The Emotional and Social Development of Adolescents in “The Perks of being a Wallflower”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a “”movie that will stay with you forever…it touches yourself, your heart””, according to a Google Review by Aditya Haridwari. The film begins with the main character, Charlie, writing a letter to an undisclosed individual about the start of an important milestone, high school. Previous school years had been tough enough for Charlie, who experienced bullying all throughout and the death of his best friend to suicide just the year before.

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As the first day of school came along and Charlie, an introverted bookworm, was tormented by other students, and the only friend he made was his English teacher. Eventually, Charlie attends a football game, where he befriends Patrick, a bombastic senior classmate in one of Charlie’s freshman classes. Patrick introduces Charlie to his stepsister, Sam whom Charlie develops a crush on. Charlie is later introduced to their group of friends who all identify themselves as “”misfits”” (Huggo).

Although being part of this group decreased the number of blackouts and explicit flashbacks Charlie was having, he was still helpless in completely breaking away from his past and stopping him from becoming “”bad”” again. These negative symptoms arose from peculiar troubles about “”the person he loved most in the world before meeting Sam, namely his now deceased Aunt Helen”” (Huggo). All of these underlying issues from Charlie’s past had accumulated over time of not fully understanding them and the lack of effective coping mechanisms, which was triggered by the overwhelming emotions and experiences he was having with his new friends and high school. This accumulation, in combination with Charlie’s adolescent emotional and social development, played a role in the development of role confusion, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social functioning. Charlie’s Emotional and Social Development Erik Erikson’s Theory Background The World Health Organization identifies the stage of adolescents between the ages of 10 to 19 years (Age limits and adolescents, 2003). Throughout this period of life, adolescent individuals experience the psychological battle known as identity versus role confusion. Through the action of exploring self-characteristics, different commitments, and personality, individuals go through an identity crisis.

The goal for these adolescents is to use the factors that have been explored to develop an identity, then this continuous quest influences decisions made later in life such as sexual orientation, careers, or going to college. In Exploring Lifespan for Development (2018), when composing an identity, one is determining their values, direction in life, and who they truly are (Berk, 2018, 12.1). After an identity has been determined by the adolescent individual, then the identity crisis has been resolved, and this new identity sets a foundation for the individual’s adulthood. A clear and definite identity is unexpected from the adolescents and the experience is not a traumatic one, as the textbook explains. Rather, teens at this stage of the lifespan, develop identity through “”a process of exploration followed by commitment”” (Berks, 2018, 12.1). If the crisis does not get resolved, however, adolescents are at risk of developing role confusion. This occurs when the early conflicts experienced by these individuals were solved negatively, or when limitations on the decisions made was put the individual by society (Berk, 2018, 12.1). Negative solutions of earlier experiences and the limitations put on by society can leave the teen to feel a sense of unpreparedness for young adulthood and a lack of direction. Furthermore, when looking at Charlie in the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, one sees that Charlie is stuck in a state of role confusion upon entering high school. Charlie’s Role Confusion and Aunt Helen In his past years, Charlie experienced hardships that were left unsolved or resolved negatively. Charlie was molested by his Aunt Helen, who he perceived as one of the most important people in his life, and he had a great love for her.

When he was a child, Aunt Helen died on Christmas Eve, which happened to fall on Charlie’s birthday, while on her way to get Charlie’s gift. After the incident, Charlie was left with an overwhelming load of emotions that lead to different mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and social anxiety throughout his adolescent years. In addition to the incident, Charlie did not understand why someone he loved so dearly would do him any harm. This situation was resolved negatively in that he began to question himself and blame himself for his Aunt’s death. He remains in this state of confusion during his flashbacks, and it gets triggered in scene 171, after saying goodbye to Sam and the group of friends as they left for college. As Charlie walks back home from saying goodbye, he begins to have an anxiety attack, with traumatizing shots of memories with his Aunt Helen, and his mind gets stuck on the thought of her death being Charlie’s fault. In scene 171, he called his sister Candace to ask if he killed Aunt Helen and goes on to explain that she was on her way to get his birthday present, which could be that he wished she was dead because he wanted her to die (Chbosky & Malkovich, 2012, scene 171). Charlie confessed that he could not get the thought out of his head since the incident happened when he was a child, which lead to show that the experience was resolved negatively, leading to his role confusion state.

Charlie not only began high school with the thoughts and confusion from flashbacks that he carried about Aunt Helen but also having experienced the death of his best friend the past year. Due to these experiences Charlie had prior to adolescence and high school, he struggled with finding his identity and is given the identity status of identity diffusion. He persisted onto high school with lack of direction and is not essentially dedicated to anything nor exploring (Berk, 2018, 12.2). Despite having thought about becoming a writer, Charlie did not fully explore the career or other options possibly because of being overwhelmed with the past experiences. Charlie’s identity diffusion of role confusion has influenced the development of mental health problems, as previously mentioned, one being post-traumatic stress disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As a result of being molested as a child by his Aunt Helen, Charlie had developed post-traumatic stress disorder and repressed the violent memories. This disorder influenced Charlie’s social life.

In a study conducted by the department of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers examined the influence between the severity of symptoms caused by PTSD, and social functioning in adolescence (McLean et. al, 2013). These symptoms include recurring flashbacks and avoidance tendency. After studying teenage females with a history of child sexual abuse, researchers proved their hypothesis that the greater the severity of the PTSD symptoms, the worse their social functioning had become (McLean et. al, 2013). This can lead to the development of social anxiety as shown with Charlie in the film. Charlie’s case of social anxiety is difficult to tell because it is also influenced by Charlie being an introvert. Nonetheless, the flashbacks from his PTSD affects his interaction with others like in scene 148, when Charlie is with Sam in her bedroom. Sam questions why Charlie never asked her out, and after a few confessions, Charlie kisses Sam. In the midst of kissing, Sam had gently touched Charlie above the knee, which triggered a re-experience with his Aunt Helen (Chbosky & Malkovich, 2012, scene 171). Fortunately, enough for Charlie, he had a gracious support system despite the effects of his PTSD. Charlie’s Influences. The socioeconomic economic status of Charlie’s family influenced Charlie and the treatments he lacked for his mental health.

After his anxiety episode, Charlie blacks out and wakes up in a hospital. As soon as the doctor comes in, Charlie informs her that he does not need help and that his family cannot afford the treatment anyway (Chbosky & Malkovich, 2012). In addition to his family, Charlie’s friends also had a great deal of influence on Charlie throughout the film. Upon the beginnings of his high school stage in life and the adolescent period, Charlie had begun to strive for autonomy, a self-governing human being. Although his family ties remain strong, Charlie focused on spending more time with his new group of friends. One of the most important factors that characterize friendships in adolescence is intimacy, also known as physiological closeness (Berks, 2018, 12.5). When friends develop this closeness, they develop a strong social support. After becoming part of Patrick and Sam’s group of friends, Charlie felt like he people were always there for him when he needed to discuss something, and he simply felt better being in their presence. Charlie’s flashbacks and social anxiety decreased when he made friends, and even when he had an anxiety attack, his friends continued to check up on him.

Conclusion

Adolescence is an important period in one’s lifetime because it sets up the foundation of an individual’s young adulthood and the rest of their life. Erik Erikson’s theory on the identity versus role confusion during this time frame demonstrates the importance of developing identity. There are consequences when a person falls behind on forming an identity, leading them to fall into role confusion, as shown with Charlie in the film The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The film also highlights the effects of child abuse on the child, in combination with poor coping mechanisms, leading to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety in their adolescence years. Furthermore, the movie also portrays the positive and negative influences that family and friends can have on a teenager and their life. The Perks of Being a Wallflower perfectly demonstrated the adolescence psychological period of the lifespan.

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