(Featured image via Netflix.)
I Am Not Okay With This tells the story of a self-described “boring 17-year-old white girl” named Sydney Novak—oh, and she has telekinesis. Every time she gets angry, scared, or embarrassed, books levitate, walls crack, trees get demolished, it’s a whole thing.
While the entire premise of the show is based on this girl’s wild supernatural abilities, the outbursts center on deeper issues of family dysfunction, mental health, suicide, and sexuality. And while we may not agree with every message the show pushes, it is fearless in its portrayal of the struggles of modern teens. As we dive into these deep questions and issues, we invite you to prayerfully consider the lens through which your teen may be viewing such issues, and begin a healing dialogue with them in the midst of a hurting world.
Syd’s got a lot to be angry about
I Am Not Okay With This is set in a small Pennsylvanian town, but not the “cute part” of PA, as Syd so adoringly notes. It’s modern-day, but with strong 80s vibes in the music, clothes, and even a love for VHS tapes (apparently “it’s the best platform there is,” according to Syd’s neighbor, Stan). She lives with her younger brother, Liam, and mother, but most times Syd is more of the mom, always buying the groceries, cooking, and taking care of her brother’s needs. Throughout the show, we hear Syd reading her diary, where we learn not only about typical teen-angst, but also about the deep trauma she’s been through.
She’s angry, always angry, and for good reason. Her father recently committed suicide, leaving her behind to make sense of her life (and newfound supernatural abilities). She’s secretly in love with her best friend, Dina, who just started dating an obnoxious jock named Brad. She was forced to grow up extremely fast and now has to take care of her little brother while her mom works 60-hour weeks. She hates Brad, she hates her dinky polluted town, she hates her mom, and she hates the pit in her stomach that she feels every time she remembers that her dad is gone.
It’s a lot for one girl to handle alone, but she really doesn’t have anyone to share the burden with. Eventually, the feelings of despair, anger, and frustration all start coming out in these telekinetic outbursts. Syd knows it certainly is not normal to be able to move things with her mind, but what can she do? She quickly realizes that she has little to no control over these occurrences, so she attempts (and fails) to simply grin and bear it. The first (and only) person to discover Syd has these powers is Stan, who soon becomes her sidekick as she navigates some terrifyingly unfamiliar territory.
A constant mental battle
As we’ve already discussed, Syd’s telekinetic outbursts happen when she can’t control her emotions. This loss of control is a key theme throughout the show, as she struggles to get a handle on everything from her anger to her relationships with family and friends. “Dear Diary, this thing inside me, I can’t control it. It controls me,” Syd writes fearfully.
While your child may not have supernatural abilities like Syd, they may feel at times as if they’re losing control over their emotions or health. Our kids face deep, dark issues like anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. It is extremely unnerving to feel at odds with your own body, like it’s revolting against you—when your thoughts become corrupt and burdensome, and no one understands what you’re going through.
But Syd figures out a solution (well, at least she thinks she does). “The trick is to be normal. Be normal. Be…normal,” Syd repeats to herself while shuffling through the school hallways. If she can just ignore what’s happening and be normal, maybe it will all go away. Maybe she’ll be able to gain back some of the control she’s lost. Syd’s desperate attempt at normalcy illustrates the thought process of many who face mental illness. If they can simply ignore their issues or manage them the best they can on their own, then maybe they’ll go away. No one will suspect a thing, and they won’t have to face what’s really happening inside of them. Just be happy. Just stop getting so anxious and calm down. Ignore, ignore, ignore.
Discussions about suicide
After her father committed suicide, Syd’s heart was ripped open, and never repaired. There was no attempt among family members to discuss what happened or how to cope with the loss, nor was there so much as a suicide note to bring any sense of closure. Syd’s guidance counselor is the one who gave her the diary, hoping it would help with her moods and coping with her dad’s passing.
One night, Syd starts to panic at all of the feelings going on inside of her, writing, “Sometimes I wonder why he did it, and why we never talk about it, and what the h*** is going on with me. Why sometimes I feel like I’m boiling inside,” and from the viewers’ perspective, we can feel her boiling up as she paces her room and drops to the floor in desperation.
Grief is one of the heaviest burdens to bear, and with suicide especially, shame and guilt often come in the aftermath of loss. We should’ve done more, why couldn’t I save him? Syd muddles through shame as she ponders questions like these, speaking to her father’s death: “I wish I was there for you at the end. Had we known that you needed help, we would’ve given it to you. This just isn’t fair. You’re gone now, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We both miss you so much. Everything’s so different without you around.”
Her helplessness is heartwrenching. And if you have ever experienced the death of a loved one, this is likely a familiar feeling. Later on, Syd’s tension comes to a head as she explores her dad’s old basement workspace where he died. “I wish I understood him better. Mom was the one who found him. He didn’t even leave a note. Never explained anything. Why the h*** didn’t he leave a note? I mean, did he really have no idea I was gonna be such a freak? I mean, did he think I wouldn’t need him around? I mean, why would he do that?” She’s angry, she’s confused, and again, she loses control.
Questions of sexuality
From the start of the show, it’s clear that Syd has a pretty big crush on her BFF, Dina; however, Syd isn’t aware of those feelings and doesn’t realize them until a few episodes in. She actually sleeps with her neighbor, Stanley, just to keep up with Dina and her boyfriend, Brad. Stan is quirky, funny, and makes her feel less weird—but despite her efforts to try being with him, something just doesn’t feel right. It’s not until she kisses Dina at a party that she realizes why she didn’t click with Stan in that way: she has feelings for Dina, feelings Dina does not reciprocate in the moment. This brings on a great deal of rejection and embarrassment, leading to yet another telekinetic outburst after Syd runs out of the party.
This depiction of same-sex attraction and behavior might make some of us uncomfortable. But rather than trying to hide our kids from pop culture, we should have open conversations about it. So, if your kid is a fan of I Am Not Okay With This, consider watching a few or all of the episodes together and start an open discussion. Allow your teen to share their thoughts, and prepare your heart for the possibility that those thoughts might not align perfectly with yours. The key is openness and honesty, not walls and immediate judgment.
This show might open a bunch of doors to questions your teen may ask. And while questions surrounding such heavy topics like mental health, suicide, and sexuality are absolutely difficult to answer, we need to fearlessly enter those discussions with prayer and gentleness. Because if we ignore issues, or worse, refuse to talk about them with our teens at all, they’re going to get their answers elsewhere. Do you want your teen coming to you with those questions, or the internet?