The joy of sharing “The Color Purple” with my teen

Scene from Theater Horizon’s production of The Color Purple. (Photo Courtesy/Alex Medvick)

Scene from Theater Horizon’s production of The Color Purple. (Photo Courtesy/Alex Medvick)

Recently I had the amazing opportunity to see Theater Horizon’s staging of the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s groundbreaking novel, The Color Purple. If you loved the book and the 1985 film based on it, I highly recommend that you check out Theater Horizon’s production—the acting, music and choreography is as fine as I’ve seen on Broadway (many of the actors are Broadway veterans). Even if you aren’t a fan—yet—I encourage you to check out this truly unforgettable show. But should you take your kids?

When I read about The Color Purple coming to the Philly area, the first thought that came to mind was that I must take my daughter. Like me at her age (13), she loves theater, especially musicals. I saw the film version of The Color Purple with my best friend when I was 14; I can still remember scenes from it so vividly. Walker’s storytelling is so deep and visceral and the film adaptation took me into the world of Celie and her sister Nettie, two African-American sisters whose love of and caring for each other helps them to endure unspeakable abuse.

I knew my daughter would appreciate this story, too—especially in a musical version. But part of me wondered whether the content was too mature for a thirteen-year-old. So I did what I find myself doing more and more as a parent of a teen—I turned to Youtube.

We watched a few songs from the Broadway production and talked about them. I gave her a full synopsis of the show and she decided that she really wanted to see it.

That preparation was important. The Theater Horizon production was funny, poignant and made us—and most of the audience members the night that we saw it—cry more than once. Wearing her “Hamilton” hoodie to the show, my daughter told me that “The Color Purple” was now definitely her favorite musical. When we drove home, we talked about our favorite songs and characters; we talked very deeply about forgiveness and God and how strong the character Celie was. It was a pretty incredible experience for both of us and I was glad that I had engaged my doubt about whether or not to take her, rather than just deciding that she was too young to see it.

For many of us parents, our teen years were when we discovered many of the books, plays, films and music that deeply influence us. I was reminded of how meaningful it was when I was my daughter’s age and my dad and I read Chaim Potok’s The Chosen together and had many conversations about God and spirituality and life—around the book—that we had never had before. Great art can open us to those conversations—and I want to keep having them with my daughter as she’s forming her understanding of the world. A few considerations that I’m keeping in mind that may be helpful for other parents of teens:

  • Make a list of your favorites: If you’re thinking about sharing your favorite books and media with your teen, a great place to begin is brainstorming a list of what you remember really having an impact on you. Before receiving The Color Purple notice, I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of introducing it to my daughter now. I’m making a list so I’ll have it to draw from over the coming years.
  • Consider developmental age: Every human being is on their own developmental trajectory—I know this lesson well because I’m also a mom of an almost 16-year-old son who has an intellectual disability and socially-emotionally is nowhere near his chronological age. If you loved a book or movie when you were 14 or 15, it may be that your child isn’t at the same developmental place even if he/she is the same chronological age now. Tuning into where your teen is socially-emotionally is important.
  • Don’t take it personally: …if your teen just isn’t into the thing you really loved. I shared a Judy Blume book with my daughter a few years ago that was one of my favorites—and her reaction was kind of “meh.” It’s important to stay detached and know it’s not a rejection of you if they don’t really connect to the thing you really loved.
  • Support what’s happening at school or other activities: Recently, my daughter’s English class was reading “The Outsiders”; that was another book that brought back a lot of memories from my teen years. I re-read it while she was reading it so that we could talk about it.
  • Don’t be too overzealous: That being said…I’m keeping in mind that a teen’s job is to separate from his/her parents. Yes, I would really love to start an Alice Walker fan club for my daughter and me…but I’ll just keep that idea to myself. I’m really kind of embarrassing, you know.

Have you had an experience of sharing a work of art with your teen that connected you? I’d love to hear about it…please share in the comments below.

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