Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

A movie to spark conversation: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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I love to get to share positive media picks with you. If you have teenagers, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a movie that you might want to consider watching with them. It’s the story of a young teenager who struggles with fitting in, recovering from a friend’s suicide, and dealing with the ghosts of his past.

This movie is full of heavy content, and will give you the chance to talk with your teen about a lot of different issues that are relevant to adolescent life. It’s not an easy movie to watch, and I wouldn’t recommend letting a young teen see this movie without a parent or guardian there to help process it afterward. Here are some of the issues that this movie can spur conversation about with teens:

  • Friendship: Throughout the movie, friendships are depicted in realistic ways, both positive and negative. The main character, Charlie, has a friend from middle school who refuses to be his friend after he has an emotional breakdown. Two girls who are long time friends, Sam and Mary Elizabeth, wrestle with competition over boys, grades, and college entrances. Charlie struggles to heal from the suicide of his best friend.
  • Loneliness: All of the characters deal with loneliness and trying to maintain relationships with their peers, teachers, and families.
  • Sexuality: As adolescents, the characters are aware of their developing sexuality and that is depicted in several different kinds of relationships, from mutual to coerced to secretive.
  • Drugs and Alcohol: The movie depicts the use of drugs and alcohol and provides opportunities to discuss their use with your teen. In one instance, Charlie inadvertently eats a brownie laced with drugs. This could give you a chance to talk about how to deal with unwanted pressure to consume illegal substances, how to protect yourself from accidentally consuming drugs, and how to make safe choices.

Something that my teen and I talked about a lot was a relationship that developed between Charlie, a freshman, and Mary Elizabeth, a senior. When Mary Elizabeth asks Charlie to a dance, then begins a physical relationship with him, she assumes that he is her boyfriend. Unable to figure out how to tell the older girl that he doesn’t want a romantic relationship with her, Charlie continues to date her even though he really likes Sam.

My daughter and I talked about how Charlie felt stuck in a relationship that he didn’t really want, and felt pressured to become involved physically with Mary Elizabeth. We talked about different scenarios that might lead someone to get involved in a relationship they didn’t really want, or how it might be hard to get out of relationship that you were no longer happy in.

While this movie has themes that are difficult, it is a beautifully crafted film that can provide a great media literacy moment for you and your teen. The content is too mature for younger middle school students and maybe even for young teens, depending on their level of maturity. There are themes of depression, abuse, and sexuality, so if you watch it with your teen, be prepared for some serious conversations.

Given the fact that these themes are prevalent in adolescent life, it’s important for parents and guardians to provide teens with the chance to discuss them. A movie like The Perks of Being a Wallflower can be a great way to open up these difficult but very important conversations.

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