Thirteen -- Adolescent Development Depicted in a Contemporary Film
Home life, family dynamics, and Tracy's relationship with her mom, dad, brother, her mom's boyfriend.
"How many times are you going to let him fuck you over," Tracy yells at her mom after finding her mom's boyfriend's clothes in the dryer. "His clothes should not be in your laundry," Tracy shouts, in an apparent mood swing brought on by her hatred for her mom's boyfriend; it's a mood swing because moments before Tracy and her friend and mentor Evie were strutting around in their new tight pants and sexy tops, being frisky, and flirtatious. Mom is busy doing a customer's hair in the kitchen (mom is a hairstylist who works at home), and Tracy makes a big fuss over those boyfriend clothes.
The home life is pretty seamy and unsophisticated, which helps explain why Tracy is so easily swept up by the raunchy, bad-girl stature of Evie. When mom finishes doing the dye job on a customer's hair, she says to the customer that if the customer "gets laid" because of the quality of the hair, then mom should get a bonus for the blonde hair dye job. Mom sneaks cigarettes in her room, and shows the audience that she really doesn't have the tools to be a good mother in the traditional sense.
The father is virtually a non-functioning partner in the raising of his daughter, asking his daughter "to cut me some slack" when he has been asked to take Tracy for a few days by her mom. Even in the opening launching of a conversation with his daughter he interrupts his dialog to take a phone call. Clearly his daughter knows he doesn't care very much about her situation or her life. The brother is an impressionable teen, who is both curious about his sister and unable to do anything to help her.
Puberty and Self-Esteem: In Steinberg's book (41), he discusses at great length the changes an adolescent goes through when puberty arrives. "Going through puberty may lead to modest declines in self-esteem among adolescent girls ... " It seems that prior to meeting Evie, Tracy indeed had a bit of a self-esteem problem, but it appeared to also be related to the peer group pressure Tracy feels at junior high school.
" ... Puberty may be a potential stressor (41) that has temporary adverse psychological consequences for girls, but only when it is coupled with other changes that necessitate adjustment," Steinberg asserts. The changes in this case are the feelings that Tracy experiences in junior high school as she sees the beautiful girls, like Evie, and how cool they dress, how sexy they look, compared with herself, a rather "plain Jane" by any measure. The beautiful girls look over at her not with contempt, but with arrogance and a kind of teen age pity, that says, "we look so much hotter than you do girl, you ought to be ashamed."
The pretty girls even laugh at Tracy's plain style of dress. It makes Tracy feel very uncomfortable, which ties into Steinberg's view that puberty itself doesn't cause the psychological stress on its own, but rather when it is coupled with the lack of self-esteem created by the juxtaposition of her own image as a cute girl in boring, old fashioned clothes, contrasted with the gorgeous girls in provocative, revealing clothing.
The audience sees Tracy, early in the film, throwing away some of her clothes, and tossing her teddy bears off the bed. It may be symbolism on the part of the director to show Tracy is shedding her childhood image, even rebelling against her childhood, but it is also possibly a ramification of her dissatisfaction with her life, her family, her place in her peer group.
Puberty and Mood Swings: " ... Studies indicate (41) that rapid increases in many hormones associated with puberty -- such as ... estrogen and various adrenal androgens -- especially when the increases take place very early in adolescence, may be associated with increased irritability, impulsivity, aggression (in boys), and depression (in girls)." This description of hormonal changes in the body during puberty can be witnessed during the part of the film right after Evie gives Tracy a cell phone number and asks Tracy to call her after school.
The audience sees Tracy jumping for joy, like she'd won the lottery or her team had won the Super Bowl, in anticipation of hanging out with Evie. Evie, the teenage goddess, the hottest girl in school, the girl all other girls want to look like (a figure like a movie star and lips and eyes that drip with sexuality), has agreed to invite naive little Tracy into the world of sex, drugs, boys, fast-lane living, shop-lifting, and teenage fun and excitement that is serendipitous, spontaneous, and also reckless.
And then, a bit later in the film, when Tracy gets home and tries to call Evie, the call cannot be completed. "I'm sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed ... " the taped operator message is heard. After calling again, Tracy gets the same message, and kicks the trash bucket in the kitchen in a rage. This is a classic mood swing, not just of a spoiled brat who didn't get her way, but of a teenage girl going through a dramatic biological transition (puberty) and also going into a social and peer-group transition.
In Steinberg's research (44), he notes that "most researchers agree that the impact of hormonal change on mood and behavior in adolescence is greatly influenced by environmental factors." The environmental factor in Tracy's world is her peer group and her change from one peer group (the ordinary girls she used to hang out with) to a peer group led by Evie. Evie's group is coveted by Tracy (and also the film shows the sexy, splashy advertising on the downtown streets that entices young girls to covet those fashions, cosmetics, and styles, which mesmerizes Tracy), because Evie is one of prettier girls, the more popular girls, the girls who are wanted by boys, girls who act older and do adult things like smoking and drugs and having sex and stealing from department stores.
As for Tracy, her adolescent mood swings, on page 44 of Steinberg's book, tend to "parallel [her] changes in activities." When mom asks why Tracy is throwing away some of her old clothes, Tracy blurts out, in a quick-tempered mood swing, "I need new clothes. I'm stupid! Hello!" The "change of activities" means Tracy is now running with some hot girls and hanging out in places where boys can see and be scene, the mall.
Puberty and Family Relations: It's already very clear that Tracy's family is dysfunctional, and does not offer her anything that would help a teenage girl be lifted up out of the psychological depths that puberty plunges her into from time to time. On page 45, Steinberg alludes to studies which show that "... As youngsters mature from childhood toward the middle of puberty, distance between them and their parents increases, and conflict intensifies, especially between the adolescent and his or her mother ... "
This is very clear as the audience views the ongoing and growing conflict between Tracy and her mother. As the film progresses, more and more it is obvious that there is zero communication between Tracy and her mother. Tracy lies constantly to cover for the inappropriate activities she engages in with Evie, and when Tracy's mother tries to get serious, or impart motherly guidance, Tracy becomes agitated and her mood turns to rage and belligerence.
PSYCHOSOCIAL PROBLEMS: When the film opens, the audience sees Tracy and Evie slapping each other so viciously they bleed from the mouth. This is a foreshadowing technique for what will happen later, as Tracy continues her habit of cutting herself, a "self-destructive behavior." When Evie slides out the window of Tracy's bedroom to go and have sex with a boy, Tracy then takes a scissors and cuts herself in the wrist deeply. It would seem that she is depressed already, by the confusion in her life and the speed of her social changes with Evie; but it could also be at this point that she wants to have sex too, wants to grow up so to speak and be as "mature" as Evie by having her own sexual experiences.
The desire to cut her own self could also be a result of depression that Tracy is experiencing, partly from puberty, and partly from her dysfunctional family setting. In Steinberg's section, "Depression and Suicide," he point out (511) that it is "not normal for adolescents to feel a prolonged or intense sense of hopelessness or frustration." Young people who do indeed experience "prolonged or intense" feelings of being frustrated (by family) and having hopelessness surrounding them, "are likely to be psychologically depressed and in need of professional help."
It would seem that the deep cut Tracy inflicted on herself…