16 and Recovering

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
16 and Recovering TV Poster Image
Harrowing docu shows realities of teen addiction, recovery.

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Positive Messages

Series underscores that addiction is an illness, and teen addicts should be treated with firm gentleness without being enabled so that they can empower themselves through recovery. Abuse, prevalence of opioids, and lack of good mental health treatment are all discussed as some reasons behind rise in teen addiction. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Michelle Lipinski and rest of faculty care about their students, are focused on supporting and helping without being judgmental or enabling teens' behavior. Some faculty are also in recovery, while others are directly impacted by addiction of family and friends. Most students are supportive of one another.


Cutting, suicide, other self-harm are discussed. Sexual violence is referenced. Some students end up incarcerated. 


Curses are bleeped. 


Northshore High School is prominently featured. iPhones are visible.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The major theme is addiction recovery. Abuse of drugs, ranging from marijuana to opioids, and alcohol is discussed. Students are sometimes visibly high. Drug tests are administered. Cigarette smoking is visible. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 16 and Recovering, an installment of MTV's 16 and Pregnant franchise, features teens at a high school designed for kids struggling with addiction. It offers a very real and important look at what teen addiction is like, and includes conversations about the frequency of pre-adolescent drug use, mental illness, bullying, self-harm, and abuse. Students are sometimes shown drunk or high but are always surrounded by responsible mentors and caregivers. Any strong language is bleeped. The stories can be harrowing, but watching it with your teens can provide a solid foundation for discussing drug use, addiction, and related topics with them. It can also be a good way to introduce the subject to younger viewers. 

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What's the story?

16 AND RECOVERING is a reality series that follows the students and faculty at a unique school in Beverly, Massachusetts. Michelle Lipinski is the founder and principle of Northshore Recovery High, which is specifically designed for students struggling with mental health issues and addiction. From the first day of class until the end of the academic year, cameras document the lives of some of the school's 50-plus students. They openly share stories about their addiction, what motivates their drug use, and the difficulties of staying sober. Cameras also reveal how the faculty helps students with their school work while supporting their recovery, and intervening in their care when necessary. 

Is it any good?

This harrowing but honest series shows how one school seeks to help teen addicts by providing them a place where they can learn and get recovery support without being judged. While Northshore High is an accredited school, it also provides some of the services of a rehabilitation center, including mandatory alcohol and drug testing, teaching restorative practices, and openly addressing students’ addictions and recovery. Documenting these efforts is also a way of pointing to the broader societal problems that make such an institution necessary, including the lack of overall mental health resources and care, and the ongoing, and extremely pervasive, opioid crisis. Society's overall negative and non-proactive approach to helping teen addicts is also underscored.

Like most installments of the 16 and franchise, it's voyeuristic and heavily edited. But what makes 16 and Recovering worth the watch are the painful truths it reveals about addiction and children. Many teens admit that their alcohol and drug use started years before they entered high school. Despite the support of the faculty and their families, students who are sober for months inevitably relapse, often due to self-medicating for conditions like depression and anxiety. The toll it takes on their families is highlighted, and there are no guarantees of happy endings. These messages are worth paying attention to, and learning from, to help kids who are struggling with addiction, and to help encourage younger generations to choose a different path.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the challenges that come with helping teenagers who are addicted to drugs. The teachers featured in 16 and Recovering are kind and nonjudgmental, but how do they refrain from enabling the teens? Is there anything that surprises you about the way they work with students?

  • Did you know that one out of seven teens are addicted to opioids? Or that the younger a person is when they try alcohol or drugs, the higher the chance they will become an addict? What role does the media play in a young person's choice to use alcohol and drugs?

  • If you or someone you know needs help with substance abuse, you can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national health line. For teen-specific addiction information, check out drugfree.org.

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