When children become teenagers, parents and teens alike may find the transition difficult and filled with conflict.The movie Freaky Friday offers an example of how empathy and understanding can grow even between a feuding teen and parent.
When the movie begins, Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsey Lohan (playing her daughter) are constantly fighting. They each feel misunderstood and discounted by the other and have no communication other than yelling or accusations. Through movie magic, they unintentionally trade bodies and have no choice but to intimately experience the other’s perspective.
The mother is delighted to have a youthful body, but finds her daughter’s life much more challenging than she ever imagined. She didn’t believe her daughter when she said a classmate, who the mother remembered as an adorable childhood friend, was taunting her. Then, while the mother is in her daughter’s body, the “friend” writes her a note during a test, deliberately entrapping her into the appearance of cheating and tattles to the teacher, getting her sent to the principal.
The mother takes petty revenge by sneaking into the office and sabotaging the girl’s placement test, behaving far less maturely than her daughter. She later has a chance to see what a talented and courageous musician the daughter is, recognizing her dedication and commitment to her bandmates.
Meanwhile, the daughter, in her mother’s body, interacts with her mother’s fiance, whom she had viewed as the enemy for daring to “replace” her dead father. She hears his vulnerability, his love for her mother, his concern for the daughter and younger son, and his acceptance that the children have to come first, even before their romantic relationship. Her heart begins to open to him.
She gets a glimpse of the love and sense of responsibility her mother has toward her children and is astounded by her selfless willingness to postpone her longed for marriage if her children aren’t ready to accept the change.
The mother and daughter eventually return to their own bodies, with admiration and deep respect for each other. Their relationship is transformed by this experience, and they are able to support and appreciate each other.
Although this movie skillfully uses humor and special effects to demonstrate how empathy can heal a relationship, we don’t need magical realism ourselves to nurture this kind of mutual understanding.
Through willingness and imagination, we can set aside assumptions and truly listen. Workshops or coaching sessions can help parents and teens learn how to unhook from old communication patterns and develop more effective new ones.
But, most important is affirming our conscious intention to listen as an act of love, and open our hearts to empathy.