Kids Are Awesome, No Kidding

In Cambodia, it’s common to see parents paying attention to the behavioral development of children only when they are five years old. (Cough cough namely, when the children are enrolled into pre-schools and are found to have problems socializing or following instructions.)

A closely-held belief is that children, aged between 1-3 are just blank paper, waiting for us to teach them how to survive in the world, so parents only concern themselves with teaching the young ones how to walk, or talk. They think the social, emotional, and cognitive lessons can come later. THEN they’d spend years asking themselves, “How did this happen?” when the child turned out to be lacking in either cognitive, emotional or social skills even as adults. The crucial thing is that in the past few decades, research has shown that the first few years of our lives actually play a huge rule in laying the foundation for who we become later on.

Although a few books have been written, well, more like translated on this phenomena, I doubt the information is that widely spread, which calls for a more accessible spread of information, *drumroll* like this movie called The Beginning of Life, directed and written by Estela Renner.

The Beginning of Life is a heartwarming, informative feature documentary about how important the first years of human lives are. It was was filmed across Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Italy, Kenya and the United States, following the early lives of (simply adorable) babies and their family from various background ranging from stay-at-home dads, to same-sex couples, and single parents. You name it; they have it. It was also sprinkled with experts in the field of childhood development.

I think the central message is that instead of regarding children aged from 1-3 as blank slates, waiting for our input, we should regard them as what they really are: tiny adorable scientists. The reason is when we regard them as puppets, waiting for us to teach them how to live, we’re more prone to controlling behaviors when they do something we deem as unreasonable. We yell at them when they drop the spoon, again and again, (and again) even after the tenth time of us telling them not to. However, if we think of them as tiny alien scientists, trying to do experiments to find out who they are, and how the world works, instead of being annoyed at the spoon dropping, you’ll see that the baby is just trying to test their hypothesis about the dropping of the spoon.

“If I drop this, it will make a sound. Will it make another sound if I did it like this? Again? And again?” or
“Every time I do this, uncle does this ugly frowny face. What if I do it again, but this time, farther than before?” And when you do indeed end up with an ugly frowny face, the baby will all be like, “Yay, I understand uncle now!”

In these formative first years, the movie explains, what the baby needs from us is not total controlling instructions on how to live, but a good lab partner, who is willing to support them when they find themselves in sticky shit (sometimes literally). Instead of holding their hands and guide them through life, what they need is the freedom to explore, but with a hand at their back, ready to embrace them should they fall. The movie also shows the cliche but very true power of love. Affection from the adults around them, whether it’s from a single parent, a stay-at-home dad, a same sex couple, as long as it’s pure affection shown by attention, even something as simply as replying to their blabber, is enough to give the child self esteem which is crucial in motivating the child to explore, to persist, and to ultimately find success, not just in their early years, but throughout their lives as well.

I think everyone, even those who are not a parent, and not thinking of becoming one anytime soon, should watch this movie. Apart from the squeals you get from seeing too many cute children and their families, you can also reinforce your new view of small babies as tiny alien scientists. I mean, after watching this movie, I went out for a lunch break and spent a good 10 minute playing sword fighting (more like tooth pick fighting) with a 3 year old child. Sometimes, it’s good to get out of our conceptual adult mindset once in a while and just simply giggle with a child after you’ve lost to them in a sword fight.

You can watch the trailer of The Beginning of Life here, watch the movie on iTunes, and the six-episode series on Netflix, or find more information on how to watch it on Videocamp (here)! If you don’t mind waiting, keep your eyes out for UNICEF Cambodia’s possible free screening of this movie in the future (follow them here)!

 

 

 

 

 

A Decade Long Realization: Harry Freaking Potter

Probably a week ago, I went to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the second serial installment of the famous Harry Potter universe. To be completely honest, I’d been quite unenthusiastic since I thought I’d grown out of this raging HP fan girl phase, that I’d milked whatever lesson it could have given me in that point of time.

No sooner did the WB logo appeared that I realized I’d been kinda wrong. As the movie progressed, my sense of awe at the Harry Potter universe, nay, at the reoccurring theme that tied this new movie to the old ones grew to a point that I had to stop and cry a few tears of nostalgia mixed with a hint of courage.

In this new movie, the legendary Newt Scamander went about one of his adventures in America in the 1920s. Although it was completely unrelated to the Harry Potter universe save for their collective magical abilities, and some mentions of a few characters here and there, there was an apparent tie. The tie? It’s the fact that Newt was not welcomed; Newt, even with his interesting choice of a career, was not praised in his homeland, nor in America. Wizards, in general, did not believe that magical beasts could make good friends in the 1920s just like how the whole wizarding world did not believe Harry when he told of Voldemort’s return. Although Newt was battling a social injustice much different than the mudblood situation in the 1990s, they were essentially fighting the same battle, a battle against a society of people (or wizards in this case) who are riddled with prejudice and most importantly, who did not take their views seriously. This reminded me, forcefully, of the emotions I first felt reading Harry Potter. The reason it has a special place in my heart in the first place is the courage it’s instilled in me.

Growing up, I, and no doubt other kids in the “millennial” generation are often dubbed as lazy, entitled, lacking in motivation and/or obsessed with technology. This is nothing new, really. It’s been found that people have been putting their next generation down for as long as civilization started.

hesiod_pseudo-seneca_bm_gr1962-8-24-1Hesiod, a Greek poet said this about the young of his time, “They only care about frivolous things. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly… impatient of restraint.” (watch a hilarious talk from Adam Conover about this exact topic here)

 

 

It becomes dangerous when the generation that is put down actually believes so. I know that is my case- the all too common case of this condescending attitude actually creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more I was dubbed as irresponsible, the more irresponsible I became. The more I was dubbed as airheaded, the more airheaded I became. It created this polar sense of self in me so severe that at one point, I thought I was developing a split personality disorder because I was responsible and careful in school or any other social interactions, but would be magically turned into this callous pig in the vicinity of my abode.

That all started to change once I got immersed into the Harry Potter universe. Here were these kids, no older than my age, who were actually taken seriously by some people (what a wild concept!). Here were children who had to decide what to do, in order to fight for what they believed in. Although their decisions sometimes lead to devastating results, some of them actually turned out to be right. I was mind-blown! This was proof that just because I was young didn’t mean I shouldn’t live my life in this moment however I saw fit.

This also leads me to another conclusion, that I should not hold on to this unhealthy obsession with vintage stuff, or this fantasy of the future. I’m living in the present, and I can make changes here and now. The wise of the past had their share of problems, and the wise of the future will have theirs. Me? I have my share of time right now, with real problems and opportunities and it’s just foolish to not take part in the here and now.

 

You see? This is why Harry Potter fans cling to it. You can’t just grow out of something that makes you who you are. Stories like this; they stay with you forever.

 

Thanks, J.K. Rowling. Thank you for everything.