Sugar, spice and all things nasty
IN a bygone, innocent era, magazines for teenage girls happily recycled a diet of pin-ups, slushy romance and fashion.
No longer. Today's magazines increasingly reflect the harsh reality of modern adolescence. Sandwiched between the obligatory celebrity interviews, boy bands and top beauty tips are hard-hitting pieces on teenage pregnancy, drug addiction and anorexia.
Newcomer to the market Fresh! magazine celebrates its first birthday next month. Its careful mix of real-life and frivolity has already achieved a circulation of 50,000.
Becky Moran, its features editor, sees her magazines - targeted at 12 to 14-year-olds - as often being the most important source of information on sensitive issues.
She says: "It's not that long ago that I was a teenager and I remember that when something happens you want to find out as much as you can.
"You've been to the school library, you can't talk to your mum or dad or even your friends so magazines are a great way of finding out information.
"These are girls who have just started to get interested in boys, they are still at school, living with their parents, are interested in fashion and romance more than sex."
Real-life features in Fresh! include articles on a girl who found love on the Internet and another who overcame the bullies who tormented her for three years.
Bliss, aimed at girls aged 13 to 18, highlights a tale of two girls beating anorexia together, alongside "three gorgeous boys" who have become Internet millionaires before the age of 20.
Meanwhile, May's issue of Sugar, "Britain's best-selling girls' magazine" (target audience 3 to 17), includes a 31-page "real-life" special with reports on subjects ranging from racism to prostitution.
The magazines are also now responding to the desire of young women to succeed academically and professionally.
"Mum's busy and Dad's out. You can hardly call a teacher, can you? Well, now you can on Channel 4's Homework High site - it's like knocking on the staffroom door without anyone thinking you're a total swot," advises Bliss magazine.
Teenagers seem to welcome the real-life stories. Natalie Childs, 13, who reads three teen magazines, says: "You learn about what is going on and how other people deal with their problems, which is interesting.
"The best thing about being a teenager is you get a bit more freedom and your parents are more lenient about what time you come in. But really this is an awkward age. You can't get a job, you can't go into clubs. It's quite an annoying age, really."
Like everyone else, though, it's the problem pages and confession sessions that give Natalie and her friends from Fitzharry's school in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, a laugh.
Parents - particularly mums - would do well to read them too if they want to know what their offspring are really up to.
One reader, an "EastEnders fan" from Portsmouth, confesses to Bliss that she sewed buttons on to her mother's party skirt with weak thread and without securing the ends after being yelled at in front of a "really lush lad".
She says: "When we got to the party, everyone screamed 'surprise' at my mum's friend. But it was mum who got the real surprise.
"Bending down to pick something up, her buttons pinged off and her skirt fell to the floor. Ha!" That's teenagers for you.