Would you let a stranger read your texts? What about a documentary crew?
There are a million channels of digital communication available to teenagers, but the biggest one is still regular phone texting, and oh, don’t get between a teen and their text histories. The average text convo is filled with juicy gossip, casual comments, and the occasional TMI, but more than anything else, texts are intimate reflections of daily life, and usually mortifying embarrassment fodder anywhere outside of the phone. But for one group of British teens, their private texts are now part of a very public project: A documentary series about what it’s really like to be a teenager.
Titled Teens, the British Channel 4 show follows a group of teens for a year and keeps a record of their texts, tweets, and photos. The goal is to provide a modern portrait of the average teen — not just what they’re feeling, but how they’re expressing those feelings and sharing them with others. There’s perhaps never been a bigger gap between what parents and other adults imagine teenagers to be and how teenagers actually communicate with their peers, and about what things.
But, aren’t there a lot of things that they regret sharing? The teens of Teens admit that while they wouldn’t normally have shared some of those conversations openly if it weren’t for the show, they also don’t regret putting their private messages on display. Jess, one of the teens on the show, even sees the show as clearing her generation’s image, saying, “[Adults] think we’re all evil teenagers who go around stabbing old ladies. We get such a bad depiction.”
So what did the teens text about? We’ll have to wait until the show airs to really know for sure, but let’s be honest: You could look at your own text conversations and have a pretty good idea. Because really, despite our society’s view that teenagers are some unknowable, emotionally charged group… all adults were once teenagers too, and the tendencies and topics of your teenage years don’t magically go away once you hit 20.
Speaking of the adults, how did the ones who made the show end up feeling about their teenage subjects? According to Jess, some generational gaps are harder to close than others: “We had to explain a lot of the time to the camera people what words meant. And then they’d start using it and you’d be like ‘No!’”