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Learning Opportunities for Eighth Grade: Guidance for Parents, Teachers, Students

“Eighth Grade” is apparently not for eighth graders.


The new independent film, written and directed by stand-up comedian Bo Burnham, follows the life of eighth-grader, Kayla, as she navigates adolescence and the challenges that come with it. But the film’s inclusion of explicit language as well as one sexually explicit scene, has garnered it an R rating from the MPAA, according to CNN.

Long story short: Most eighth graders won’t be allowed to see “Eighth Grade.”

In reaction to the rating, on Wednesday Burnham, and the film’s production company, A24, held free screenings in each state for viewers of all ages, with no restrictions.

Many movie critics and supporters have praised the film’s realistic and honest take on adolescence and have encouraged parents and teachers to use it as a teaching tool, despite the rating, CNN reports.

Sandie Angulo Chen, a reviewer for Common Sense Media–which looks to provide parents and teachers with information about kids’ media compensation–writes:

“But despite the swearing and some suggestive comments and conversations…this is a good (if slightly cringeworthy) movie to watch with your teen. There’s so much here for parents and their teens to unpack, from mean-girl behavior and too much/inappropriate screen use to the importance of being careful around older teens (particularly for girls) and saying no to unwanted sexual advances. Ultimately, it also promotes open communication between teens and their parents, as well as courage, since Kayla [the main character] learns to love and speak up for herself.”

In May, we saw a similar argument for teen media as a medium for learning by the creator of the controversial Netflix show “13 Reasons Why.”

But instead of the broad support that “Eighth Grade” is receiving, the show’s first and second seasons both courted controversy for its portrayal–or glorification, according to some teachers and parents groups–of bullying, suicide, and violence.

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When “13 Reasons Why” received backlash for its portrayal of a student preparing for a school shooting attack, series creator Brian Yorkey told the Hollywood Reporter:

“Unfortunately, there’s a great deal of literature about a great number of troubled young men who resorted to or almost resorted to violence to act through their feelings. So we were able to study a great deal of the history there, and we tried to be authentic and honest and also accurate in our portrayal of the character. As with all things with the show, our hope was that we could honestly represent the experience; that our viewers might, through the experience, learn more and start more conversations about those issues in their own world.”

With an overabundance of consumable media, it’s more difficult than ever for parents and teachers to monitor what their children are watching.

When controversies do arise, adults must thread the needle between protecting students from harmful content and missing potential real-world student engagement and teaching opportunities.

Schools should consider whether films like “Eighth Grade”–though potentially awkward to watch–can become important resources to inform important conversations in their classrooms.

How does your school or district address controversial topics in the media? How do you encourage authentic student engagement amid sometimes tough conversations? Tell us in the comments.