The film, written and directed by Bo Burnham, is being praised as the most accurate depiction of adolescence and the emerging Generation Z. Our team jumped at the chance to spend the afternoon at the movies and were all moved, challenged, and fell in love with the evaporating innocence and awkwardness of eighth grade, even though none of us would ever go back and live it again.
I walked away from the theater that afternoon and had several conversations about the film with friends and colleagues over the weekend. I hate spoilers, so I’ll warn you now – this article is intended for youth leaders who have already seen the film and are looking for a few thoughts to kick-start conversations.
For the rest of you, go see this movie. Steel yourself to the Rated R moments, but don’t let that stop you from watching the film. For one reason, supporting original indie films that are not based on super heroes or 80s board games is the right thing to do. Secondly, I think you’ll walk out with more compassion and a renewed purpose when it comes to guiding students.
As for me, here are the eight things I learned from watching “Eighth Grade.”
1. You can’t isolate kids from technology but you can help them navigate our digital world. You can’t watch the trailer and miss this. But I was shocked at how integrated technology was in Kayla’s life. This certainly affects where she goes for information (more on that later) but it also shows just how connected teens are 24 hours a day.
2. The presence of a parent is more valuable than the wisdom of a parent. I loved Kayla’s dad, played perfectly by Josh Hamilton. He wasn’t perfect, and maybe he was a little out of touch and distracted. (Aren’t we all?) But the scene around the firepit snuck up on me and hit me right in the feels. At the end of a box of broken dreams, all daughters just want to be held by their father.
3. Be careful how you label people, even if you are “just joking.”
4. Pool parties are tough for everyone. Best option: see how long you can hold your breath.
5. If an older person (even by just a couple of years) tells a teenager that she is cool, it could change her life. Yes, even casually inviting someone to go hang at the mall could be an answer to prayer. Middle school pastors, don’t overlook involving upperclassmen in your ministry. They are cooler than you and just might hold the relationship ammo that your kids are craving.
6. Active shooter drills are as common for Gen Z students as fire drills were for us. No real insight, just a sobering reminder of what they face every day.
7. Dating is more complicated today than it was when we were young. And dangerous. Look, I love technology but the reality is this: young boys (and girls) have potentially been looking at #### for six or seven years by the time they’re able to drive a car. That’s a tough uphill battle, one that should be discussed openly and with great accountability.
8. When the internet is your go-to place for information, you circumvent wisdom. Keep lines of communication open with your kids. How? Don’t freak out. They turn to YouTube because it doesn’t judge them. Be cool. Earn their trust, even if you think you freely deserve it.
Eric Epperson is the senior director for Æffect for Christ In Youth.