Ah, the infamous teacher and student affair. Usually, a female protagonist is the leading character in this trope, though not always. In recent years, this type of relationship has been normalized in Hollywood. Not anymore.
Seeing a student fall in love with her young, attractive, and far more intelligent and mature man than her peers is cute, right? Wrong. Yet we’ve seen it in some form, time and time again, on shows like Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars, The CW’s Gossip Girl and Riverdale, and most recently, CBS All Access’ Tell Me A Story.
It’s a thrilling adventure when you’re a teenager to have a slightly older man (or woman) that you’re romantically or sexually interested in to reciprocate those feelings.
When Pretty Little Liars began in 2010, many of the fans were at such a young age. I was about 13, finally acquainting myself with the teen genre, and saw no issue with this relationship.
(In fact, most people didn’t, yet it was the relationship between Emily and Maya that received the most heat. How dare two teenage girls fall in love, while some 25-year-old man is pursuing a 17-year-old.)
Gossip Girl showcased this kind of story twice, even earlier. Both with Serena and the statutory rape storyline with Ben Donovan and Dan’s tryst with Rachel, one of their “young and hot” teachers.
This trope has become a staple for a relationship to bloom on many teen TV shows, though the true illegality and repulsive nature of these adults making advances on minors is never fully fleshed out.
While (occasionally) the older person in the equation is threatened with legal action, usually, it’s glossed over and people come to “accept” it.
Pretty Little Liars briefly showcased Aria’s parents, Byron and Ella, furious with Ezra for taking advantage of his position as a teacher and pursuing a relationship with their daughter.
This lasted about half a season before they started to “come around” to seeing the pair together romantically and the threats of calling the police ceased.
After that half of season 2, the next season premiered and “all was right in the world” with Aria and Ezra freely dating, though he was unable to teach in Rosewood as long as they were together.
Later, it was revealed that Ezra, after having a brief relationship with 15-year-old Alison as a 23-year-old man, sought out Aria and purposefully began a relationship with her.
I mean, shouldn’t more emphasis be put onto the fact that this is an older man pursuing a child (in the eyes of the law)? Shouldn’t the true “creep factor” play into these situations?
As someone who has a few years of adulting experience under my belt, I can see now that someone older pursuing someone who isn’t even out of high school yet is, in fact, a predator.
It’s not just older men, either. Riverdale‘s Ms. Grundy carried out a relationship with Archie for a few episodes during season 1, taking advantage of a 15-year-old boy as he attempted to deal with his new reality.
Later, at the start of season 2, Ms. Grundy was seen in another town, after fleeing Riverdale to avoid the police due to her “relationship” with Archie, with another young boy.
Clearly a predator, this was never formally addressed, nor were the consequences of her actions realistically shown.
On Gossip Girl, Dan began a fling with one of the newer teachers at their school, a young woman who so desperately wanted to “fit in” that she was attracted to a high school boy and was involved in Blair’s petty drama.
Yet again, people in Dan’s life could acknowledge it was wrong, yet nothing was done.
Tell Me A Story, which wraps up season 1 on January 3, 2019, and is streaming on CBS All Access, has finally showed these types of relationships for what they are: gross and disturbing.
While it is a bit extreme considering the circumstances (spoilers will follow), Kayla’s relationship with her teacher, Nick, is a dangerous, disturbing, and disgusting situation.
Like Ezra, Nick also sought out Kayla and pursued a relationship with her as an older man. In this case, Kayla was only 16 when their brief relationship began.
He found her at a club, brought her home, and then acted surprised when he found out he was her English teacher. The literal exact same situation as Ezra and Aria in the first episode of Pretty Little Liars, other than the setting of their meetcute.
Before beginning his tryst with Kayla, Nick was having an extramarital affair with her mother, who he later ran off the road and killed in a fit of, well, crazy.
This is a very extreme version of the teacher/student relationship, yet it’s the only one, in recent teen dramas, that has successfully hit the mark and showed how it’s the adult who is entirely in the wrong.
When there are no consequences, there can be no lesson learned (in these cases).
Simply having the friends and family of a character point out the disturbing nature of teacher and student relationships is not enough.
In the real world, if things work how they should, which is unfortunately all too often not the case, the older person would face serious consequences.
Besides the obvious adult and minor side of this issue, there is also the fragrant abuse of power on the teacher’s behalf. This is a person that should be looking out for the best interests of their students.
Enough of Hollywood glamorizing these relationships.
As much as I love Pretty Little Liars, the relationship between Aria and Ezra was disgusting. He purposefully sought out a minor to engage in a relationship with her, stalked her and her friends, and took notes about their lives.
The fact that this was never fully addressed, and Ezra faced no consequences for this, is disgraceful.
That’s just one example of this disturbing trend in teen dramas, but as I’ve stated, the list goes on about how many of these relationships are actually being depicted on television.
Hollywood, take a few notes from Tell Me A Story. This type of relationship is not okay, and it will never be okay.
It is beyond time to do away with this unnecessary trope.