unrealistically built and attractive. Logan Lerman, for instance, portrayed high school freshman Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower when he was actually 20 years old. Those six years make quite a difference.