Leah GiarritanoEPSY 430Movie Case Study5 GirlsThe movie 5 Girls provides a candid glimpse into the adolescent development of fiveyoung girls as they deal with the unique issues encountered in their daily livesduring this tumultuous stage of transition and growth. Adolescence is a crossroadswhere major developmental milestones collide: puberty, brain maturation, cognitiveand emotional development, peer pressure, school transitions, changes in familydynamics, sexuality and identity formation. Navigating those rough waters canprove challenging for any young adult. In this film, we gain significant insight intothe pressures and expectations brought on during this developmental stage as wefollow five girls coping with the challenges of adolescence and struggling to findtheir way in the world.Seventeen-year old Corrie is a high school senior struggling with issues related toher bisexuality, her father’s reaction to her sexual orientation, her parents’ divorceand the role of religion in her life. Corrie isconfident in herself and enjoys politics,but has a hard time connecting with her peers at school, which makes her feelisolated and misunderstood. Research conducted by Savin-Williams (1995) informsus that “the view that deviations from gender norms is pathological combined withthe view that if one does deviate, it should be in a prescribed way, may make many
young lesbians and female bisexuals feel alienated and confused” (Basow and Rubin,pp. 34). Corrie embraces her sexual identity as a bisexual but struggles to cope withthe disapproval and threat of abandonment by her father, a staunch Christian whorefuses to accept her sexual orientation. We observe the awkwardness of therelationship with her father as we see them struggling to communicate and connectwith one another. During adolescence, issues of sexual awareness and identity are atthe forefront of life. Feeling connected to and accepted by peers and familymembers is critical to healthy development. Although Corrie never resolves herissues with her dad, she joins a Pride Youth Program where gay kids can meettogether and cope with their emotions in a positive and safe environment. Twoyears later, at college, Corrie feels like part of a community for the first time in herlife. She has grown to love and accept herself and recognizes that she can be happydespite her father’s rejection.Aisha is an honor student and an athlete. At sixteen years old, she lives with herfather, only seeing her mother on weekends, and struggleswith the pressure toplease both of her parents. Aisha isfrustrated trying to cope with the negativeemotions that have existed between her parents since their recent separation.Though divorce can be detrimental to the immediate and long-term mental health ofadolescents, studies by Furstenberg, Morgan, & Allison (1987) and Menning (2002)have shown that “financial support from fathers…is associated with less problembehavior and higher academic achievement” (Steinberg, pp. 152). Aisha’s father isvery involved in her life, from attending all of her basketball games and restricting
her ability to date, to directing her clothing choices, his participation, thoughoverwhelming at times, likely empowers her and fuels her success and confidence.While her father’s initial tendencies lean toward authoritarian parenting, he seemsto begin gravitating toward authoritative parenting as he gains respect for Aisha’schoices and allows her more flexibility to make her own decisions. “Children whoare responsible, self-directed, curious, and self-assured elicit from their parentswarmth, flexible guidance, and verbal give-and-take” (Steinberg, pp. 142). Twoyears later, Aisha feels like she is flourishing. Having been awarded scholarships attwo different colleges, she is proud of herself, knows she is a hard worker and thatshe doesn’t need to depend on anyone else.Toby, a thirteen-year old girl who considers herself “normal”, is becomingincreasingly aware of the social and peer pressures that surround her life. Shementions that there are a lot of cliques at school and with which group of friendsyou are associated really matters. “The cognitive changes of adolescence permit amore sophisticatedunderstanding of social relationships, an understanding whichmay allow the sort of abstract categorization that leads to groups individuals intocrowds” (Steinberg, pp. 175). Toby feels pressure to look like other people shethinks are pretty and believes that her hair is too frizzy; however, she does establishlimits to what she feels is acceptable behavior when she dismisses the pressure tohave a boyfriend and to dance in a manner similar to some of her other peers(grinding and lap-dancing). Her resilience to peer pressure early in adolescence is agood sign and reflective, in part, ofsignificant parental involvement in her life.
Though they admit to imposing high expectations on Toby, her parent’s love,support and acceptance of her have a powerful impact on her confidence,personality and attitude. “Study after study finds that adolescents who feel that theirparents or guardians are there for them—caring, involved and accepting—arehealthier, happier, and more competent than their peers…” (Steinberg, pp. 163).Toby is successful, happy and thriving.Amber, a fifteen-year old junior has been on the honor roll since her freshman yearin high school and carries a 3.6 GPA. She lives with her mom, stepfather, sister andbrother in a small apartment in a rough neighborhood, riddled with crime and drugson the south side of Chicago. Amber has no memories of her father, a drug dealerwho was killed when she was just a young girl. As she navigates her way throughadolescence, troubles between Amber and her mother are escalating and ultimatelypeak when Amber decides to leave home and move in with her elderly grandmother.According to research by Larson & Richards (1994), “During the same time that thenumber of dailyconflicts between parents and their early adolescent childrenincreases (compared with preadolescence), declines occur in the amount of timethey spend together and in their reports of emotional closeness” (Arnett, pp. 319).Smetana (1989) explains, “Several researchers have studied changes in theadolescents’ cognitive abilities and how these changes may reverberate throughoutthe family. Changes in the ways adolescents view family rules and regulations maycontribute to increased conflict between them and their parents” (Steinberg, pp.138). Despite significant discord with her mother, essentially living on her own and
dating a much older boy who is under house arrest for selling drugs, Aishamaintains her commitment to education and ultimately, with support from a role-model teacher, gets accepted at the University of Illinois. She is the first woman inher family to go to college and according to her, “she’s a survivor.”Haibinh, a Vietnamese native living in a gateway community in Chicago with herfamily, is fifteen years old. She is ranked as one of the top ten students at her magnethigh school and believes that doing well in school is the only thing that will makeher happy. She puts a lot of pressure on herself to fit in with her peers and oftenfeels like she has a dual personality, with both Vietnamese and American influencesin her daily life. Haibihn explains that in the Vietnamese culture kids are suppressedand not given freedom of choice by their parents. “Asian American parents arestricter than their counterparts from other cultural groups” (Steinberg, pp. 143).Her parents are very strict and her mom tells her that freedom does not mean doingeverything she wants to do. According to research by Yau & Smetana (1996),“Nonwhiteparents frequently combine a very high degree of strictness (like whiteauthoritarian parents) with warmth (like white authoritative parents)” (Steinberg,pp. 143). Haibihn has been remarkably successful, both emotionally andacademically, while coping with peer pressure, cultural identity issues and familylife transitions. This success seems, in large part, to be related to strong familybonds, a hybrid cultural parenting style and her own dedication. Two years later,Haibihn was accepted to Harvard, Brown and Stanford, and chose to attendStanford.
In the film, 5 Girls, we are introduced to five culturally and economically diversegirls facing the challenges of adolescence. From issues related to sexuality, changesin family dynamics, peer pressure, parental discord and cultural identity transitions,these girls allow us to observe the challenges faced during this tumultuous stage inlife. Each girl’s story is heart-warming, engaging and enlightening, granting us theprivilege of walking beside her as she faces the rough terrain of adolescence. ResourcesArnett, Jeffrey Jensen (May 1999). Adolescent Storm and Stress, Reconsidered,American Psychologist (Vol. 54, No. 5, pp. 317-326).Basow, Susan A. and Rubin, Lisa R. (1999). Gender Influences on AdolescentDevelopment. In N.G. Johnson, M. Roberts, & J. Worell (Eds.), Beyond Appearances: ANew Look at Adolescent Girls. (pp. 25-52). Washington, DC: APA.Steinberg, L. (2005). Adolescence (7th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill. (Ch. 4, pp. 131-163),(Ch.5, pp. 173-197).