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Is 13 Going on 30 Appropriate for Kids?


If you were a teenager when the hit teen comedy film 13 Going on 30 was first released, you probably remember it as a very funny film that hit on a lot of themes that resonated with being a teenager. With a dazzling performance from Jennifer Garner that augmented her standing popularity and the film’s general rom-com appeal, 13 Going on 30 quickly became an iconic teen movie. Particular highlights that made the movie a success were scenes like Garner leading an amazing dance break for Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and Mark Ruffalo’s charming performance opposite Garner as her jaded ex-friend Matty.


However, despite all its positive traits, once the film’s structure, characters, and themes are analyzed more closely, it’s also easy to understand why many people think it was inappropriate — not just for young kids, but even its own targeted demographic of teenagers.

Here’s a closer look at the film and our take on whether 13 Going on 30 is inappropriate for kids.


The Themes

Sony Pictures Releasing

13 Going On 30 sees a young girl named Jenna in a hurry to grow up, since she’s hunting popularity and superficial status. Her best friend and neighbor Matty is a sweet boy who has a crush on her, yet she’s blind to what a good person and good friend he is, as she’s enamored by the “cool kids” in school. After being humiliated by the popular girl clique (The Six Chicks), Jenna makes a wish that she could grow up and be 30. She falls asleep, and the next morning, magically, she finds her wish granted.

On the surface, the film is a cute one, with plenty of soft-toned banter, mild comedic elements, and enough pop culture references to keep most teenagers entertained. Essentially being a body-swap film, once the switch happens and Jenna (played by then teenager Christa B. Allen) awakens as Jennifer Garner, she finds that she is a high-powered fashion magazine executive who seemingly has everything she wants.

However, given the fact that the film is meant to depict an adult’s life through a teenager’s eyes, it’s easy to forget that although it’s Garner we see, Jenna’s mind is still that of her barely 13-year-old self who, only yesterday, was still just a kid. This should be kept in mind since she awakens to her adult self’s naked boyfriend in her apartment.

Related: Netflix Comedy Family Switch Was Inspired by the Likes of 13 Going on 30 & 21 Jump Street

Later, she’s exposed to her best friend Lucy’s adult humor, and she starts to learn that she’s actually been a bad person living a promiscuous life that even involves an affair with a colleague’s husband.

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Before these events, Jenna was a relatively good kid who just craved popularity. But as an adult, she is shocked to find that she’s become dishonest, selfish, hedonistic, estranged from her parents, and someone who stopped speaking to Matty, her best friend, after she went on to become the leader of The Six Chicks.

Of course, all of this comes with a poignant message and important, well-meaning themes: Jenna needs to see that some things are more important than status and popularity, realize why Matty was the good guy all along, ​​and learn the value of self-love and self-acceptance.

The Problems

Iconic dance scene in 13 Going On 30
Sony Pictures Releasing 

Seeing her adult self’s boyfriend naked essentially means he was naked in front of a minor. Worse yet, before adult Jenna learns all the harsh lessons she needs to, she actually leans into her adult life and tries to enjoy it. This involves her doing things like attending parties, where she sips alcohol and gets tipsy. She also flirts with a young boy, forgetting that she’s now a grown woman.

All of these moments carry a slightly twisted undertone once you really think about it. Structurally, the film wanted to be a good-hearted movie with sweet themes, while also being able to appeal to teenagers too. Instead, this dichotomy left the film straddling lines between its teenage audience and a structure that had to include adult moments. The result — a movie left in a weird space somewhere between a charming story and an awkward attempt to avoid thinking too hard about ages.

Other Inappropriate Moments

13 Going on 30
Columbia Pictures

Aside from all the obvious shortcomings highlighted above, there’s another glaring issue with 13 Going on 30. When Jenna begins to find out what a terrible person she’s been between falling asleep as a teenager and waking up as an adult, she seeks out the person who was her best friend, the now adult Matty. He still represents the same stable nice guy he once was to her, but has since moved on with his life.

She later falls for him and tries to get him to abandon his fiancée for her. Matty doesn’t go for it — but that’s not the point. Jenna was a 13-year-old girl who had no idea she’d eventually be transformed back to her young self, and was actually looking to start up a relationship with an adult man. Sure, Matty would have never known because she looked like a 30-year-old, but Jenna would have, and the implications of her still wanting that are way too weird and twisted to contemplate.

Was it Really Inappropriate?

Jenna and Lucy in 13 Going on 30
Sony Pictures Releasing 

Despite these somewhat iffy moments in the film, 13 Going on 30 was still relatively tame, and its intentions were innocent at heart. The movie ultimately told a story with well-meaning themes at its core. Sure, its concept meant a young girl had to navigate a grown woman’s world, but the film successfully retained a sweet enough demeanor throughout to never come across as innately wrong or inappropriate.

In fact, compared to how crude and downright racy some teen flicks from its time were, the film was actually a lot more innocent overall. All in all, branding 13 Going on 30 inappropriate would be a harsh assessment. Aside from some mild innuendo and drug references, it’s the kind of film tweens could enjoy without any major worries that they may learn or realistically take away any disturbing ideas from it.

Related:13 Going on 30: Where the Cast is Today

Jenna may have made some missteps on her way to becoming 30, but the film uses this as a great coming of age tale to grant her a second chance to do things better. In a way, it was also a great cautionary tale to ward off teenagers from seeking a superficial lifestyle or placing goals of popularity above friendship and relationships of substance.

Tame By Today’s Standards?

The Six Chicks in 13 Going on 30
Sony Pictures Releasing 

If anything, programming of this sort has evolved a lot in the last two decades. Films and TV shows in today’s world often push the envelope a lot further than movies like 13 Going on 30 ever did. A prime example is Zendaya’s Euphoria. While the show is rated for adults, it revolves around the lives of teenagers, but has come under criticism for glorifying drug culture and sexual promiscuity.

​​​​​​In a piece for Vogue, Samuel Getachew aptly summed up why some of that show’s elements were so problematic.

“Perhaps the only character who truly faces the consequences for her vices is Rue; the other characters repeatedly endanger themselves and others and yet miraculously continue to avoid major catastrophe or even parental intervention. They dance through morally and legally dubious scenarios to a theatrical soundtrack and emerge mostly unscathed and always flawlessly groomed, episode after episode. While it may have been intended to serve as a warning, Euphoria often feels more like an instructional tutorial or a road map, one that sensationalizes its subject matter while neglecting to fully disclaim its risks and hazards.

As the piece perfectly sums up, artistic licenses in modern film and television may have evolved a lot. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t innate risks if programming becomes too inappropriate, especially for younger viewers. Shows which depict the extremes Euphoria does are also a reminder of why 13 Going on 30 was actually downright wholesome by comparison.



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