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Psychologically and mentally unstable characters have sparked several debates in Hollywood dramas. Depression and low self-esteem are caused by mental, social, and family challenges, and they primarily impact adolescents. Thirteen, for example, depicts how a teenager named Tracy is psychologically confused and is snatched away by a poor organization. Tracey was a sweet little girl who became enamored with the lives of prominent pupils at school. When her family split up, things were harder. Her divorced mother is a drug addict, and she lets her drug-addicted boyfriend live with her. Tracey does not get the attention she needs which leads to her weak emotional feelings. Out of curiosity and desire to explore life, she changes the way she dresses to look more attractive and get attention like her fellow schoolmates. Then one day, Evie discovers her and invites her for shopping in Hollywood. Due to their friendship and lousy company, Tracy becomes a drug addict, starts engaging in sex and stealing due to pressure from her new friends (Lerner & Castellino, 2002). The essay discusses about the challenges that Tracey experiences and what attracts her to get into an abusive peer group. The developmental theories in understanding Tracey’s experience include physical and cognitive development theories. One development theory fitting Tracey’s social changes is Erik Erickson psycho-social theory. Understanding of familial concepts and their effects on adolescent development are important when analyzing Tracey’s experience.

At the start of adolescence, Tracy is a focused girl who believes that she can score an A in her studies. As a little girl, she requires close attention from the family and close friends to keep her motivated. During adolescence, Tracy faces a lot of temptations. She hears her friends talk about several sex experiences in which she had never experienced. Every parent should monitor and advise their children especially girls on matters sexuality when at teenage years (Conway & Vermette, 2006). Her mother divorces her father. Tracey’s mother was once an alcoholic, and she was still recovering. Tracey gets angry and begins to hate her mother. It causes a lot of tension and stress. She loses a lot of weight considering that she was still feeling pained about her parent's breakups. In addressing the psychosocial development theory, and connecting the risk/protective factors to Tracey social changes, some of the eight tenets of the Erik Erikson’s theory are explained. Personality is developed through a series of stages. Tracey’s live can be explained mostly by stages five and six which include identity versus confusion, and intimacy versus isolation.

Social Changes

Since Tracey’s mother does not give her the attention she needs, she changes and begins to seek attention and explore the other side of ‘bad girls.’ Tracey’s feeling can be associated with stage two of Erikson theory of having a choice between autonomy versus shame and doubt. She chose to erase doubt in her through admiring her classmates and aspiring to join them. Out of curiosity, Tracey copies what other girls do at school. Her dress code changes and she becomes arrogant towards people especially if anyone tries to warn her about her new friends. Evie notices her and invites Tracy in their gang of spoiled girls. Tracey cannot deny since she requires a group to rely on and she had been admiring Evie’s life who was known for the negative things she did. Out of anxiety and desire to fit with the group, Tracy selects the latest fashion of clothes to attract boys as Evie did. Evie who acts as the leader of her group has blackmailed all the girls, and they do what she says to remain in her company. If the mother had been around to check on her little girl, then she would have warned her on the type of peer to select. It would be good if Tracey’s mother was around to give her guidance and counseling, she would not have had time for her bad company. She would have helped her choose the best friends or perhaps suggest other hobby activities to keep her busy (Blum et al., 1993). But now because the motherly love and advice are not present, Tracey decides to explore life by herself. Even though Tracy would have recognized that using drugs and stealing, she has no option since she wants to be accepted in her group. The craving for acceptance can be termed as a risk factor Erikson explains as a search for intimacy among the isolated teens (psychosocial stage six). On one occasion, her girls go for shoplifting, but Tracy remains behind since it seems that she feels stealing is not the right thing to do. After a series of backfiring and staying back, Evie humiliates her for being a coward. Tracy finally changes her behaviors to match her friends. The results can be considered as the effects of peer pressure where an individual has to change to match his or her peers. Sex and drugs become the order of the day as they also shoplift to purchase expensive jewels and clothes. Many teenagers feel the need to fit in certain peer group (Compas, Connor-Smith, Saltzman, Thomsen & Wadsworth, 2001). The social and cognitive development of Tracy is what triggers all the behavioral changes. There is always an urge to try new things and have new friends. The body produces hormones which require an immediate response. Her behavior changes to the worst as she also proceeds to have a tongue and a belly piercing.

Familial Changes and Tracey

Family should be a good example because most children adopt what they see. Tracy’s mother is a recovering alcoholic who once more embarks on drinking and the situation stresses her daughter’s mental ability leading to inability to concentrate in school. Tracy feels that her mother’s behavior is not going to change anytime soon. The mother does not pay attention to the girl as she focuses on drugs and her ex-boyfriend. Even after Tracy’s father discovers that his child is using drugs, he finds it hard to convince her to stop taking drugs because he had never shown any concern. The breakup of the family also affects Tracy’s emotional life. What disturbs her is that she does not have a family to rely on and the family is unable to settle their disputes. Tracey finds a family (Evie and her girls) in which she gets the attention she needs and craves. Even if a family breaks up, there should be some efforts made by both parents to ensure that the child feels loved and recognized (Blum et al., 1993).

Tracy’s behavioral change is caused by the state of her family. A family is the most important thing that an adolescent relies on while growing up. They are always in a dilemma on what to do or what not to do as described under stage five (identity versus confusion) of Erikson psychosocial theory of development (Steinberg, 2017). There should be support from the family to mold an adolescent’s behavior and cognitive development. If there is no family support and attention, there can be frustrations and agitations, and therefore adolescents opt to do what makes them feel better. Out of anxieties, they may also end up doing something terrible to attract the attention of the guardian, close friend or parent. In the process of trying new things, there is a possibility of getting stuck, and it becomes challenging to resume to the ordinary and accepted morals even after the adolescent stage is over (Oestreicher, 2011). Her family is a poor example and she lacks a role model to look upon.

Every adolescent requires protection regarding physical life and also emotional risks that may occur in a particular environment. Any peers or behaviors that intend to direct the mind of an adolescent are considered to be dangers (Compas, Connor-Smith, Saltzman, Thomsen & Wadsworth, 2001). Therefore they have to be protected from a series of things they may encounter on the way. They may need to develop strong ego identity (protective factor) while avoiding confusion (risk factor), establish strong family connections (protective factor) and avoiding isolation (risk factor). One of them is protection from teenage relationships or abusive friendships. It is the duty of the family, in general, to ensure that their children are in healthy and supportive friendships. If a child is in abusive peer groups, parents can consider taking them for peer counseling and advising them on supplement activities like games rather than drug abuse and stealing. Tracy does not have the opportunity to be protected from the evil peers she gets involved. She embarks on all activities until when Brooke warns her to stop abusing drugs. It is a clear indication that if warning and protection had been given in advance, then she would never have been stuck in the wrong company (Lerner & Castellino, 2002). Tracy gets hurt by the fact that her family has divorced and there are no efforts made to restore it back. She also feels neglected as her mother prioritizes drugs and not her.


In conclusion, the film thirteen is has a clear message and reflection of the challenges that adolescents may undergo if there is no guidance and close examination. Tracy is a girl with the potential to score better grades, but all her dreams are terminated by the poor decisions associated with family disintegrations. The mistakes that Tracy’s parents make can be used as advice and guidance to the present day parents. Parents should understand their children to avoid losing them to bad company and drug use as Tracy does in the film. Growth and development should be monitored and in the case an adolescent is in stress or dilemma, it is the duty of the parent to give advice or refer to a counselor if the need arises. Social, emotional, behavioral and familial concepts should also be strengthened to take the right path. Children should be protected from any risks for instance poor company. It does not only apply to girls but all genders in general.


Blum, R. W., Garell, D., Hodgman, C. H., Jorissen, T. W., Okinow, N. A., Orr, D. P., & Slap, G. B. (1993). Transition from child-centered to adult health-care systems for adolescents with chronic conditions: A position paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. Journal of Adolescent Health, 14(7), 570-576.

Compas, B. E., Connor-Smith, J. K., Saltzman, H., Thomsen, A. H., & Wadsworth, M. E. (2001). Coping with stress during childhood and adolescence: Problems, progress, and potential in theory and research. Psychological bulletin, 127(1), 87.

Conway, M. B., & Vermette, P. (2006). Lessons for middle school teachers from the film thirteen. Middle School Journal, 38(2), 37-42.

Lerner, R. M., & Castellino, D. R. (2002). Contemporary developmental theory and adolescence: Developmental systems and applied developmental science. Journal of adolescent health, 31(6), 122-135.

Oestreicher, M. (2011). Understanding your young teen: Practical wisdom for parents. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Steinberg, L. (2017). Adolescence. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.

April 26, 2023

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