“…I’m no different than anyone else.”
Scott Howard (Michael J. Fox) is going through some stuff. The girl he likes won’t give him the time of day; his basketball team is atrocious; and he’s turning into a werewolf. It turns out, wolf runs in the family. Scott’s father (Howard Hampton) lets his son in on the family secret and assures Scott that if he gets in touch with his animal instincts, Scott can unleash great power.
The answer here is quite simple: Scott’s not a werewolf. He’s just going through puberty. Actually, though Teen Wolf is rife with goofy details like two characters “surfing” on the roof of a moving van, the metaphor of a boy turning into a werewolf as he develops into a man is a fairly apt parallel to draw.
Puberty: A Wolf’s Perspective
Look, most of us have been there (and if you haven’t yet, you are too young to read this blog). Puberty is an out-of-body experience where you feel like you have no control over your functions, your odors, your impulses, or anything else. The added bonus is that it usually happens when everyone is concerned with popularity at school.
While puberty is obviously a normal part of development, there are suggestions that trauma during puberty can do long-term damage to a person’s psychological development. It is interesting to note that in schools, a lot of attention is paid to physical changes in puberty, but rarely do schools explain that psychological changes can happen too. Going through puberty – on top of juggling peer social status – is a very stressful life event. Scott’s characteristics suggest that Teen Wolf is an overarching story about a guy going through puberty, voice changes and new hair growth included. In fact, the film even opens with Scott trying to talk to his inept basketball coach (Jay Tarses) about some changes he’s experiencing.
Fortunately, Scott’s wolf side does not negatively affect his status; in fact, just the opposite happens. Scott’s father warns Scott that he has to get his alpha dog status in check. Even Scott’s friend, Boof (Susan Ursitti), prefers Scott the almost-man to Scott the wolf. The fame that comes with Scott’s wolf side begins to take a toll on the teen and it is not long before Scott struggles to keep the two parts of his personality in balance.
On the surface, Teen Wolf is a silly 80s teen movie. On a subtext-level, the suggestion is that self-acceptance during puberty is really important in a kid’s mental development. While Scott’s peers accept his changes with open arms, not all kids are so lucky to have that kind of support. Scott’s maturity speed exceeds even that of his hair growth when he understands that though wolfish traits are a part of him, they do not define his whole identity. The risk that comes with finding harmony during puberty is that some kids hardly have a foundation on which to build an identity in the first place; therefore, they continue to struggle long after they figure out how to shave.