Last year, 14 teenagers across Australia were given cameras to film their final year of schooling. The resulting ‘vlogumentary’ series My Year 12 Life is unfiltered, raw and a wonderful portal into the minds of modern-day 17- and 18-year-olds.
What it manages to brilliantly show is just how all-consuming that year is. This series isn’t just for kids going through or about to go through year 12; it takes many of us adults back through time, reminding us of just how pressurised that year was.
As one of the participants, Shianna, says to camera: “I’m feeling so much pressure, and so much stress and expectations to do the best I can, and I can’t, I can’t. I’m not superman…. I’m not going to let four letters and a number on a piece of paper at the end of it all tell me what I can and can’t be. I refuse to let something tell me what I can and can’t be.”
The usual teenage melodrama aside, it’s hard not to empathise with Shianna and feel her anxiety.
And this, says creator and executive producer Laura Waters, is what drove the project: “It’s time we talked about the stress we’re putting on teenagers, and the effect of telling them they should be judged by one number, the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank).
“We wanted to hear their stories, told their way. Since teenagers are hilarious, dramatic, and brutally honest, so is our series.”
Waters is right about one thing. The teenagers are certainly entertaining and, occasionally, heartbreaking.
Angela, who holds a taekwondo black belt, tells us that unless she gets an ATAR above 90 her mother will ‘kill’ her. Tom, a sporting hero, tells us that his older brother achieved an ATAR of 98, so he doesn’t want to be the family failure.
Jess worries that the ATAR she gets at 18 defines her for the rest of her life.
At this point, I wanted an older and wiser head to reassure her that there is life beyond year 12, and lots of different pathways no matter what ATAR she achieves. Of course, many of the adults watching this series with their teenage kids know the truth of this through their own experiences.
Faith in yourself is important, but at least one student, Alfie, is religious and, as we watch him heading off to church, it will be interesting to see how his faith gives him strength to cope with the year.
Of course, Alfie will find plenty of inspiration in the Bible—“I can do all this through God who gives me strength” (Philippians chapter 4, verse 13).
What’s so comforting about this verse isn’t just that God shoulders the load; it’s knowing that you’re not alone—a take-home message for any time of our lives.