Channel 4 drama The Gathering explores 'toxic teenagers and their even more toxic parents' in an online world dominated by social media

The themes of helicopter parenting and 'Insta culture' will resonate with audiences

Sadie Soverall as Jessica and Vinette Robinson as Natalie in The Gathering
(Image credit: Channel 4)

Channel 4 drama The Gathering will hit a nerve with parents of teens, as it explores the challenges of impossible standards set by social media - and the parents forced to demonstrate equally toxic behaviours in their need to protect their kids.

How to keep kids safe online is becoming more of a challenge for parents as their teens seemingly live their lives online. Apps with the ability to remove clothes, or undress AI, are on the rise with apparently very few safety measures in place to prevent young people being targeted. Sextortion victims are also mounting dramatically, with a 100% increase in reported cases - this is such a concern that teachers are being told to look out for signs in students.

Starting on Channel 4 on May 14 at 9pm, drama series The Gathering is set to explore the toxic impact of social media on teens, and their parents. Both filmed and set on Merseyside and produced by the minds behind Line of Duty and Bodyguard, the 6-part series opens with a violent attack on a teenager at an illegal beach rave, rocking a Merseyside community. Each episode then shifts suspicion to a different teen and their respective family.

Speaking about the messages she really wanted to convey through the drama, writer Helen Walsh said "The storylines of The Gathering feel very current. The series looks at the rise of toxic parenting, looking at that desire to optimise your children, creating exceptional kids that excel at sports, academia, music. I think the rise of celebrity culture, social media, and particularly ‘Insta culture’, has created this dangerous collective idea where it's not okay for kids to be ordinary."

She adds "It’s no surprise then that our kids have never been so unhappy. It's like we've all been duped into this idea that if our kids go hard enough, put in enough hours, if they post enough content, they can get into the right academies they'll be rewarded with success, fame, or money. So, the spectre of failure looms heavy and that's one of the things that I explore in The Gathering." 

"The rise of celebrity culture, social media, and particularly ‘Insta culture’, has created this dangerous collective idea where it's not okay for kids to be ordinary."

Helen Walsh, writer

The character Kelly (Eva Morgan) is an elite tumbling gymnast. Although devoted to her mission to represent her country at the World Championships, she find release and liberation in the ungoverned world of free-running. Thematically, Helen Walsh wants the "visually arresting and liberating world of free running and parkour" to stand in stark contrast to the stifling existence of life lived to exacting social media standards, with no privacy or freedom for self-expression. 

Eva Morgan (Kelly) shares why she feels the story is so important, saying "All the young people in this show are dealing with pressure and responsibility at such a young age, which I think is reflective of young people today. When I was first reading the scripts, I remember reacting very verbally, and saying 'OMG' at places. Putting stories on our screen that are reflective of real life is so important." 

Producer Simon Heath sums up the series as a portrait of "toxic teenagers - and their even more toxic parents". There's the obvious dangers social media poses to children, but what's less explored is the way its altered relationships with their parents. Therefore, the helicopter parenting facilitated by the constant ability to contact and track children is another theme woven through the series. 

Vinette Robinson (Natalie) concludes by saying "The themes are universal to parents and children – what would we do for them? Do we ruin them? Do we give them too much? Do we give them the skills they need in life? Do they lose their drive when they are spoiled? If we as parents lose control, what are the consequences of that for our children if we end up in trouble? These are all universal themes and issues it should absolutely appeal universally."

The Gathering starts on 14 May at 9pm on Channel 4 with the boxset available to stream from midnight.

For more on teens, we look at whether TikTok is safe for them, and what Instagram's latest update will do to protect them. Meanwhile, a Facebook rollout means parents are being advised against letting young people use the platform.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.