American Teen: Poking Fun At Real Issues

Quite a few people from The Crossing participated in the True/False Film Festival held in Columbia at the end of February. Several have submitted reviews of films that attracted their attention. We will feature two more tomorrow. This review from Polly Drover Co-Director of Student Ministries at The Crossing, discusses American Teen, a film that Rachel Tiemeyer weighed in on Wednesday. You might want to look for some of these documentaries in local video stores or online.

After six years in Columbia, I made it to my first True/False film festival. Like many Columbians, I roamed downtown from theater to theater watching a wide range of documentaries. In retrospect, the film that stood out among the rest to me was American Teen.

In this film, “we follow four adolescent archetypes — the beauty queen, the band nerd, the popular jock and the lovable basket case — through their senior year at a Midwestern high school.” As we watch these young adults cope with the standard high school struggles including break-ups, parental conflict, athletic pressures, low self-esteem and more, I wrestled with whether I should be entertained or heartbroken by the drama.

It’s entertaining for us to poke fun at the band nerd who openly calls himself a geek and hides behind video games and weird hobbies. But as he listed off multiple reasons that girls don’t like him, I was hit with the sad reality that this is a common exercise among many teens I know.

The theater chuckled with disbelief as a father unloaded on his son his disappointment with his recent basketball performance. As the father shared his unrealistic expectations for his son, I was saddened by thought of how many students I know who so desperately want to make their parents proud but never feel like they can do enough.

While it was easy to laugh at the teen in the film who won’t go to school for 17 days after an unexpected break-up, I am reminded of the tears I have seen first hand on the faces of girls who think their world has collapsed because of the same reason.

Though exaggerated a bit for entertainment’s sake, the drama and struggles of the teens in the film all hit at core issues and questions that all adolescents are facing. As adults, we have the life experience to realize these issues are minor and usually irrelevant. However to a teenager, these issues shape their world and identity.

This film reminded me of how critical the adolescent years are. At this age, teens are formulating their identities, establishing relational habits, developing coping mechanisms, and experimenting with new freedoms. At the same time, they are desperate for encouragement, starving for acceptance, lacking positive role models, and hungry for truth. From what I have seen and learned, some teenagers just need someone to step into their lives and walk with them through their real and perceived problems. This film refreshed my love and passion for what I am in the position to do in student ministry. I love working side by side with leaders who have the heart and passion to step into the lives of adolescents. Speaking truth and love into the lives of teens is a privilege and I hope this film revealed the desperate need for more and more people to do this.

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