Edge of Eighteen

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Edge of Eighteen TV Poster Image
Autobiographical docuseries raises issues relevant to teens.

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Positive Messages

The show empowers a diverse group of teens to tell their personal stories in their own ways. In so doing, it paints a picture of the struggles and triumphs of this life stage, different in each case but with all the teens united in their desire to better themselves. They talk honestly about concerns such as bullying, teen sexuality, social pressures, body image, and issues related to being LGBT. Empathy is a major theme.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Every teen is different and in some way a product of his or her environment, family situation, and culture. Some make choices viewers will applaud; others choose paths even their own family members don't understand. Across the board, though, their actions reflect their strong hopes for the future.


Some teens recall violent events they've witnessed. A Chicago resident discusses the insecurities of his urban neighborhood where gangs, shootings, and drug deals are common.


Some stories allude to issues of teen sexuality, particularly one told by a pregnant high school student. Physical contact is limited on-screen.


Occasionally "ass" and "pissed." "F--k" is bleeped. 


Brand names such as American Eagle, Under Armour, and Ralph Lauren are visible.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some segments touch on drinking and drug use, mostly in the context of its influence on a teen's community. Drug deals are shown on camera. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Edge of Eighteen compiles the autobiographical stories of 15 American teens who filmed their lives during their senior years of high school. The cast's geographical, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity yields great variation in the tales told and issues raised, many of which will sound familiar to teens and parents who watch. It's thought-provoking and offers telling insight into the pressures facing teens today, from college applications to inner-city violence. Sensitive issues such as homosexuality and teen pregnancy are addressed honestly and emotionally. Most teens should be able to handle the infrequent strong language ("ass" is audible, "f--k" is edited) and occasional references to drugs and violence.

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What's the story?

In EDGE OF EIGHTEEN, 15 high school seniors got a crash course in filmmaking from Oscar-winning director and producer Alex Gibney so they can turn the cameras on themselves for the duration of their senior years. The subjects, who hail from all over the United States, chronicle their struggles and triumphs as they chart courses for their respective futures. Some face choices of careers and vocations; others shoulder pressures to live up to their families' high expectations or overcome difficult circumstantial challenges. Each episode follows the evolution of three teens' stories and intersperses statistical data about the issues raised throughout the segments. 

Is it any good?

This series is an enlightening and insightful documentary, thanks to the teens' willingness to expose their vulnerabilities to the viewers. Each of the stories in Edge of Eighteen is as unique as its teller, and the cast's great diversity really sells this slice-of-life glimpse at the face of teen life today. There's Angela, an Asian-American who struggles with body image concerns as she works toward a career in dance; Hanoy, a gay teen who wishes his father would embrace his sexual orientation; and Christina, a mother-to-be with hopes of going to college. And, while they're telling their stories, they're also painting a picture of the education system and its influence on students' futures.

The disparity among these wide-ranging autobiographies accomplishes two things: First, it reflects the diversity of American society as a whole; second, it introduces viewers to situations they otherwise may not encounter. The result is a highly watchable, informative series that will raise issues that your teens may or may not be concerned with right now but that offer plenty for you to talk about with them. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about their teens' life goals. Teens: What career path do you see yourself taking? How will education factor into your success? What motivates you to work toward those goals? Do the teens on Edge of Eighteen provide any inspiration?

  • Can your teens relate to the issues the subjects struggle with? Are bullying, body image, or matters of faith things they contemplate very often? Are violence or drugs an influence in your community? How are we shaped by where we live? 

  • Is America truly a land of opportunity? Do these teens' stories paint a picture of equality and fair access? What unilateral standards exist in public education? Do these go far enough to level the playing field for all students? 

  • How does Edge of Eighteen promote empathy? Why is this an important character strength?

TV details

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For kids who love true and not-so-true teen stories

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