By: Siena Yates

Let’s be honest: Your teen years are your worst, no matter how much grown ups tried to tell you they were your “golden years”. They weren’t.

For most of us, our teen years were when we were our most insecure, awkward, desperate and straight-up ignorant selves.

Growing up, I was too tall, too wide, too much of a teacher’s pet, too unapproachable and somehow, simultaneously too quiet and too mouthy.

I wasn’t “cool”. I knew that because I’d seen the “cool kids” on TV and it was not me.

Growing up in the 90s and 2000s, my references to high school came mostly from shiny teen dramas like Dawson’s Creek and The OC, in which 17 year olds were played by 28-year-olds, and lived magical lives where money didn’t matter, actions had no consequences and absentee parents abounded.

They were impossibly perfect and their lives were wildly unattainable.

Except no one ever told us that. So we spent all our time trying to live up to this impossible ideal that simply was not real.

We didn’t have John Hughes to teach us the truth behind the stereotypes, and we certainly didn’t have what today’s teens are getting.

One of the best films of the year is undoubtedly Eighth Grade, which follows a year in the life of a teenage girl.

It scored a Golden Globe nomination but was snubbed at the Oscars, which is especially upsetting because it’s incredibly similar to – and I would argue better than – Lady Bird, which clocked up five Oscar nods last year.

They’re both snapshots of teen girls coming of age in relatively small-town America. They both tackle subjects like friendship, boys, annoying parents, school and insecurities – the usual coming-of-age fodder.

Here are the key differences though: Lady Bird was beautifully packaged with a lot of star power, including the incredible Greta Gerwig at the helm and the frankly flawless Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet in the leads.

Eighth Grade had none of that, but it is hands down the most painfully honest and brutally awkward depiction of teenage life I have ever seen.

In it, 13-year-old Kayla Day (perfectly played by 15-year-old Elsie Fisher) navigates her final week of middle school and daily life, and looks like a real teen. She has acne, crooked teeth and the awful posture we develop from constantly trying to stay hidden. She dresses in jeans and t-shirts, constantly smoothes her hair and can’t get through a sentence without a “like”, “um” or awkward laugh.

We see her go to her first pool party, hang out with older kids, talk to the boy she likes, take a million selfies to post the right one on Instagram, spend hours scrolling through other people’s photos and type and re-type the perfect comment – and all of it is so relatable it hurts.

I cried for a good portion of it. And not even because anything particularly sad happens, it’s just…life. And the thought of kids seeing this and realising that the things they are ashamed of are actually not only normal, but utterly universal, is a beautiful thing.

It’s not alone, either. Recently I’ve consumed a lot of teen-targeted media which truly gives me hope. Teen content now feels more inclusive and honest than ever.

After a slew of poor choices (13 Reasons Why, To The Bone, Insatiable etc) Netflix seems to have learned its lesson and is finally doing a good job leading this charge, with a host of titles showing kids of different backgrounds, colours, sizes, genders and sexualities, all struggling to deal with the frank realities of growing up.

In Derry Girls they struggle to push themselves across the line to womanhood in 1990s Northern Ireland, In Dumplin’, Willowdean learns to love herself in modern-day Texas, and in Sex Education the kids deal with everything from wet dreams to broken families to hate crimes in a timeless era which borrows from both British and American teen culture.

Finally kids can see themselves accurately on screen, can see they’re not alone in their struggles and at least start to get a proper idea of what’s “normal”.

And it sure as hell isn’t a 20-something year-old model with no real problems and more dollars than sense.

Source: NZ Herald


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