Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
Adolescence is an extremely volatile time in a person’s life. A multitude of changes are occurring within an individual who is currently living through this period in their life. This can be seen a lot within the film, Dead Poets Society. In this film, there’s a myriad of different characters all depicting the varying aspects and personalities one could develop during adolescence. Todd Anderson is a textbook example of a quiet, shy teenager, whereas his roommate Neil Perry is a boisterous, popular figure who achieves nothing shy of perfection. However, these characters aren’t simply handed these personalities at random.
During adolescence, most teenagers are trying to find a sense of identity, and a sense of self, or their self concept. It is during this time that their sense of self starts to become more clear, and they begin to understand their strengths versus their weaknesses. This is also where self-esteem truly begins to differentiate because at this age, adolescents tend to add varying dimensions to this concept. For example, they consider their close friend groups, their competence at work, and their romantic appeal. (Berk, 2014)
This example can be viewed in both Todd and Neil. Todd is unsure of himself because he’s just been transferred to a new school. He lacks stability in every dimension of self esteem; he has no close friends just yet, the romantic appeal doesn’t particularly apply because it’s an all boys school, and he feels an overwhelming amount of pressure to succeed because of the high notoriety the school has for housing promising students. Neil, however, is quite confident in himself because it is known he is one of the top students, he has a group of close friends, and is occasionally noted for being handsome.
Family life and the environment in which adolescents are raised has a lot to do with their development. During a longitudinal study, it was found that more positive and secure parent-child relationships would produce positive, secure friendships later in life. (Wise & King, 2008). While the extent of their relationship is unknown, Todd and his parents appear to be very distant with each other, which can be especially noted when they send him the exact same present that they got him last year for his birthday. This example shows that they are detached, and could generate the idea that they didn’t have a very secure parent-child attachment during childhood, which could definitely be a cause of his insecure view of himself.
Parenting styles also prove to be a large impact on an adolescent’s development. Autonomy is vital for an adolescent during this tumultuous period of their lives. They need to be able to rely on themselves, and less of their parents for guidance. Also, they need to be able to feel as if they’re free to make their own decisions. With an authoritarian parenting style, the style of Neil Perry’s parents, this greatly limits the child’s autonomy. Those whose parents are overbearing and controlling, provide insufficient rewarding of positive behavior, and poor acceptance have been identified as predictors of externalizing behavior. (Leeuwen, Mervielde, Braet, Bosmans, 2004) Due to the overbearing grip that his parents seemingly had on his life, Neil tends to act out against them, or externalize his behavior, rather than Todd, who instead puts his insecurities and frustrations on himself, therefore internalizing his behavior.
An example of this would be when Neil decides to participate in the play despite knowing full well his father would never agree. After some encouragement from Mr. Keating, he decides to go through with it. Mr. Keating also encourages Neil to try to talk to his father about his feelings, but because Mr. Perry has the authoritarian parenting style, he shuts him down entirely and even threatens to send him to military school. This interaction causes Neil to perform in the play out of spite, specifically acting against his father’s wishes.
Another example of this is when Neil commits suicide. Rather than internalizing all of the pain and emotions he has been feeling, Neil instead acts externally and ultimately ends his life. He has been subjected to psychological control via his parents his entire life, which can cause withdrawn, aggressive, and defiant behavior in an adolescent. (Berk, 2014) The final straw for Neil was when his father told him he was being withdrawn from Welton Academy and instead being enrolled in a military school specifically for disobeying him. This was the catalyst that set him off, which caused him to finally feel the weight of his parent’s constant pressure, and the feeling of not being able to be truly autonomous. Neil’s dream was to perform, and pursue some career in the arts, however his parents told him he was going to Harvard. They refused to listen to his wishes, and instead held him to such a high standard that would be considered unachievable for even the brightest of children. When he failed to reach that standard, they withdrew their love and ultimately punished him for wanting to pursue something of his own interests.
In Dead Poets Society, the depiction of adolescence is very accurate. The characters in this film are diverse, and it showcases multiple personalities of adolescence and how each individual may respond differently to situations depending on their development and the environment in which they were raised in.