Anyone who remembers Michael Apted’s remarkable documentary series, Seven Up, knows how profound an experiment it has been.
Seven Up filmed a group of British children at the ages of 7 and 14, watching them progress to 21, 28, 35, 42 and 49 -it has been a fascinating time capsule. I still can’t forget what happened to Neil, who went from being a bright schoolboy to a homeless and mentally unstable adult before eventually finding peace later.
In Australia we have seen similar concepts with Gillian Armstrong’s Bingo, Bridesmaids & Braces (most recently revisited in Love, Lust & Lies) and the longitudinal study, ‘Growing Up In Australia’ which the ABC has filmed as part of its Life series.
Life At 5 is the third instalment of the series, following Life at 3 and Life at 1.
Eleven children from all walks of life were selected from the series, which has a similar agenda to the other projects: documenting social change. The ‘Growing Up In Australia’ study charts some 10,000 children and their families over a 15 year period.
In Life at 5 the focus is on ‘Resilience.’ What are our coping mechanisms? Why do some children deal with change better than others?
As they are face their first day at primary school, the children are excited, racing around the yard with joyous energy. As an adult it’s hard not to think about what challenges may lay ahead.
One of the children is Daniel, who has already had to face enormous change. In Life at 3 Daniel attended the funeral of his brother, something no child should ever have to face. Since that time he has shown signs of stress. Now in Life at 5 his parents are about to separate. Making life even more complicated is the sad fact that his mother, who is expecting another child, has only 10% vision. Does it get any tougher than this?
Yet Daniel is already demonstrating signs of independence and leadership. Stuff like this is enough to trigger the waterworks.
Other children are also facing separated families. 1 in 3 marriages, we are told, do not survive. Some children cope well, others do not -but why?
The series features a cross section of families with varying ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs and classes. It is as much a snapshot of the parents and families as it is the children. In Life at 5, the children are able to better articulate their feelings.
There are also intriguing experiments with the children placed in test situations and cameras filming behind mirrors. These assess decision-making and coping skills, all under supervision.
The episode concludes that nurturing is fundamentally linked to how we cope as children, and it resonates through all our adult life.
Narrated by Colin Friels by Heiress Films, this is easily one of TV’s more thoughtful fly-on-the-wall documentaries.
Life at 5 airs 8:30pm Tuesday on ABC1.