When something goes wrong with kids, the knee-jerk reaction is to blame the parents -- and this documentary piles on. It implies that it's all parents' fault that many modern kids are suffering from anxiety and depression and that suicide rates are spiking. Why? Because they care so much. Too much. So, while Chasing Childhood is informative and ultimately worth watching, it also serves as a measuring stick of judgment. Many parents will watch anxiously to see how they stack up, wringing their hands: "Have I already ruined my child?" That said, making a film that examines the negative effects of helicopter and snowplow parenting is smart, from a filmmaking perspective, because those are exactly the kind of parents who will seek it out and watch it.
The activists who come together here to argue that kids need more free time and less adult oversight aren't wrong, but they're also not necessarily 100% right in their assertion that helicopter parenting is the reason for spiking rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide. The film offers up statistics that are sure to give worry-prone parents more to worry about, but it ignores other elements that could have also led to these issues, such as the fact that today's kids are growing up in a post-9/11 world, where shootings at malls, movie theaters, and schools feel like daily occurrences; where advances in technology have made it virtually impossible to escape 24/7 bullying and harassment; and where social media can make it feel like everyone else's life is better than yours. The two experts who get the most screen time are Lenore Skenazy, a mother and journalist who was labeled "the worst mother in the world" after allowing her 9-year-old to take the subway alone in Manhattan, and Genevieve Eason, an affluent mother whose daughter attempted suicide and left college because of addiction issues. Skenazy founded the free-range kids movement, but it's worth pausing to realize that that movement came out of her being villified and her searching to prove that she was right. Loving mom Eason, meanwhile, was looking for answers about why her daughter was facing such difficulties, and -- as women are known to do -- blamed herself. So two of the film's key subjects have very personal reasons to prove that they've found the solution. The idea that giving kids more breathing room to play, to grow, to be independent, and to be self-directed will increase their well-being offers excellent food for thought, but these are morsels, not an entire meal.