Thoughts from that awkward age

21st November 1997 at 00:00
AS SEEN ON TV. BBC2. Sundays. 11.20-11.50am. November 16 - December 21.

Each programme in this series of documentaries is composed of five or six short films made by children between the ages of nine and 14 on subjects chosen by themselves. These range from accounts of their hobbies to family portraits, video diaries and the occasional moan (the first of this year's groups of films began with a piece by Disgusted of Reading, aged 13, who had some emphatic views on the people who attend the annual Reading Festival).

The children are at that intermediate stage between childhood and adolescence, and it was imaginative of the producers to ignore the usual distinctions (primary as opposed to secondary, child or teenager) and to suggest continuity rather than change. In fact, the ages of the individual contributors (which appear in a caption at the start of each report) are unimportant; what emerges is the variety of interests and experience.

We know who makes the films, but whom are they for? Their scheduling, in that Sunday morning ragbag somewhere between Grange Hill and The Simpsons, suggests the BBC itself may be uncertain. The difficulty is that they are of no practical use. Parents, teachers and others will not get ideas here for how to solve a teenager's worries about sex and acne. Instead, the series offers something unquantifiable: a sense of what really goes on in children's minds and of how, at this age, a combination of lived experience and received wisdom is shaping their appreciation of the world.

Take, for example, the 12-year-old girl from Dundee talking about being a bridesmaid: "I've never been to a wedding before, so I don't know if I'm going to like it or not . . . I hate the dress." These are immediate reactions that contrast with her predictable views on marriage and divorce: "I think marriage is a special thing . . . there are so many, like, divorces and things nowadays." Or the 13-year-old boy from Wembley brought up by his grandmother because his father was in prison and his mother abandoned them. "I just take it that we're a normal family, which I know we're not; but we get on as if we are."

What is "normal"? It is what a girl with Down's syndrome feels when she dances, what an Indian looks for in the clash between two cultures, what an 11-year-old would like to feel (but can't, because she is five feet, eight inches tall). Each group of films has one such report in it, but in a context that questions the whole notion of "normality". Is it normal to be mad about gliding, or to think the lodgers who live in the spare room are foreign spies?

Touching, intriguing, funny or surprising, these films are a celebration of diversity.

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