Elaine Reese Ph.D.

Tell Me a Story

Boyhood

Richard Linklater's film Boyhood is a must-see for all parents.

Posted Apr 01, 2015

The award-winning movie Boyhood takes us through the high points, low points, and turning points of one boy’s circuitous path to adulthood—or at least to emerging adulthood, according to Jeffrey Arnett.1 In each new year of filming, Linklater skillfully tailored the story’s events to fit the child actors’ current developmental levels and issues. The resulting narrative is like life itself: often meandering, occasionally jarring, with unexpected plot twists that make sense only in retrospect.

The film’s artistic merits are obvious, as recognized by Metacritics’ 100% rating,http://www.metacritic.com/movie/boyhood,

although not by an Academy Award for Best Picture. But an unsung merit of this film is its near-perfect depiction of child development milestones from ages 6 to 18.  For example, in middle childhood we watch Mason Jr. adjust to school, endure sibling rivalry, and form same-sex friendships, including a best friend. In adolescence, we see him make opposite-sex friends, including girlfriends, argue with his parents, dabble with alcohol, drugs, and sex, and start to think about his own identity and the meaning of life. Of course, Mason Jr. also experiences plenty of non-normative milestones due to his parents’ divorce, such as frequent moves and a host of blended family situations, some of which fall far short of ideal. Yet these transitions are also becoming increasingly common for many children and adolescents in contemporary society.

Arguably, the film hits its truest notes in the teenage years. Mason Jr.’s feelings of being different and his attempts to be authentic in the face of high school hegemony rang especially true to me, with my own similar struggles three decades ago in a small Texas city. New research tells us that teens who are highly reflective in early adolescence report lower well-being.2,3 By older adolescence, however, reflective teens who are better able to make sense of the low points and high points of their lives experience better well-being.2 By the end of the film, we see Mason Jr. starting to get a life that fits his aspirations and his sense of self. Like most 18-year-olds, or even 48-year-olds, the curve to self-understanding is asymptotic.  Do we ever really get it? Mason Jr., however, seems well on his way.

I pronounce Richard Linklater a developmental filmmaker, whether he is focusing on the development of a relationship, captured in snapshots once every 10 years in his Before Sunrise trilogy, or in this longitudinal epic. Both methods produce astounding insight into the development of persons. Boyhood should be required watching for any student of child and adolescent development, as well as for all parents of boys AND girls.

References

1Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55, 469-480.

2Chen, Y., McAnally, H. M., Wang, Q., & Reese, E. (2012). The coherence of critical event narratives and adolescents' psychological functioning. Memory, 20, 667-681.

3McLean, K. C., Breen, A. V., & Fournier, M. A. (2010). Constructing the self in early, middle, and late adolescent boys: Narrative identity, individuation, and well‐being. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 20, 166-187.