Understanding Anxiety: Critical Analysis of a Central Character in the Movie, Parenthood

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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...
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