Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reliving the 80s teen the parent of a teenager

A while back now, this topic idea started floating around in my head. Intending to write about it back then, I got distracted, as I always seem to do and it got pushed aside. Every time we watch one of the movies of our adolescence with our kids, I get to thinking about it again.

Then last week, several articles came out shaming adults for having an interest in YA (young adult) fiction and film. My brain always seems to go in a million different directions, but it brought me back to this general idea again. 

Quite honestly, I've never understood the compulsion that some people have when it comes to telling others how to live their lives. Why anyone cares what anyone else reads or watches or plays or associates with is beyond me. Then again, I come from the world of the nerdiverse, where it's perfectly normal for full grown adults to dress as superheroes. Coming from that background, I can tell you that most of the people who've embraced the world of the Con have spent large chunks of their lives being shamed for what they love. 

And for what?

I see it this way - as long as people are reading something, as long as they are passionate about something, as long as they have a way to distract them from the realities of life somehow, who am I to judge? Who are any of us to judge? 

After all that, and a night where my brain refused to shut off, the tangents developed...the primary one was this: the stories intended for children often cannot be fully comprehended until we are adults anyway. Sure, there are truly some stories written for children at a level that they can wrap their minds around, but a lot of the lessons in stories even for the youngest kids often aren't digestible entirely until you have several more years under your belt. 

Many of these stories, many of these characters, even many of the cartoons, are things that our relationships change with as we grow older. We can see subtle nuances that we missed before. We related to the characters one way when we were younger, but another as we've grown. We can understand the intricate connections better, we can see reasoning, we can understand. We've lived long enough to make mistakes and choices and see them clearer now. We can better comprehend consequences, longing, loss. We see the bigger picture behind the one being presented obviously. We see the forest instead of the trees.

It isn't just books that this happens with. Movies are perhaps an even more obvious example because of the visual in-your-face nature of film. 

At this point, officially the parents of a teenager, we are already seeing it. The movies that we related to so much as children and teenagers we are seeing now with  a different set of eyes - the ones that only time, experience and the reality of parenting could have ever given us. 

Quite honestly, in a lot of ways it is depressing to go back and rewatch these films as a parent, but it is important nevertheless. There are lessons to be learned...lessons entirely different than the ones that we thought we were learning when we were angst filled teens relating to the characters on the screen.

Take The Breakfast Club for example. It has always been and will forever remain one of my favorite films, but there are absolutely scenes that will punch you in the gut as a parent. The sequence where they are all sitting around talking about their families in particular hurts, because you begin to realize that there is a reason that all of these kids are where they are, and those reasons have nothing to do with the fact that one of them is a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, a criminal.

These kids got to where they are because of where they came from. Some of them want nothing more than a real connection with their parents. Some have learned that it's better to be in trouble than be home. Some got in trouble for being just like their parents raised them to be. 

It changes your emotional reaction to the movie when you find yourself angry at Richard Vernon now, not because he's the asshole in charge anymore, but because you know that he is probably the only person with a real opportunity to help some of these kids and he couldn't be bothered with it. 

You start to wonder about what happens to these kids when they go home, laugh a little less at their antics in the library. 

Then there is Sixteen Candles. Oh, the list of the things that are disturbing as a parent seems endless with this one. It is a movie that I totally related to as a teenage girl. 

Now, it's a movie about a kid that her parents forgot. That her parents don't even know how to relate to as it is anyway. A girl who has a trainwreck of a sister to look up to. A girl desperate to get the attention of a boy who doesn't even know who she is. That boy? A spoiled rotten kid himself who pawns his drunk girlfriend off on another guy for the night.

It's a horrible movie if you really get to thinking about it. 

What about Ferris Bueller's Day Off? While Ferris can do no wrong in the eyes of his parents, he's a compulsive liar. Jeannie, on the other hand, is the good kid who gets the shaft. Their parents are clueless enough as it is, but have you ever really thought about what life must have been like for Cameron?

Seriously...what happens to a kid like Cameron? What would Cameron be like if his parents ever gave a damn about him? An only child, mostly ignored by his parents, he's neurotic as hell and paranoid about everything. And he's alone. 

Even the National Lampoon films...they do it too. Have you rewatched them as a parent? How many of us have planned our trip to Wallyworld, putting all of our time and energy and money into this one perfect moment with our kids, but it was destined for failure? How many of us have gone completely insane when things didn't work out the way they were supposed to and started to forget why we were doing it all in the first place?

It's not just funny to watch Dad lose his mind or see Mom sneaking a cigarette in the kitchen once you've actually been's real. This series always went to the extreme using comedy to drive home the points they were making, but they made them. Oh, did they make them.

Watching these movies, and all the others like them, with my kids has given me the tremendous gift of perspective. While my kids relate to the teenagers I used to, I am watching and learning, picking out the lessons of the films meant only to be taught directly to me, the parent now cringing on the couch. 


  1. Great post! I agree that going back and rereading/rewatching the things we connected to as a teen can feel almost surreal. For me a prime example would be Dirty Dancing. I ADORED that movie as a child and knew they fell in love, but had zero clue just how many layers and levels of crazy were going on.

  2. I didn't like Sixteen Candles, because my teen years were a side note to my parents busy with a career and three littler daughters to raise. My heart broke for Cameron because wrecking something was the only way I could get my parent's undivided attention. I wanted to hit Ferris for how he pushed and manipulated Cameron.

    Pretty in Pink was one of my favorites. A girl trying to live her life, hoping for something better and wanting desperately for my Parentals to be healthy enough for all of us to be normal. We watched National Lampoon's Christmas a few years ago. All three of my kids hated it. Why? Because it was what family gatherings were like. It gave us an opportunity to talk about it. They all declared that no longer would we have Griswold holidays. It freed me from fighting aunts, uncles and grandparents to participate in my kids' lives and the permission to accept things as they are. As gut wrenching as they are, those movies create wonderful opportunities for discussion.


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