National Youth Day: The Invention of Childhood

A still from the film The Other Side of the Wall. A girl is standing otside and looks to her left with a slight smile.

With January 12th being National Youth Day, children are our theme. But, let’s not kickoff the New Year with harrowing statistics. Instead, we want to talk about music. We suspect that our readers are familiar with Whitney Houston, Marvin Gaye, or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. To that list, we might add Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.

In case none of those names ring a bell, check out these songs:

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: “Teach Your Children”

Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes: “Wake up Everybody”

Marvin Gaye: “Save the Children”

Whitney Houston: “The Greatest Love of All”

We suspect that our readers don’t need us to tell them that childhood matters and that our youth are our most vulnerable population. You’ve heard it all before loud and in stereo from voices lovelier than our own.

So, instead, we thought we’d introduce an aspect of childhood that’s rarely discussed, which is its relative youth. Yes, you read right! Until recently, children in western society were seen as little adults, and treated as such. As you already know, we haven’t always had child labor laws, mandatory public schooling, or even pediatricians.

Lest this strike you as cynical, we want to be very clear: the invention of childhood is one of the most significant human social developments of the last several centuries. We would even be willing to go so far as to say that childhood wasn’t invented, but discovered—much like our ever-evolving understanding of the human body.

Our focus today is simply to turn over one idea:

If childhood, as we experience it, is a product of our ever-evolving notion of human development, how would you improve upon that experience?

Here are some films that explore the experience of being young in today’s world:

California's Forgotten Children

By Melody Miller, 95 mins

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California’s Forgotten Children is a feature documentary that follows a diverse group of resilient survivors who have overcome commercial sexual exploitation as children and are changing the world by ensuring no child is forgotten. This film gives viewers the tools to combat this epidemic and empowers survivors on their path to freedom.

The Other Side of the Wall

By Michelle Plascencia, 68 mins

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The relationship between siblings Ale and Rocío faces a big change when their mother is unjustly imprisoned and they become the guardians of their little brothers. As illegal immigrants in Mexico, they are confronted with discrimination, complex immigration systems and the inability to enjoy their youth.

Monkey Dance

By Julie Mallozzi, 64 mins

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Three Cambodian-American teenagers come of age in a world shadowed by their parents' Khmer Rouge nightmares. Traditional Cambodian dance links them to their parents’ culture, but fast cars, hip consumerism, and new romance pull harder. The three teens gradually come to appreciate their parents’ sacrifices and make good on their parents’ dreams.

Split UP: The TEEN Years

By Ellen Bruno, 48 mins

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Split UP: The TEEN Years is a sequel to the award-winning film Split. Twelve teens look back at childhoods marked by divorce in this 50-minute film. After ten years, these teens are even more articulate than in their younger years, and have the entirety of their childhood to reflect upon.

How I Live

By Meghan Shea, 87 mins

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Take an unforgettable journey with four children diagnosed with cancer. How I Live follows the children, their families, and their healthcare providers as they confront the realities of living with cancer in Guatemala, El Salvador, Egypt, Myanmar, and Ghana. Through their journeys we see the realities of global health inequities.

Waking Dream

By Theo Rigby, 52 mins

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Waking Dream follows the unfolding fate of six young people as they fight for legal status in the U.S., struggle with the deportation of family members, and pursue their dreams in a country that is trying harder and harder to push them out.

The Land

By Erin Davis, 24 mins

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The Land is a short documentary about a Welsh adventure playground of the same name. Since its premiere at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, The Land has been used widely by educators, play advocates, designers and parents as a tool to launch robust conversations about play, risk, freedom and children's culture.

White Earth

By J. Christian Jensen, 19 mins

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Thousands of souls flock to America’s Northern Plains seeking work in the oil fields. White Earth is the tale of an oil boom seen through unexpected eyes. Three children and an immigrant mother brave a cruel winter and reflect on the challenges and opportunities of life in the nation's biggest oil rush.

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