Media Literacy

Teens Talk About HBO’s Euphoria

Delaney Ruston, MD
October 11, 2022
Shimmering eye

The Screenagers’ Tech Talk Tuesday blog from two weeks ago provided four questions for teens to answer regarding the HBO show Euphoria. As intended, the questions sparked conversations among adults and teens, and we got many thoughtful answers from teens in the questionnaire. 

Before I get into the teen responses, let me mention a few concerning things I noted. 

One is that only about 5% of respondents mentioned anything about the sexual violence that saturates the show. This finding highlights the need to create time to discuss this topic with our teens. 

For example, one mom knows that the show has a sex scene involving choking — and the mom gently brings this up and started a conversation about violence, pornography and teen life. I know, I know, we never thought we would have to talk with our teens about choking.

Another concerning finding  is that around a quarter of teens say that they think the show is “realistic.” There are, of course, some elements of truth in the show but  it is extremely dramatized — one shocking event after another. 

After doing this qualitative questionnaire, it is even clearer to me that we need a nationally representative survey of how teens regard the show. Ultimately data could, among other things, help create a discussion guide to spark needed conversations beyond the four questions I asked in my recent blog post.

Let's get to those four questions now and the responses from teens. Please thank your teens for me and share these responses with them.

QUESTION #1 How often do you see clips, memes, ads, references, or promotional materials for Euphoria in your social media feeds?

About 80% of teens said they see some type of content regarding the show ranging from pretty often to very often. 

In particular, teens mentioned Instagram Reels, TikTok and YouTube as key places they see memes and clips from the show. YouTube made particular sense to me because when I researched Euphoria for these blogs, A.I. was pumping in all sorts of Euphoria media into my YouTube homepage and side panel — mostly scenes from the show and interviews with the stars. 

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Example quotes from respondents:

17-year-old wrote: “The Insta explore page is flooded with Euphoria stuff.”

14-year-old wrote: “Every 20 videos on TikTok.”

18-year-old wrote:  “I see memes everywhere.” 

A group of teens who answered the questions together reported that people post shocking memes and videos from certain scenes. 

QUESTION #2 While it is true that some scenes from the show inspire positive emotions, many scenes with drugs and sexual violence bring up strong uncomfortable emotions such as anger, disgust, anxiety, fear, etc. Why do so many people still want to watch the show? 

I wanted teens to think about this question because I want all youth to ask themselves this question anytime they are about to watch emotionally heavy content. It would be a huge win if they could get into the habit of stopping and thinking: “Why do I want to watch this? Do I really want to watch this right now?” 

There were many thoughtful responses to this question. The following specific responses are in line with the main themes that came out. 

Example quotes from respondents:

15-year-old wrote: “Because people like the makeup and clothing that the girls wear, the actors or actresses and once they start watching it they don't want to stop since they want to finish the story and a lot of people have celebrity crushes on the actors/actresses like Jacob Elordi or Zendaya, and they like to watch them on screen.”

13-year-old wrote: “Because it’s trending and no one wants to miss out.”

15-year-old wrote: “I think because it interests us to feel all of these emotions at once.”

17-year-old wrote: “Everyone at school watches it and talks about how good the show is.”

QUESTION #3 Why is it so much harder for adults to stomach watching the show than it seems to be for teens? 

Many teens mentioned that shows today are much more intense than their parents’ days, and therefore they are more desensitized to all of it than their parents. Sadly, this is very true, and over the past 2 weeks, adults have written to me to make sure that I am aware of other deeply disturbing shows.

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Example quotes from respondents:

17-year-old wrote: “I think it is harder for adults to watch this because even though drugs and high school bullies were still around when they were growing up, it was never filmed exclusively and uncensored.” 

13-year-old wrote: “Because they see these terrible things happening and especially parents want to protect their kids from these things in real life. Also teens have already seen shows with  lots of these things from a young age.”

17-year-old wrote: “We’re so desensitized to violence.” 

QUESTION # 4 Given that it is hard to limit what kids watch these days, do you think the show’s creators bear any responsibility to tone down what they create? 

The responses to this question really surprised me, but it should not have in retrospect. It turns out that 95% or respondents felt that show creators do not have any responsibility to tone down what they create. Knowing that many teens have a strong sense of social justice, I thought more would said that creators do have a responsibility — particularly given that now more than ever it is so hard to prevent little kids from seeing mature and gruesome material on screens.

Finally, the fact that many respondents said that parents should be responsible for controlling what is seen, is surprising, for teens know better than anyone, that if they want to find a way to watch something these days, it can be very hard to prevent that as a parent (not impossible, but very hard). 

Example quotes from respondents:

17-year-old wrote: “I don’t think the producers are responsible because there are adequate parental controls and they should be able to make whatever they want. It should be rated so that parents can keep kids from watching if they don’t want them to.”

14 & 16-year-olds wrote together: “Yes, the show is marketed towards teens who may be influenced by the topics shown. If they haven’t experienced these situations in real life, unrealistic expectations surrounding them may be formed and lead to bad decisions.”

17-year-old wrote: “They should put more warnings in front of it but they don’t bear responsibility to tone it down.”

15-year-old wrote: “If you don’t want your kid watching this shit, then don’t let them, or sit down with them and talk about it. It’s just that easy. Treat your kids like adults and have a conversation with them eye to eye, and reach a compromise.”

Questions to get the conversation started:

  1. If you were creating a survey of teens about Euphoria, what questions might you ask?
  1. Do you ever see explicitly violent sexual acts in shows you watch? Do you ever close your eyes? Your ears? (Personally, I do both!)
  1. Can you recall a time when you stopped watching something because it was too disturbing? 
  1. Some teens decide not to watch Euphoria because the show is too intense or does not interest them. Do you know anyone for whom this is the case?
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Media Literacy

Teens Talk About HBO’s Euphoria

Delaney Ruston, MD
October 11, 2022
Shimmering eye

The Screenagers’ Tech Talk Tuesday blog from two weeks ago provided four questions for teens to answer regarding the HBO show Euphoria. As intended, the questions sparked conversations among adults and teens, and we got many thoughtful answers from teens in the questionnaire. 

Before I get into the teen responses, let me mention a few concerning things I noted. 

One is that only about 5% of respondents mentioned anything about the sexual violence that saturates the show. This finding highlights the need to create time to discuss this topic with our teens. 

For example, one mom knows that the show has a sex scene involving choking — and the mom gently brings this up and started a conversation about violence, pornography and teen life. I know, I know, we never thought we would have to talk with our teens about choking.

Another concerning finding  is that around a quarter of teens say that they think the show is “realistic.” There are, of course, some elements of truth in the show but  it is extremely dramatized — one shocking event after another. 

After doing this qualitative questionnaire, it is even clearer to me that we need a nationally representative survey of how teens regard the show. Ultimately data could, among other things, help create a discussion guide to spark needed conversations beyond the four questions I asked in my recent blog post.

Let's get to those four questions now and the responses from teens. Please thank your teens for me and share these responses with them.

QUESTION #1 How often do you see clips, memes, ads, references, or promotional materials for Euphoria in your social media feeds?

About 80% of teens said they see some type of content regarding the show ranging from pretty often to very often. 

In particular, teens mentioned Instagram Reels, TikTok and YouTube as key places they see memes and clips from the show. YouTube made particular sense to me because when I researched Euphoria for these blogs, A.I. was pumping in all sorts of Euphoria media into my YouTube homepage and side panel — mostly scenes from the show and interviews with the stars. 

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