Ask the Mediatrician: Should my eighth grader see ‘Eighth Grade’?

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PATRICK BIBBINS/BOSTON CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL

I’ve heard a lot of wonderful things about the new movie, “Eighth Grade” and my daughter, who is an eighth grader this school year, has been asking to see it. I’d like to take her, but am worried and a bit confused by the movie’s R-rating. Is it OK for her to see it?

~ Middle School Muddled, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Dear Muddled,

Eighth Grade is an honest look at what middle school and early adolescence can be like – as such, it deals with issues to which some parents might not wish to expose their middle schooler. Movie ratings are not a scientific measure of what is developmentally optimal for kids and teens, but a subjective determination of what parents are likely to accept their children seeing based on current societal norms. The R-rating doesn’t ban children under 17 from a movie, it restricts them to watching it with a parent or guardian. In the case of Eighth Grade, this restriction presents a great opportunity, not to protect them from difficult content, but to encourage parents and kids to experience and discuss important issues together.

Talk to your daughter about why she wants to see the movie. If you feel that Eighth Grade is something she can handle, based on your conversation with her and what you know about the movie, make it an outing for you both, and if possible, her other parent as well. Each of you will bring a different perspective of the movie based on your own life experiences. Consider going to an afternoon or early evening show so you all can process the movie on the car ride home or at a favorite family hangout. Ask your daughter to share her feelings, and really listen to her. What did she relate to? What didn’t she understand? Did the story feel true to her? Did the experiences resonate with hers? Asking questions and talking about the movie can help her process the movie and build her media literacy skills. When she has spoken, you can talk about how the movie made you feel, both as a parent of an eighth grader and as someone who was once 13 and can look back on that time with a fully-developed brain and years of experience.

Think of Eighth Grade as an opportunity not to entertain, but to expand your child’s experience. Many, if not all eighth graders feel that they are alone, the only ones feeling how they feel, while everyone else has it all together. While your daughter’s perspective is unique, watching a movie about a protagonist that is her age, going through an experience like her own, can open her eyes to the fact that her peers may have very similar feelings and experiences to hers. This can help ease her adolescence by not feeling so alone, and help her empathize with peers as they go through similar processes. Listen to and respect what she has to say, reassure her that she is not alone, and ask her to teach you about how you can best support her, with love and limits, as she goes through this important developmental stage.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®