My NOT so sweet sixteen: Teens share the bittersweet reality of hitting the landmark age in the 21st century (including one who wants 100,000 YouTube subscribers for her birthday)
- Teens from different backgrounds celebrate their 16th birthday in a new series
- Autism sufferer Dominique Maasdam, 16, shares the difficulties of fitting in
- Sophie Clough, 16, struggles to achieve 100,000 subscribers on YouTube
- Freya, 16 splashes her fathers cash on a lifestyle of sophistication
The hallmarks of a 16-year-old girl's birthday party are all there.
A meet-up in the birthday girl's bedroom, to apply their make-up and spread word of their preparations on social media.
Then Pink balloons, a cake with a firework fountain on top, and umbrella-adorned 'mocktails' at a local cafe.
The girls, painted and polished to a high gleam, are giggly and excited, as they trot out the usual baffling 'teenspeak' phrases and acronyms.
This is the party of Sophie Clough, from Bridlington, Yorkshire. And it looks fun - sort of.
Sophie Clough (pictured) focused on hitting 100,000 YouTube subscribers whilst celebrating her 16th birthday in new Channel 5 series My Not So Sweet Sixteen
For Sophie is a YouTuber. She makes money from attracting advertisers to her YouTube channel, where she blogs videos of her every day life, from detailing what she got for Christmas to opening her GCSE results. It's never quite clear how much fun is genuine, and how much is for the benefit of the cameras.
'It's pretty simple. You have just got to take a picture holding something and you get paid. It's so silly and it's crazy, but it's so cool that you can make money that easily.'
Yet in a competition to stay ahead of the game, Sophie works hard to maintain and improve her position.
Constantly on the lookout for new subjects to film, Sophie's 16th birthday seems like the perfect opportunity to try and hit the all-important 100,000 subscribers mark (a badge of honour where you are considered in the premier league amongst YouTubers).
While everything looks normal from the outside, at the head of the table is a laptop, live-streaming the carefully orchestrated activities. Sophie is only ever 'half' in the room. The other half of her attention is to register the trickle of incoming compliments from her public, saying how stunning she looks.
Dominique Maasdam (pictured), 16, shared the difficulties of meeting the expectation of her peers whilst trying to find a dress to wear for the school prom
Beneath the suspiciously white smile, Sophie's eyes constantly scan the screen nervously for signs she is nearing her target.
But even the hashtag #getsophieto100,000, suggested by one of her social media-savvy peers, doesn't do the trick. At the end of the evening, Sophie has upped her subscribers from about 84,000 to 96,241, almost 4,000 shy of her goal. After setting herself up so publicly, it's hard for the teen not to look crest-fallen.
At a stage in life when you are just out of childhood, but not quite an adult, 16 has never been an easy age.
Now a new documentary series, Not So Sweet Sixteen, has lifted the lid on the tensions behind the celebrations that mark this important rite of passage, whether it's birthdays or school-leaving dos.
While a generation ago teens might have celebrated such a landmark by wearing their best jeans to a disco, today the stakes have never been higher.
Never has life been more competitive, cut-throat and fraught with social stumbling blocks as everything becomes a show of status.
There is also the unsettling offshoot of guilt-ridden parents working themselves into the ground to fund their offsprings' A-list dreams, which they can ill-afford.
Popularity and good looks have long been prized in adolescence. Already plagued by the insecurities of puberty, today's teens feel they must measure up to impossibly high ideals on photo-sharing sites such as Instagram and Snapchat if they are ever to 'count' with their peer group.
While Sophie's lack of 'likes' may feel like the end of the world, she has everything 16-year-old Dominique Maasdam, from Grimsby, in Lincolnshire, can only dream of.
We watch as Dominique, who's a size 16 and cruelly and unfairly judges herself as 'fat, ugly and with a double chin', prepares for the most important night of her life so far – the school prom at her Lincolnshire private school.
After trying on scores of dresses, she settles on strapless black bodice with a full-length scarlet chiffon skirt, decorated with huge blousey roses.
Just like a fairy tale, she believes that if she gets it right tonight, something 'magical' will happen – she will become popular.
'I'd like people to say how pretty I am,' she says with heart-wrenching honesty. 'I want to go from the ugly Dominique to the pretty Dominique.'
For Dominique's mum Nicola, a music teacher and jewellery designer, it's heartbreaking to watch her daughter desperately wanting to transform herself in order to step up in this brutal social pecking order.
Freya (pictured), 16, revealed how her expensive taste is funded by her wealthy father
Nicola, 48, recalls there were no such expectations when she had her end of school disco in the mid 80s.
But it's far more important for Dominique, a lovely-looking girl who is even more vulnerable because she suffers from autism, to be seen to look a certain way so she can be accepted by the 'in-crowd'.
Nicola says: 'Dominique just needs to turn on the internet and there's a photo of a girl there looking ultra slim and gorgeous with gorgeous skin and hair. She thinks that's what she has to be like. She has a fantasy from watching American films that the girl on the outside with the braces and hair pulled back is always transformed into a beauty.'
For Dominique the equation is depressingly simple. Pretty equals popular.
'I don't feel very popular at school because I'm not very attractive. I don't belong in the group of the popular and the pretty girls because I am not pretty. I am not really liked by many people. I only have two friends.'
However in her desperation to change the minds of her peer group, Dominique has set the bar high for this evening - no less than 'perfection'. She tells her mother she simply loathes her face and her skin. Tonight however she would 'love to feel like Cinderella'.
Yet even the teens who reach the top of this social totem pole don't find it a comfortable place to be.
Dominique's mother Nicola says Dominique just needs to turn on the internet to see other people she thinks she should look like
Despite the wide range of teens in the program, there seem to be few class divisions in the world of 16-year-old social sparring.
Every 16-year-old just seems to want bling. However rich your parents are in reality, you're only as rich as what you can show off in your 'present haul' videos. These are clips, posted online, which are simply teens showing off their latest acquisitions
Parties are not just social events - but also excuses to show off teens' latest MacBook Airs and Apple watches.
They are also excuses to look and behave like a celebrity as much as you possible can.
Another party hostess is 16-year-old is Freya, who explains expensive tastes are in her DNA.
Bankrolled by her wealthy dad Paul, who does not make an appearance (creating the impression that Freya lives an entirely adult free zone), she says: 'Because I have been brought up with money, I do have expensive taste. That is all I have ever really known.'
For her school prom, she saved up for a pair of nude Louboutin high heels, which she refers to as 'like my babies'.
Dominique claims she only has two friends at school and blames her appearance for the reason she isn't 'popular'
Freya's plan for a summer celebration to mark her friends going their separate ways after GCSEs is a sophisticated 'soiree' for a select few at her seaside home on the Hampshire coast, complete with chocolate-dipped strawberries and champagne.
It's probably no surprise that Freya, who describes herself primarily as a fashionista on her very show-offy Instagram account, looks, acts and feels older than her years. By Freya's own admission, she feels more like 21.
Indeed, it is hard to see the childhood she has just left under the heavy foundation, false eyelashes and heavy contouring she uses to try and carve out more womanly bone structure.
With so much available to alter her appearance, Freya prides herself on looking like a WAG and feels no need to apologise for it. 'In our generation, 16-year-olds wear a lot makeup,' she declares as a nail technician refreshes her set of alarming-looking talons. 'A lot of them have false eyelashes and a lot of them have hair extensions. That's just how society has changed.
'Personally, I want some lip-fillers, Botox and lipo as well, but it's all about big bums at the moment.'
Dominique (pictured with her mother) felt confident enough by her prom outfit to share photographs on Facebook
Other parents, quite literally, push the boat out for their 16-year-olds' parties, even though they can ill afford it.
One is nurse Edite Martins, a single mother who lives in a one-bedroom flat in London with her daughter Nelia, a pageant princess.
Nurse Edite tells viewers she will need to work extra shifts for four months to pay the £4,000 cost of her daughter's 16th birthday on board a boat on the Thames, as well as for her dresses which cost thousands.
'I just love bling. There is no explanation,' explains Nelia. 'My party has to be extravagant, big, pink and perfect.'
'There is no point having a budget,' says Edite wearily. 'Nelia always breaks my budget.' She goes on to admit she spoils her daughter, partly out of guilt that she has grown up without a father. However, referring to her as 'a diva' seems her mother's way turn make it sound as if it's somehow a good thing.
For 16-year-old twins Archie and Francesca Hurley, who live on a sprawling estate in Stratford-on-Avon complete with a tennis court, money may be no object.
However their concerns are of a different kind. They are terrified of the social death that will come if any of their guests view their joint birthday as 'boring'.
Twins Archie and Francesca Hurley (pictured together) had a money is no object celebration
As Archie says: 'If people got bored at my party I think I'd have to go an lock myself in a room because I hate that feeling when you hear someone say this is s**t party. I just don't want to hear those words.' Sister Cesca also admits to a sleepless night over her fear of getting 'a bad rep'.
To that end, they persuade mum Victoria that they need not one, but two, nightclub-style marquees on the lawn.
There is a dance floor, champagne-style cocktails and cakes made in the shape of a designer handbag and a Jimmy Choo shoe. Their immaculate five-bedroom manor house-style property is also bathed in pink light for the night.
But Victoria is happy to provide it so her children don't face ignominy.
She says: 'Because they haven't hosted one before, they have really thrown themselves into it. They want to try and get it right and not have the shame of getting it wrong.'
But parenting expert Noel Janis-Norton, author of the Calmer, Easier, Happier series of books, says the parties show parents have lost their way.
'What is fascinating to me is how entitled some young people feel. That is because they are used to getting heir own way.
'Because no parent is perfect, they are very susceptible to this kind of guilt tripping.
'One of the reasons parents feel guilty is that they are working longer hours. So they are trying to replace time with money. It doesn't work. Children see love as the time, not the money, you spend with them.'
Without realising what they were doing, Noel adds that many parents have created a generation of teens with ridiculously high expectations.
'No teen starts out with these kinds of demands. It's incremental. Over the years they will have been given too much too easily.
'So by the time they're asking for an outrageous 16th birthday party it doesn't feel at all outrageous to them. This is because they have managed to get too much of what they want in the past.'
However she adds that parents are deluded if they believe it's the way to make their child happy in the longer-term.
'When it doesn't work, parents will often think: 'I must not have given them enough,' rather than realising it wasn't the way to make them happy in the first place.'
However while Dominique never asked her parents, who work hard to pay her school fees, to break the bank for her school dance (her dress cost less than £100), the care and attention Nicola pays to her daughter's hair and make-up still pay off - at least on the night.
After an awkward start when she looked to have no one to talk to, Dominique found her transformed appearance gave her new-found confidence on the dance floor. She was even told by some of the popular girls in her year that she looked pretty too.
'I felt accepted more,' says Dominique, beaming at the end of the night. 'It made me feel really happy about myself. I feel I am a lot more prettier than I thought I was.'
For mother Nicola, it was a small step in the right direction in a world where social media approval seems to be the ultimate arbiter.
'Afterwards, Dominique said to me: 'Did I really look pretty?' I said: 'Yes, you looked beautiful.'
'I also put a picture of her from the night on my Facebook page. That convinced her so then she shared it on hers.
'It was then I knew she really was happy with the way she had looked.'
The second part of Not So Sweet Sixteen continues next Monday (January 15) 10pm on Channel 5
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