My son turned 16 this week. We went to see the movie Eighth Grade together, and I’m so glad we did. Yes, it is rated R. I accepted in advance that we would have to deal with uncomfortable or inappropriate “stuff”.
I walked away from the theater thinking anyone who works with youth age 12 to 18 need to see this film, and anyone who is a parent or close relative of children age 0 to 18 need to see this (mostly without kids present). Here are my reasons why:
- Eighth Grade is a culture capture masterpiece. The main character, Kayla, is facing uphill social anxiety issues within a suburban life setting filled with social media overload, popularity issues, vlogging, and teen body development. The movie gives adults the opportunity to feel the culture through Kayla’s eyes. Most adults can not relate to growing up in the social media age. For 1 hour and 33 minutes you feel the sharp edges of what today is like for many young people.
- There are mature moments that deal with everything from boys trying to take advantage of girls to feeling awkward in a bathing suit. For me, this was an opportunity to talk after the movie with my son about what we took away from the movie. We both had lots of reactions to unravel and I count every deep conversation with a teenager a win.
- As a writer, I cheered at the way the script set the scene from the get go. The quick flash images of braces with rubber bands, a tumbling Crayola markers tower, etc. had me. I was in the middle school setting. I could smell the dry erase board.
- Elsie Fisher (Kayla) is an incredible actor. I believed her character every second. Josh Hamilton (the dad) nailed his part. Oh my, I’ve been that parent! Being there for your child in a culture that seems to dominate over common sense can be tough. Kudos to all the actors and congratulations to writer/director Bo Burnham! #Genius
- Parents of young children could learn a lot by seeing this film without kids present. Use the experience to make decisions and prepare in advance for the adolescent years. For example, I could not be happier that we waited to give our oldest child a smartphone until he was 17 years old. We were concerned about impulse issues and it was good to watch his brain develop further before a phone was ever present. Then, at a loss for a good Christmas present for the younger child, we gave him a smartphone much sooner. He was 14. I wish we waited. Technology at a child’s fingertips is overrated. I have a whole mental list of internet filters and turn off switches that I would have deployed if I’d known better sooner with my kids.
Another thought that came to mind is how painful it can be for young people to endure the current day culture if they don’t know of a Higher Power or higher purpose for their life. No one measures up to photoshopped pictures of peers or celebrities. Knowing peace in your heart and soul no matter what one sees online is helpful. My prayer for young families is to not wait to give a solid foundation to your children. Teach them early of the greatest love there is so they can withstand storms that arrive in various forms.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6
Sidebar: This is a link to an academic paper I helped write about Conceptualizing Adolescence/ts in 2017. If you are an educator, parent or mental health professional, I hope it is helpful.