Last Wednesday our Middle School Dean of Students, Shelly Jones, arranged a wonderful professional development opportunity for us: a group of St. Francis teachers gathered in her pod after school to watch the movie 8th Grade by Bo Burnham. If you are not familiar with the film, it has received critical acclaim, including making it onto some Top 10 lists for the year. A docudrama, the film depicts the life of an 8th grade girl in the age of social media.
I have to forewarn Middle School parents (and interested Lower School parents) that this is a difficult movie to watch. It’s unflinching in its portrayal of today’s middle schoolers. We see the main character, Kayla, continuously strive to fit in, to be liked, and to present a confident, with-it, and together persona in her YouTube videos, even though her real-life experiences show that she’s struggling to feel and be all of these things. The film earns its R rating for one particular scene in which the main character avoids a physical assault from an older teen. The film’s director, Bo Burnham, advocates that middle schoolers see the film with their parents, telling The Associated Press, “I hope it gives kids an insight on parents and parents an insight on kids.” The single father in the film shows us how to keep checking in on our adolescent kids and facilitating connections. He kept affirming her value and his love for her, in spite of her unpleasantness.
Afterwards we had a discussion about the film, and all of us were clearly moved by it. The pain and angst of being an 8th grader heading to high school is universal–even if we grew up in an era without social media. But this film graphically reminds adult viewers that what we want for our kids (good grades, healthy friend groups, etc.) is often starkly at odds with the social pressures they face while navigating their technological world and how relationships are defined. So while The Grinch may be on your usual must-see list this December, you might take two hours and look into 8th Grade – with or without your adolescents. I guarantee you’ll come away with a profound appreciation for and clearer understanding of the world in which they find themselves.
Here is an excellent article about the movie titled “Five Lessons for Adults from the Movie, 8th Grade” from The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. And here is a trailer for the movie, as well.