‘Chasing Childhood’ Review

Yours truly is of the age where childhood presented an abundance of freedom to play unsupervised outside, parenting years were filled with coaching and volunteering for the various structured kid activities, and grandparenting is comprised of waxing nostalgic for a simpler time when kids could be kids and parents weren’t so focused on their kids’ achievements and pursuit of perfection. Co-directors Margaret Munzer Loeb and Eden Wurmfeld dig into the evolution of parenting and the banishment of “free play” in Chasing Childhood.

The topic is broached across diverse socio-economic classes in Wilton, Connecticut (a cluster of one-percenters), Patchogue, New York (a blue-collar, working-class area), and super diverse Manhattan. The co-directors lean heavily on author and psychology researcher Peter Gray, who wrote Free to Learn and is considered an expert on “play,” and Lenore Skenazy, the founder of the Let Grow organization. Ms. Skenazy received worldwide attention when she allowed her 9-year old son to ride the New York subway alone. For that, she was labeled “America’s Worst Mom.”

Of course, much of the societal shift can be associated with the concern parents have with putting their kids in harm’s way. “Stranger danger” and the faces of missing kids on milk cartons, as well as the tragic story of Adam Walsh in 1981, should all be factored into the foundation of what we now call “helicopter parenting.” Instead of parents directing their kids to be home by dark, as the screen door slams behind them, the days and evenings, and weekends are structured and entered into the family calendar.

We hear directly from kids as they go through their daily commitments: sports, band, dance, tutoring, etc. Hanging out with friends is never mentioned. The film does a terrific job of detailing the consequences of this contemporary form of parenting. High stress and frazzled nerves for both kids and parents are commonplace. Free-play offers many opportunities for learning – especially the life skills that allow kids to grow into independent thinking adults, and hopefully, happy people. The film should resonate with parents, kids, and teachers, and this quote from the film will stick with many viewers (at least me): “All the worry in the world doesn’t prevent death. It prevents life.”

Abramorama will release Chasing Childhood via a virtual live world premiere event screening on June 24th followed by a nationwide home cinema release on June 25th.