Teens being funny *and* nice: The movie “Booksmart”

by Michael Popkin, author of Active Parenting of Teens and Teens in Action

Hearing a good review of the new movie Booksmart on my drive home the other day, I thought I’d check it out for myself and was not disappointed. The humor was clever sometimes and downright funny other times. But more important, it came within the context of teens encouraging each other, rather than putting each other down. Put-down humor has long been the go-to form of entertainment by teens and about teens, so this was a refreshing change, one that deserves to be modeled for teens and parents alike.

But wait, as they say in infomercials, there’s much much more:

  • Teens were not portrayed as either a bunch of dunces or rebels who avoid academics like it was a landmine in a video game. These kids are smart AND partied. In fact that was one of the underlying themes of the movie: Caring about learning and getting good grades don’t have to conflict with having fun. You just have to find the right balance.
  • Gay classmates are treated with a causal respectfulness that reflects the new norm of our diversified sexual society. Same-sex orientation itself is presented as still challenging in some ways, but not because anyone puts it down—just another challenge about growing up. I liked the normalcy of this presentation.
  • Still, teens will still be teens, and there is a hilarious scene where the two female leads, otherwise very smart young women, get into a car with a strange pizza delivery man, but instead of winding up tabloid victims, they get a very funny lecture from the guy on what could happen to them, and politely get refused a ride. With ride-sharing apps creating new opportunities for teens to avoid drinking and driving, but also creating new opportunities for predators as well, this was a good lesson—and one parents could use as discussion material for risk reduction.
  • Some other themes I liked: being “book smart” is good (without putting down street smart) but judging people without really knowing them is not smart in either case. Stay open minded and you can get along and even respect and enjoy people who are different than you. It’s good to have a close friend, even when it isn’t always easy.

Bottom line, Booksmart treat teens the way we try to teach parents to treat their own teens: with respect, intelligence, and a good bit of humor.