What can shows like Riverdale and Stranger Things teach us about young people?

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Why these shows are gripping the young generation.

If you haven’t heard about Riverdale and Stranger Things, where have you been? I can only assume you are either old, only watch terrestrial TV or are one of those high-and-mighty types who don’t even own an electronic device.

Riverdale and Stranger Things have grabbed the hearts and minds of young people like nothing I have seen in a long time.   I’ve watched them both; Stranger Things is OK, Riverdale is slightly more interesting to me, but the thing is for me that both these shows are nothing new and bear a resemblance to of a lot of the 80’s movies and shows that I grew up with.  Not in content, but in the feel. If you had seen the latest IT film (now the biggest grossing horror film of all time) you could be forgiven for thinking that we were back in the 80’s.

And it is that 80’s feel that I think the kids are addicted to. In a world where normal TV features glossy shows like The X Factor and big budget films, it feels to me that this young generation are after something a little grittier.

But why?

Well, I have a few insights into why I think these slightly darker shows may be grabbing their attention.

  • This is one of the most over-protected generations of children.If you watch these shows you will see that the adults play very minor roles and in nearly all cases are of little help to the young people, who are trying to solve some kind of mystery. These children are often ignored and not listened to; the adult become someone who is against them rather than for them. This is in sharp contrast to the lives they lead, with the adults in their lives being hugely involved with them, asking them what they think at every turn. I think this notion of freedom from the adults intrigues them and watching these shows gives them a glimpse into a life outside the grip of their parents. Even the ways these shows are shot seems different, darker, less glossy and more real.

  • These shows often show the young people sorting things out for themselves, going into dangerous situations, solving mysteries and getting themselves into far too many scrapes to even think about. They are always off on an adventure. Again, this is something our young people today know little of, often kept inside their every move more watched by over-cautious parents. The most adventurous they get is going down to the kitchen to get a drink. This intrigues them and though of course they would never do it, the thought of being that brave, having no fear and going out in the big wide world alone excites them.

  • This generation is one of the most emotionally intelligent generations in a long time and a lot of these shows tackle, and sometimes not so subtly, all kinds of issues relating to mental health, from what it feels like to be an outsider to teenage pregnancy, family feuds, dual personalities and if we bring in 13 Reasons Why, suicide. They don’t protect children from the worry or dangers like most shows; they just lay them bare for them to make sense of. Things aren’t neatly tied up in a bow. To them, these shows are representations of things they feel, things they go through and things they fear. It gives them things to think about, allows for conversations to be had and allows them to confront some of the fears and thoughts they have without ever feeling wrong. To them, these shows feel very real. The gritty things they deal with feel like a relief.

In short, I think these shows give young people a way to think about risk, examine themselves, think about big issues and imagine what it would be like to live in a world where you had more freedom.

Coming of age is never pretty and these shows know that!

Couple this with a geeky, opinionated, intelligent, funny and good-looking cast and of course these shows are going to be a hit!