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Puberty Blues: Why Sue and Debbie make us nervous

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My hands were getting clammy, I was squirming in my seat and I felt that tremor of discomfort scream through my body.

I was watching ‘Puberty Blues’ in the comfort of my lounge room and I was captivated, curious and longing to turn the television off all at the same time.

There is plenty of writing about this show in the online world at the moment. Most of it focuses on whether teenagers have it the same today, or if things have changed or progressed.

There is much discussion about people hoping girls are savvier nowadays and that they know to put more worth on themselves. Most people seem to watch it with some level of discomfort as it either reminds them of their own teen years, or strikes fear into them as they are confronted with the issues their children are tiptoeing into.

I think this show is attracting plenty of attention because the writers, producers and actors have done an incredible job in portraying the dual existence of Sue and Debbie. They are so clearly portrayed as children, complete with infectious laughter, obligations to parents, an ability to love unconditionally, a naïve innocence and a hand holding security that comes from simply being in the world together. It is a beautiful, childish friendship that is portrayed through their dialogue, mannerisms and physical presence on screen together.

Yet they are in a world that is in complete conflict to their childish nature. The world of self -gratifying sex, bullying, alcohol, peer pressure, mostly selfish adult role models and drug use, crashes down and pulls them into a spiral that we, as viewers, can see will undo any child-like purity and innocence they possess.

The reason we feel so uneasy watching this contrast is that we know how uncomfortable, and yet so very significant this transition from childhood to adulthood is. I don’t think our viewer discomfort is actually about the sex (although it is confronting to watch), which is only a part of their experience as they move from one phase to another. I think our discomfort is due to watching that crucial moment where these young people are choosing something that has the potential to change the direction of their lives.

For those of us who are parents, I think we hope our children will make these decisions over a fairly lengthy passage of time, and in a self-directed, thought through process. The ways Sue and Debbie make these choices alarm us. The girls are impulsive and motivated by a desire to please other people and gain their approval. In short, it is probably our nightmare for our children, which leaves us with that panicky, out of control feeling as we watch Puberty Blues. More than what they are doing, it is how and why they are doing it that unsettles us.

In some ways, all the talk around about whether teens today know more and treat each other better is somewhat irrelevant. What is probably more pressing is to engage in a dialogue on whether society today is encouraging and allowing teens to take time to think through decisions and actions, with clear ideas of physical and emotional consequences. Although I agree that there is far more information and openness regarding this phase of life, I also think teens are existing in a world which is giving them plenty of incentive, encouragement and even pressure, to grow up quickly and get to the adult side fast.

I haven’t read the book, and I don’t know how it will all end for Debbie and Sue, but I hope they are among the lucky ones whose bumbling and fumbling into adulthood doesn’t cost them too much. I am guessing there is every chance it will, though.

Although there is part of me that doesn’t want to watch next week, I know I will. As much as we don’t enjoy reminiscing about ourselves at that age or fearing what lies ahead for little people in our lives, to be confronted with a fictional bird’s eye view of it, is an interesting opportunity. In some ways, it offers us a chance to think through it ourselves and to hopefully play a role in getting it right when teens we love are in the middle of it.

Are you watching the show and does it make you uncomfortable? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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Stephanie Brown - to view all of Stephanie Brown's blog post click here

Stephanie Brown is taking a break from teaching English and History, while she looks after her three children. She is enjoying rediscovering her love of writing as she observes and writes about her little place in the world.

  • I watched the first episode but haven’t watched since, not because I didn’t enjoy it, just busy doing other things really.
    I think we all experience life differently and the teenage years are the most difficult to go through, but generally I think most of us make it through unscathed.
    As a parent though, you are right it does make me nervous to know that these are the issues that our girls may be faced with and I just hope our parenting, and our morals are strong enough to get them through (and us!).

  • Clare

    I’ve watched a few episodes but I find it too depressing to watch it regularly. I find it so sad that they think so cheaply of themselves, and sadder that most of the parents are terrible role models too. As a teacher in an all girls school I really hope things have changed for the better!!!

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  • hi
    It’s a nice post.Thanks for sharing.