Technology Tuesday: Paper Towns, Teenage Angst, and Questions to Navigate Them Both (Spoiler Alert!)

“It’s the ultimate going out on the dock.”  When our summer staff went to see the movie Paper Towns after our last camp, two of them whispered these words to me. 

“Going out on the dock” is a phrase I use regularly with the girls at Daystar.  It originated from a friend who told me a story about her own growing up.  In high school, she went on several lake retreats with her youth group.  At night, they’d be meeting in the house or just sitting around talking.  Any time she felt a little lost or lonely, she’d wander out onto the dock.  Secretly, she was hoping someone would notice and follow her out, to see if she was okay.

That action…and feeling has become our buzzword for someone who pulls away trying to draw others in…to put it a little more bluntly, to get attention.  The high school girls, over the years, have really attached to this illustration.  It’s an easy way to describe what manipulation looks like.  “I want you to notice and connect with me, but I don’t know how to ask.  So, I’ll pull away hoping you’ll notice and pursue me.”

The new movie teenage girls (and boys) are talking about is truly the ultimate in going out on the dock.  The entire story involves a teenage girl, Margo, who pulls away (often and with great mystery and drama) hoping to garner more attention.  Her intention is to be unpredictable and edgy—leaving others fascinated and drawn to her mercurial trail.  

My concern with this movie is several-fold.  First, it glamourizes teenage romance and angst in a way that speaks to the heart and drama of teenage girls.  Listen to just a few of the lines:

After several immature and illegal pranks set out to disrupt and corrupt Quentin, a teenage boy and her childhood best friend, she says to him “The way you felt tonight.  That is how you should feel your whole life.”

He later says, “This has been the best week of my life.  My first party.  My first road trip.  First time cutting class.” 

She responds with her parting words as she disappears yet again into dramatic obscurity, “College.  Job.  The allure of a life rightly lived.  You know that’s not me.”

In the midst of all the angst, the characters steal a parent’s car (twice), run away from home, and destroy all manner of property.  Two of the main characters who were planning on waiting to have sex until prom to “make it special,” change their plans and consummate their love on a mattress on the side of a highway.

This summer, I was riding in the van during a camp with a group of 7th-8th grade girls who were singing Taylor Swift at the top of their lungs. (Much of my summer is spent this way.)   I was struck when her lyric said, “Boys only want love if it’s torture.” 

Paper Towns felt like 2 hours of that type of message.  It sets teenagers up to believe that drama, intensity and manipulation are what constitute relationship.  When the boy finally caught the torturous girl, who had left multiple clues obviously directed toward him, her response was along the lines of…I always leave clues.  They’re not for anyone.  I can’t believe you came all this way. 

When he tells her he loves her, she responds with “You love me?  You don’t even know me.  You can’t love me.  I don’t even know me.”

“Boys (and maybe girls) only want love if it’s torture.”  1 hour and 52 minutes of her going out on the dock stirs up every romantic, dramatic, and risk-taking ideal in a teenager’s angst-y heart. 

The movie does end with a line I greatly appreciated, as a counselor to teenage girls.  “What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”  It’s a message we all need to hear.  I just wish the movie had started with it.

Your teenager will potentially want to see this movie.  I would caution younger ages—it speaks loudly to the narcissism and entitlement swirling around and inside of young teenagers.  For older teens, if they see it, like we always say at Raising Boys and Girls, have a conversation around it.  Go see it, yourself, too, so you can really engage them.  And, much like David talked about in his blog on Divergent, do it in a back door type of way.  (


Some conversation starters are:

What did you like about the movie?

What didn’t you like?

Do any lines stand out to you?

What do you think Margo really wanted?  What about Quentin?

What would have been the real-life consequences of Margo’s actions?

What did she want people to believe about her?

What do you want people to believe about you?

Tell the dock story.  What do you do sometimes to get people to notice you?

What could you do that would be honest and share more of your heart?