Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved a good After School Special—aka a Made-for-TV movie or Movie of the Week—where some teenager gets hooked on drugs and faces consequences. I’ve always understood that these are designed to scare kids away from experimenting or succumbing to peer pressure and while that never worked on me, I’ve enjoyed the focus on issues I can relate to rather than the typical plot line of battered women or siblings who are serial killers. This isn’t because I have anything against Meredith Baxter Birney or Judith Light; I just find the issues of addiction to be more interesting, for obvious reasons.
Getting Back to My Youth
That is why I jumped at the chance to get an early viewing of Perfect High, a TV movie that will be airing on Lifetime this weekend. Based on a true story—and truthfully, probably many other true stories—the plot follows Amanda (Bella Thorne), a high school student who gets hooked on prescription pills after a sports-related injury. It then accurately shows how the emotionality of adolescence can become an easy breeding ground for poor choices and addiction.
Despite a bit of a clichéd start—we get it, filmmakers, you know that teens are into selfies, Instagram and talking in slang (though I had the distinct feeling it’s more what the writer thinks is the latest teen slang)—the film does a good job of painting the picture of a threat to an otherwise fairly idyllic adolescence: a pretty girl from a normal family gets into trouble when her involvement in cheerleading is jeopardized by a dislocated knee. While it could be said that Amanda’s life is not relatable, as the non-dysfunctional nuclear family is certainly in the minority these days, the neutrality of it serves the purpose of highlighting the real issue—how the lack of education around prescription drugs can lead kids down a dangerous path to abuse.
How Can We Help?
As someone who is now a sober adult, I couldn’t help but watch the film and wonder what the real life solution to the problem put forth in this film is. If this Made-for-TV movie depicts the state (albeit a dramatization) of American high schools, how can we fill in the gaps and provide our youth with the tools they need to make better decisions? Of course, some won’t want those tools—an attraction to rebel and abuse alcohol and drugs often stems from issues that runs much deeper than a lack of education—but there were many points in the story where Amanda and her friends could have chosen to go a different route. Rather than being cautious out of fear of addiction or death, the characters kept upping the ante—popping pills and then free-basing them, eventually graduating to shooting them.
At one point, after Amanda and her crew finishing smoking a batch of “Mexican Oxy,” which their drug dealer told them was just a cheaper version of their beloved pill, they realize they have been doing heroin and they unanimously freak out.
“It’s heroin!” Amanda screams. “It’s not some kind of prescription drug—it’s addictive!”
Therein lies the problem. As opiate addiction sweeps our country at epidemic rates, it’s clear that plenty of teenagers don’t know that painkillers are just as dangerous and habit forming as heroin. I think we need to think seriously about making drug education a part of our schools’ curriculum—not a throwaway lecture but, say, a semester of chemistry class or its own class altogether. What is more important, learning periodic tables or doing everything we can to make sure kids understand what drugs are, what they do, and what the various consequences are if they decide to experiment with them? I did D.A.R.E when I was in high school—a two-day class that was bullshit.
That is why Perfect High is an important TV movie; it did its job. It made me consider what teens may or may not know about drugs and think about how we can make changes. I am not a parent but if I were, I would find this film valuable—especially since it’s cool enough to watch with a teen. While I can’t say how this demographic would digest it, I can guarantee that it certainly can’t hurt.
Perfect High airs Saturday, June 27 at 8 pm (PST) on Lifetime.