I saw a great psychologically-minded movie recently that really made you think about teens and some of the struggles they have and the support they so badly need from the adults around them. Short Term 12 is about afictional short-term foster care facility, and the young residents and the staff who care about them.
The writer-director, Destin Daniel Cretton worked at such a facility, which really shows in the film's honesty. The characters feel complex enough to be real. Cretton effectively captures the improvisational feel and emotional intelligence that is necessary to be effective in good treatment.
Each teen has their own story. Behind their quietness or their acting out, they are trying to cope with unstable, abusive and neglectful parents, loss, self-esteem, and change. It's hard enough to be a teen in a stable home with all the pressure from peers, self-consciousness, body image concerns, hormonal changes, mood swings, andthe search for an identity. Just imagine having to do that when your parents are damaged themselves, chemically dependent, abusive, or absent entirely.
The teens in the film have a hard time trusting, and understandably so. Sometimes the teens just runaway from the facility, and the staff go running to encourage them to return. It reminded me about that old saying about the impact of teachers: It doesn't matter how much they know until you know how much they care. There are some beautiful sequences in the film where a young staff person chases and follows one of the residents and demonstrates how much they care about them.
There is also a storyline about a romance between two of the young staffers that is interesting. Grace (Brie Larson) is superb as the senior staff person, who understands the kind of pain many of the teens are going through in a deeply personal way. Larson gives a strong and vulnerable performance as she tries to open up and risk letting people close, not too differently from the teen residents she watches over. Several of the staff give great performances, demonstrating how parallel play, like drawing with a teen who draws or performing music with a teen whose language is music, can be a powerful unspoken language of connection and joining.
The movie Short Term 12 is well worth seeing. There is pain, but also profound hope. It makes you see how much all teens need love, consistent limits, the ability to test those limits, and adults around them (related or not) who truly care about them. I always think we could change the world if every child and teen had at least one adult who really listened from the heart, and tried to join and connect with them. Bruising happens, but healing is always a possibility as long as we are alive.