“Eighth Grade”

By Megan Brice, M.S.

I just recently got done watching the movie Eighth Grade.  For those unfamiliar, the movie follows eighth grader, Kayla, through her last year of middle school. Keep in mind, if you are going to watch it, it may not be suitable for small children as it has some language and sexual situations. Throughout the movie I had the overwhelming urge to live-write my thoughts and experiences- both professional and personal. To me, the movie got the heterosexual adolescent female perspective surprisingly accurate. “Coming of Age” movies are some of my favorites however, sometimes there seems to be a disconnect between this idealized story and the actual reality of what it’s really like being a teenager growing up.

“You can’t be brave if you’re not scared.” Wow. My reaction to this statement was overwhelming and salient in my current journey. I think sometimes, we get so caught up in feeling as though we NEED to know a decision or we HAVE to feel confident in our actions. The internal (and sometimes external) pressure that we put on ourselves to know, is so heavy. From knowing what college you want to go to, to what major, to the perfect spouse, to where you live, etc. it is anticipated that you know and are confident in your decision, leaving little room to sit with intuition, confusion, or not knowing.

Throughout, the main character Kayla, exhibits typical teenager responses, reactions, and behaviors. I chuckled to myself during the several scenes in which her father struggles to communicate to her and how her frustration elevates in reaction to his confusion or attempt to connect. I thought it was interesting to watch her social media usage and how that influenced her behaviors with others. Kayla has a YouTube channel in which she presents tips for her peers on topics such as “How to be confident” or “Putting yourself out there”. To me, this appeared as a way for her to present herself to the world, doing these things, while interpersonally feeling as though she is not those things. At one point in the film, she talks about the different “you’s” that make up the real you, like; school you, family you, friend you. She neglected to comment on the surface you that many of us present to the world everyday. The mask that we show others to protect our inner, most vulnerable “you” (As Kayla would put it).

Living authentically through integrating all of our different selves is terrifying and can be too vulnerable. To some extent, we might need different roles or masks that we show others. In counseling, we call that the different hats you wear. The idea is that you have different roles depending on the different situations you’re in.

One scene in the movie I had a strong reaction to was the school shooting lockdown scene. This aspect of adolescence was not present when I was going through middle and high school and caught me off-guard as I hadn’t thought about the reality of those practices. During the school shooting lockdown, Kayla crawls across the classroom to talk to her crush. She had heard that he had broken up with his girlfriend because she hadn’t sent him nude photos. Kayla initiates an awkward conversation and quickly realizes that she does not have her crush’s attention or interest. Kayla then creates an attention seeking behavior stating that she’s embarrassed that she opened her phone accidentally into her nude folder, gaining the attention of her crush. The scene ends with her crush asking if she gives blowjobs and leads into her doing research on YouTube and almost practicing fellatio with a banana.

Although uncomfortable, I was so impressed that this movie went there because it’s easy to skim off middle schoolers sexuality and write it off as hormones or puberty. Of course this influences behaviors and actions immensely, but to pretend like adolescents aren’t curious or have a sexual life outside of a sock in the bedroom is doing a disservice.  The jump from this character never having kissed a boy to researching blowjobs to impress him is what happens too frequently. In the movie, it never comes to that although she is faced with an uncomfortable situation of truth or dare with an older boy. Again, although nothing happened, the scene depicts the manipulation that happens regarding consent and sex. The boy states things like “I was just trying to help you” and “Now your first hookup is going to be some asshole at a party, do you want that?”. Obviously the boy’s ego was hurt and he was trying to defend his own behaviors toward Kayla in an effort to justify and rationalize his actions. I sat and thought about what she might take away from that conversation and how important it is to have those discussions with our teenagers.

Even if the conversation is not productive (topic wise), our teens NEED to know you are a safe person to talk to or ask questions when they come up, no matter how uncomfortable. They need to know you won’t blow up or panic or completely shut down. So start the conversation. Build that trust. Ask them about themselves and what they like. Make it known that you’re available no matter the topic. Be brave, even when you’re scared.

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