Critical Analysis of a Central Character in the Movie
The emotion of anxiety is experienced by the youngest child to the oldest adult. To a healthy degree, anxiety is in fact critical to the learning process. Experiencing and dealing with the discomfort of anxiety allows the child to prepare for and cope with unsettling and often challenging life situations. Research indicates that some individuals experience a more chronic, constant state of anxiety in response to a wide variety of stimuli, whereas others have more infrequent bouts that tend to vary in both frequency and length.
Utilizing the character of Kevin Buckman in the film Parenthood, the author examines the young boy’s pervasive sense of anxiety and the ways in which it manifests. Throughout the essay, the author highlights critical factors contributing to Kevin’s anxiety in order to more fully understand the behavior and emotional life of the character. Finally, the paper outlines potential treatment approaches to help alleviate and cope with the anxiety. Kevin is the oldest of three children in the Buckman household and turns nine years of age midway through the film.
One of the beginning scenes consists of Kevin’s mother asking his father to attend a meeting with Kevin’s principal because “his teacher said he was making that face again. ” The mother, Karen, continues to explain that it is not just the face, but the “crying, the nervousness…the fact that he cannot finish his work. ” Karen then discloses the fact that the teacher had recently asked whether or not Kevin had ever received a psychiatric evaluation.
During the meeting with the principal and the child psychologist (that has been observing Kevin over the past couple of months,) the principal suggests transferring Kevin to a special education school so that he can join a class for children with “emotional problems. ” From the very onset of the film, it is apparent that the anxiety Kevin experiences impacts his day-to-day life and the ways in which others perceive him. Kevin’s “extreme tenseness,” as his father describes, influences his personal, social, and academic functioning.
He presents as a timid child with a temperamental style of behavioral inhibition, a disposition often linked to anxiety. During one scene he allows a smaller child to bully him and steal his change, coiling back to his mother and father for support. Throughout the film, Kevin displays signs of insecurity. When the entertainment for his birthday cancels, Kevin remarks “now all the kids are going to hate me, just like in Little League. ” In addition to his behavioral inhibition, it is important to explore other potential factors which may be linked to the young boy’s anxiety and ways in which it is being maintained (Shafer, 2006).
It is implied during the film that Kevin’s anxiety may be caused by a genetic component. The child psychologist who observed Kevin points out that “recent studies indicate that these things are all chemical,” and that Kevin “may have been like this in the womb. ” He instructs the parents not to view Kevin’s anxiety as a failure on their part. On a related note, an important parental risk factor concerns a history of parental anxiety. It is clear that Gil, Kevin’s father, experienced significant anxiety as a child and continues to deal with it currently.
When Kevin questions during one scene why he is seeing a psychiatrist, his father responds: “You are a kid like I was; you have a lot of worries… ” Continued evidence of Gil’s persistent anxiety exists during a scene in which Gil questions why their son is the way he is. In response, Karen explicitly implies that it has something to do with Gil’s own personal anxiety, as the camera zooms in on Gil fidgeting anxiously. Not only does genetics play a role in the formation of anxiety, but the act of modeling is an additional contributing factor.
Kevin learns from and mirrors his father’s anxious behaviors and characteristics. Similarly, anxious parenting styles are often strong predictors of anxiety symptoms in children. During one scene, the mother confirms that both her husband and her were extremely anxious as new parents and suggests that it was because Kevin was their first child: “We were very tense; if he got a scratch, we were hysterical. ” Research concludes that anxious parenting seems to encourage anxious cognitions as well as avoidant behavior in children.
Kevin’s thought processes are plagued with anxiety and he often resorts to avoidance as a means of dealing with his problems. During a scene in which his change is stolen by another child and his father asks if he wants help getting his money back, Kevin responds: “Can we just go? I want to go! ” Instead of tackling the problem head-on, Kevin’s natural proclivity is to avoid (Schroeder, 2002). Further, Kevin experiences a degree of separation anxiety and often relies on the parental unit as a means of coping rather than utilizing more adaptive, self-soothing techniques.
During the night of his ninth birthday, Kevin asks his father “when I grow up, can I work where you work…that way we can still see each other every day. ” Kevin often relies on his parents as a security net and struggles to effectively deal with problems on his own. Clinging to his parents may prevent Kevin from gaining control over his anxiety and adapting to his environment. Throughout the film, Kevin has difficulty coping with setbacks, whether it be Cowboy Dan not being able to attend his birthday celebration or a missing retainer.
Research studies predict that anxious children experience ambiguous situations as more threatening and their reactions tend to be out of proportion to the actual threat. This would help explain why Kevin becomes anxious and overly emotional in relatively benign situations. During one scene, he proceeds to cry out into hysterics upon noticing that he has lost his retainer and seems unable to regulate his emotions and effectively problem solve. After the outburst Kevin’s father questions why Kevin “seems to blow everything out of proportion. Along with the intensity of the reaction, an additional clinically significant characteristic associated with an anxiety disorder includes spontaneity; in other words, the reaction seems beyond the control of the child. Kevin, during a number of scenes, immediately bursts into tears and appears inconsolable. Kevin’s intense, emotional reactions may be in part caused by dysfunctional thought processes (Schroeder, 2002). Kevin’s distorted and irrational cognitive processes directly influence his intense emotions and maladaptive behaviors. There is ample evidence throughout the film that Kevin is plagued by cognitive distortions.
He tends to use catastrophizing or magnification, in which he exaggerates the importance of his problems, as well as overgeneralization (“Now all the kids are going to hate me! ”) Further, there are instances in which he uses the cognitive distortion of blame. During one scene when he misses a catch Kevin yells at his father, “Why did you make me play second base? ” Kevin’s “twisted” ways of thinking lead to the negative, anxious emotions he experiences. Kevin exhibits clinically significant characteristics associated with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, GAD.
In addition to the aforementioned qualities, it is implied that Kevin may worry about the quality of his school work and have difficulty concentrating. His mother states that he “cannot finish his work” and the principal points out that “Kevin’s teacher spends twenty percent of her time dealing with Kevin. ” A supplementary classroom scene could be added early in the film in order to provide the viewer a better understanding as to the underlying reasons why the teacher is spending this time on Kevin and what it is that she is referring to when she describes him as having “emotional problems. Further, a few existing scenes touch upon Kevin’s obsessive and compulsive tendencies and an adding a few more to further explore this potential issue may be useful, considering the fact that “one third of children suffering from one anxiety disorder also meet criteria for at least one other anxiety disorder” (Fonagy et al. , 2002). Despite the aforementioned factors influencing Kevin’s anxiety, he is not entirely crippled by it and is instead able to function on a day-to-day basis. This may largely be as a result of a number of protective factors in his life.
He is part of an intact, loving family with his parents serving as reliable attachment figures. A lack of abandonment or significant loss in his life further protects him from experiencing a more pervasive sense of anxiety. There is no need to delete any sequences or clips from the film. Further, the fact that there is no “Hollywood ending” in which Kevin is miraculously “cured” by the close of the film is highly appropriate. If, however, the writer/director decides on a Parenthood sequel, in which Kevin’s anxiety subsides, a number of realistic treatment approaches could be implemented to assist with the process.
First off, it would be of critical importance to help Kevin label what it is that he is feeling, to help him understand what anxiety is and his physiological and psychological reactions to it. At this point, it can be postulated that Kevin has yet to fully learn and comprehend this information as he asks his father why he is seeing a psychiatrist. Further, it would be critical for his therapist to assist him in identifying, targeting, disputing, and reframing his cognitive distortions via cognitive behavioral therapy.
Kevin must clearly understand that he has control over his thoughts, and that by directly changing his way of thinking, it will, in turn, alter his moods and emotions. Integrating behavioral interventions with the above cognitive approach will aid in the overall success of the therapy. Problem solving training and relaxation techniques to help him control his anxiety and self-soothe should be implemented. In addition, it is also important to provide Kevin with reliable modeling figures (the therapist can play such a role) so that he can further learn appropriate, healthy responses to stressful situations.
Utilizing these treatment strategies would allow Kevin to begin to challenge his current way of thinking which, in turn, would impact his behaviors and emotions. Throughout Parenthood, the director offers an adequate depiction of an anxious nine-year-old boy. The previously discussed suggestions for a sequel would afford the viewer a better understanding of how to best treat and cope with a child’s anxiety. All in all, the film provides a comprehensive portrayal of the emotion of anxiety and offers the viewer a realistic glimpse into the world of an anxious child.