I myself came under considerable criticism a few years back when I spoke to my then five year-old daughter about the Holocaust. And I’ve raised more than a few eyebrows (including two of my own) for letting my son read the entire Game of Thrones series when he was ten. (If you want a quick primer on sex, violence and everything short of videotape, do give those books a go…)
But one decision I have not regretted was encouraging our children – now 8 and 11 respectively – to watch the Seven Up! series with me and my husband.
If you’ve never seen Seven Up!, drop whatever you’re doing right now and go rent it at the library/netflix/love film. You will not be disappointed. Seven Up! began as a documentary about childhood in the class-torn Britain of the 1960s, centered around the famous Jesuit aphorism: “Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man.” The director, Michael Apted (an assistant on the first film and better known these days for his work on the Showtime series Masters of Sex), interviewed 14 seven-year-olds from strikingly different backgrounds in England and traced their evolution, the hypothesis being that knowing them at seven would give us insight into the “man” (woman) in adulthood. He then went on to make a new film every seven years, the most recent installment being 56 up!
Across the films you are privy to the remarkable dreams of childhood, the dashed hopes of adulthood, along with the inevitable personal crises, marital difficulties, and economic challenges that invariably accompany the process of growing up.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Sure, there are some pretty depressing stories in here – including one bright-eyed youngster who proudly announces that he’d like to grow up to become an astronaut but ends up homeless and mentally unstable. But there are also real rays of hope: kids who look like they’ll fall into drugs and crime but don’t, tough women who really enjoy their lives despite not having a lot of money, and poor little rich girls who look like they’re destined to remain lonely and miserable but somehow manage to pull it together and lead a happy family life.
My husband and I wanted our kids to see these films because as much as they shine a spot light on some of the gritty truths of adulthood, equally they teach kids that everything isn’t pre-determined at birth, that happiness isn’t just about having money, and perhaps most importantly of all, that life can be full of surprises-some awful and unfortunate, yes, but some exhilarating and inspiring.
Sure, I’d love to shield my kids from evil and sorrow. But they will confront them. And I want them to be ready.
How about you? What books/plays/music/films have you shown your kids that offered a glimpse into the realities of being a grown up?
Delia Lloyd is an American journalist living in London. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Financial Times, The International Herald Tribune and The Guardian. She was the London correspondent for Politics Daily and blogged about women and politics at The Washington Post’s She the People. She blogs about adulthood at RealDelia. Follow her on Twitter at @realdelia.