It’s a given that soap teenagers will always act up – with very few exceptions, almost all of them are seen going through ‘terrible teens’ and going off the rails, from Coronation Street’s David Platt to half the younger cast of Hollyoaks.
Therefore, it’s very easy for fans to tire of the tearaway teenager, without looking at the deeper and potentially realistic causes behind some of their behaviour.
Take Gabby Thomas, played by Rosie Bentham, in Emmerdale as a prime example. We have seen her acting up quite badly recently – and not for the first time either.
At one stage, she lashed out at best mate Liv and humiliated her in reaction to feeling pushed out and rejected by her apparent relationship with Jacob.
And more recently, we have seen her wage war against Leyla after blaming her for the departure of her mum Bernice.
Social media has been awash with commentary on how awful Gabby has been and yes, there is absolutely no condoning her acts of vengeance – particularly where is implying false acts of sexual assault against Liam.
But at the same time, as viewers, we should be questioning whether this behaviour is in character for Gabby and would be a realistic reflection of how her past would impact her if she were real – and the sad answer is yes.
As children growing up, we rely so heavily on our safety nets so every adverse event in our lives will shape us. No child can ever have a pain free upbringing but soap characters tend to show teenagers who have been through a hell of a lot.
In real life, would we be judging Gabby or questioning how we could help her identify where her behaviour is rooted and what can be done to support her and prevent her feeling this way?
I would hope it would be the latter as growing up around such abandonment Is painful and so the way she latched on to Leyla was actually heartbreaking to watch. Many teenagers and adults can probably relate or recall feeling like this – and for the most part, a teenager behaving badly or lashing out is crying for help or reacting to matters in their lives out of their control.
For Gabby, she has had her mother Bernice in and out of her life, she endured losing her father Ashley to dementia, she faced competition with Bernice’s other daughter Dee Dee and her many boyfriends and now that Laurel has a family setup with Jai and Bernice has gone again, Gabby has no-one.
Anytime Gabby feels like she is losing someone she loves dearly is when she steps out of line. She would fight the world for her family – she took extreme risks to protect brother Arthur from sinister Emma Barton and she really stepped up for the family as Ashley became more and more ill.
We often see this happening in teenage friendships when rival friends enter the scene or new boyfriends or girlfriends. When growing up, isolation from safety nets is terrifying and Gabby has more abandonment issues than many.
So when she got a sniff of kindness from Leyla, who can blame her for wanting to hang onto it and sap it for all its worth.
She blames Liam for Bernice not coming home and so also wants to protect Leyla from him – and also herself, now that she has found Leyla as her BFF.
She has gone about it in a terrible way and Gabby knows she is wrong – but while we shouldn’t excuse her wrongdoing, we should feel some understanding as to the cause of it.
Gabby is a character who is damaged and who is desperate to be loved. She is basically trapped and abandoned in a small village with no real friends or family who are there just for her.
Her desperation to be loved by Leyla wasn’t because it was Leyla as such – anyone who showed her such kindness would likely have received the same form of idolisation that Gabby showed her.
Let’s not forget, Leyla is the adult her – Gabby is still effectively a child, only emerging into a world that has already been cruel to her.
I understand Leyla’s anger and the audience’s frustration but once that passes, Leyla needn’t focus on making Gabby pay but on helping her find a place in the world.
Until she is shown some actual stability in her life, Gabby will continue to have barriers and will continue to lash out badly when her trust is broken.
And – far from just being another typical angry teen – there is strong representation here from Emmerdale into a realistic portrayal of genuine angst. It makes perfect sense for Gabby and I hope viewers go from being angry with her to feeling empathy for her.
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