Written by: Robin C. Farrell | June 24th, 2021
Chasing Childhood (Margaret Munzer Loeb/Eden Wurmfeld, 2020) 2 out of 4 stars.
The subject matter of Chasing Childhood – helicopter-parenting and how education and play have worsened over the past few decades – is surprisingly provoking. Ultimately, the film is less abrasive than it might appear at first glance, however. It comes across a bit naïve at times, and insightful at others. Where it struggles isn’t so much in what it has to say, but in what it leaves out.
Chasing Childhood primarily questions the lack of “free play” and independence from parents among children today, in tandem with a ferocious drive towards the best grades and the best sports’ statistics, all in pursuit of admittance to the top colleges. One of the interviewees, former Freshman Dean at Stanford University and author of How To Raise An Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims, states: “Is it a problem only among very elite institutions? No, it turns out not. Is it a problem only in the richest of communities? No, it turns out not … Children are hovered over, managed … by parents in many, many, many different communities.” Even with children of many backgrounds appearing throughout the film, though, the focus is mostly on white and upper-middle class families. The documentary would have benefited tremendously had it leaned more into how this problem is shared across economic, racial and cultural divides.
Additionally, the impact of social media is almost entirely absent. Apart from Lythcott-Haims dismissing technology as a scapegoat (appropriately so), the only other mention of it comes when a parent describes a party his son is organizing. “They’re going to be on their phones the whole time,” he says, after which we cut to a sequence of footage of the aforementioned Jack and his friends having fun without devices of any kind. This is great but would have landed more strongly had the subject been raised earlier and with more intention. Whether first-time directors Margaret Munzer Loeb and Eden Wurmfeld, along with the interviewees, including Lythcott-Haims and Lenore Skenazy (founder of Let Growand author of Free Range Kids) agree with social media’s influence or not, even if it feels superfluous, to bypass it completely evades a huge facet of modern life. How can it possibly not factor into this conversation?
The musical score is often unnecessary compared to moments when an interview plays out longer than expected to catch a head shaking or eyes closing in self-disappointment. Despite the charged topic, however, the film is compelling and much of the information is presented in an engaging manner. Overall, Chasing Childhood makes some very good arguments but could have been stronger had it been willing to stray a little further from a specific path. Nevertheless, this film will likely evoke a response from most viewers and definitely leave you to ponder your own beliefs, whatever they might be.