‘If you can’t go back to make a new start, start now to make a new end’ – PAN Network
Last weekend, I decided to go for Project X.
And…..It really did feel like I had attended THE actual party. To put it very mildly, the sexual content, obscene language and graphic images imprinted in my God-fearing mind are enough to last me a couple of months in detox. Let’s just say that for the next few weeks, am content to sit and watch ‘KungFu Panda 3’ with my son – for the umpteenth time. Maybe -just maybe- I will receive some penance.
Project X is the movie that has inspired the controversial Project X party that has been trending over the last couple of weeks. The movie is about 3 high school geeks – Thomas, Costa and JB, who plan to gain popularity by throwing a party at Thomas’ house while his parents are away during his birthday weekend.
There’s just something about being a teen and popularity.
The movie starts with the usual disclaimer, “the events portrayed in this film are fictional… performed in a controlled environment…. No one should attempt to recreate any of these scenes or general activities portrayed in this film”. I don’t know about you, but these disclaimers kind of remind me of the ‘forbidden fruit’ command in Genesis. What is it about a warning that makes something so irresistible? Since the movie was released in 2012, several of these parties have been replicated all over the world – with each party trying to outdo the previous one.
So. Thomas Kub’s parents are going away for the weekend, leaving him alone in the house, with very explicit instructions on what should and shouldn’t happen that weekend. Mr. & Mrs. Kub are your regular middle class family, living in a quiet Californian suburb. Their 17 year old son, Thomas, is a quiet, intelligent, focused young lad who scores high grades in school; earning him the not-so-noble title of ‘geek’. His mum’s minivan spots a bumper sticker that reads, ‘My son is an honor student at Franklin Jr High’.
Thomas is every teenage parent’s dream come true.
And he is planning to have a small birthday party with his two best friends, Costa & JB. He promises his parents that the party will have a total of 5 friends –maximum. A promise that he truly intends to keep. His dad gives him 40 bucks for pizza and leaves very specific instructions: No-one should enter my office. Stay away from my Mercedes. Take good care of Milo the cat – the usual instructions that you casually throw at your very responsible teen who already knows the rules.
Let me just pause here and say this. When it comes to our teens, there is a BIG difference between what they intend to do and how things eventually turn out. (Actually, that’s true for some of us adults as well… but… let’s stick to the storyline). There are many reasons for that, but let me give you one that I have found very helpful in understanding teenage behavior. Unlike other organs, the teenage brain is still under very active development. According to Dr. Siegel, a renowned neurologist, the parts of the adolescent brain which develop first, are those which control physical coordination, emotion and motivation. However, the parts of the brain, which control reasoning and impulses, develop last. The reasoning part of the brain does not fully mature until the age of 25. The end result is an adolescent who is physically and emotionally motivated, yet with still developing reasoning capacities. That explains why many teens easily engage in risky and impulsive behaviors without thinking much about the negative consequences. Their brains are still ‘under construction’.
To put it in layman’s language, “The accelerator is fully functional, but the brakes are still under construction”. Can you visualize that?
Please keep that image somewhere at the back of your mind. It is going to be very useful as we keep going.
Enter Costa & JB – Thomas’ geek friends. Now, you and I know that most geeks are kind of boring. However, in any given ‘Geekdom’, you are very likely to stumble across some surprisingly fun geeks. Like Costa. And JB. Although they are not popular with the rest of the crowd outside Geekdom, they can be pretty fun in a geeky sort of way. But Costa & JB are tired of lurking in the shadow of Geekdom. They want out. Like typical teens, they want to assert their identity. And throwing the party of the decade at Thomas’ house, a party that would feature booze, drugs, sex, two DJs and all the popular kids, seems to be the ‘perfect game-changer’.
At first, we see good-boy Thomas Kub struggling with the decision of even allowing the party to happen. He tries to call it off a couple of times. You see, Thomas is a really good boy. In him, we see a profile of the typical teenager. We see the fundamental struggle of adolescence come alive—the desire to please his parents pitted against the overwhelming need to fit in with his peers. This need to belong is one of the most basic needs of humans, and right about the adolescence period, it surges with as much force as all the hormones raging in their bodies.
But Costa has a plan. He wants to be popular, and he will use this opportunity to gain fame. He wears down good-boy Thomas with his persistence. “We need a game changer – no one even knows who we are! This party is gonna change everything for us!” he says.
Let’s face it. Our kids have friends like Costa. Friends who make them feel lousy for not being ‘fun enough’. Friends who will go to extreme lengths to convince them that ‘it really is not that big of a deal’. Friends who know everyone ‘who is anyone’. Costa the strategist, who will convince you to cut off your own hair and donate it to charity. Costa the dealer, who knows where to get the cheapest booze and weed. Friends who shoot down every argument because they have a really smart mouth.
Most of our kids are like Thomas Kub. But they have friends like Costa.
After much wheedling and cajoling, Thomas finally agrees to a ‘50-people-absolute-max, just-big-enough-to-make-us-cool’ kind of party. Costa plans everything down to a T. I tell you. This guy is good! He sends out posters, flyers, video clips. He puts out an ad on the local radio station – the news about the party goes viral. The kind of images you have seen advertising Project X are nothing compared to Costa’s strategy. Suddenly everyone is talking about the party of the decade that’s ‘going down’ over at Thomas Kub’s house.
As the plot thickens, we begin to see Thomas warming up to the idea of instant fame and ‘scoring with the hot chics’. Just in case you’re not aware, that’s what teenage boy’s dreams are made of. Suddenly, Thomas Kub is gaining popularity. Everyone who is anyone is coming to HIS party.
But even as the plans escalate, we see the ‘good boy’ in Thomas struggle to keep up with Costa & JB. He protests at every point. But all the forces are against him. Outnumbered, he loses the battle and throws himself fully into the fun. Heck. If you can’t beat them, join them.
And all hell breaks loose. I am still trying to recover from the images.
The party lasts all night. The Kub’s home is invaded by over 1,500 kids! The whole house is in shambles. Mr. Kub’s Mercedes Benz ends up being driven out of the garage – into the swimming pool. The whole neighborhood goes up in arms and calls the cops. The kids somehow manage to outwit the cops, who watch helplessly as havoc is wreaked throughout the once quiet neighborhood. The entire ‘shindig’ is picked up live on national TV and radio stations. And to cap it all, a drug dealer who had a score to settle with Costa, sets the house on fire. And everything burns down.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
So. How could Mr. and Mrs. Kub leave a 17 year old boy home alone for an entire weekend? You will ask.
The answer is simple. Mr. & Mrs. Kub join the almost 75% of the parents who I like to call, ‘clueless’. In all fairness, let me say that at the beginning of the movie, Mrs. Kub does express her fears about leaving Thomas home alone. However, Mr. Kub quickly dismisses her by saying, “C’mon, he’s not exactly Mr. popular. He’s not that type of kid…He’s a sweet kid, but… he’s a loser.”
In other words, ‘our son is not the type who can pull off anything worth…anything’.
Sadly, in my experience, those are the kind of kids that are likely to bring the whole town down, with a party like Project X. The ‘good’ kind of kids. The ones that have difficulty saying ‘no’. The kids who are craving for identity. Kids whose dads describe them as ‘losers’. And even when their dads do not say it with their words, they say it with their actions.
Every time a boy interacts with his dad, that interaction leaves him feeling either better or worse about himself – Meg Meeker.
We place too much responsibility on our kids to do the right thing and make the right decisions based on the fact that, ‘they are just good kids’. Look. It’s actually the really nice kids that get pushed over and bullied into engaging in risky behaviors. Why? Because they are ‘too nice to say no’. Because they want to belong.
In my last post I asked, ‘What do you know about your child that would give you the confidence that they would say NO to peer pressure?’ As a parent, your confidence in your teen should be based on the fact that you are raising them intentionally, on values that you believe in and practice. Your confidence should be based on a relationship with your children in which you have invested time and positive experiences. Your trust in your children should be based on the fact that the children know not only what you believe in, but why you believe it.
What do you believe in? Why do you believe it? What’s wrong, for instance, with having sex at 17? Or a couple puffs of weed? If you are not clear about your values, you will come off as inconsistent and ‘wishy washy’. Your child will latch onto the loopholes, convince you to cave in, and give you a run for your money.
If your child knows they can wear you down, they will push you.
Here’s my challenge to you: Think of 3 or more parents who are similar to you in your parenting and with whom you share values. Begin serious conversations about your children and talk about what you need to do to prepare your teens and young adults to weather through the storms of peer influence. We’re not meant to raise our children in a vacuum, we belong to a tribe. Consider taking a parenting class together. You are better off as a group. For support. For accountability. To bounce off ideas. You cannot walk this journey alone.
I bet that if the Kubs were in such a group, things could have gone down very, very differently.
Regardless of where you are in this parenting journey, it’s never too late to become a better parent. After all…
If you can’t go back to make a new start, start now to make a new end.
Dr. Carolyne is a psychologist, lecturer and parenting coach. She is passionate about parenting, emotional wellness and quality education. Her mission is to walk with parents going through different spaces and phases of their parenting journey; by empowering them through coaching and counselling, in order to equip them to parent with purpose and confidence.