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Eight-year-old Joshua Bynum with his video camera on the set of 'My Life As A Child.' Selected from a nationwide search for the six-episode series, 20 children were given their own hand-held video camera to spotlight their lives for four months. The series begins Monday at 6 p.m. on TLC.
AP photo/TLC by David Johnson
Eight-year-old Joshua Bynum with his video camera on the set of "My Life As A Child." Selected from a nationwide search for the six-episode series, 20 children were given their own hand-held video camera to spotlight their lives for four months. The series begins Monday at 6 p.m. on TLC.

From the mouths
of babes

Children tell their stories in TLC docu-series `My Life as a Child'

By Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn
For The Associated Press

PASADENA, Calif. — Joshua Bynum is 8 years old and already keenly aware of how the world perceives him.

"I have two strikes on me, and three strikes you're out," he explains. "First I'm black, and then I'm a boy-slash-man, and I think that it's hard to be black."

Sound like big talk for a little kid? Then obviously you haven't been around an elementary school lately. This is just some of the heady, honest reflections of 7- to 11-year-olds across the country who filmed their lives for the docu-series "My Life as a Child" premiering Monday at 6 p.m. on The Learning Channel (TLC).

Selected from a nationwide search for the six-episode series — produced by TLC with BBC Productions, and based on a British series — 20 children were given hand-held video cameras to spotlight their world for four months last year, from their vantage.

It is an eye-opening look at their views — unrehearsed and unscripted — on parents and peers; growing up amid war and terrorism, new technology, racism, poverty, global change and bullies.

"I think kids are a lot more aware of what's going on in the world than we give them credit for and they're questioning things more," says series producer Amy Kohn. "Kids are thinking about their parents' relationships, they're thinking about relationships in the world and how people interact and they're thinking about their role in society."

The most revealing aspect of the series, says Kohn, 33, "is these children's ability to talk about their lives in an articulate way that other people can understand. They seem to have an understanding of life and storytelling that's a lot more mature than children of my own generation."

For his story, Bynum turned the camera on inner-city Baltimore, Md., where he was living with his mother, younger sister and grandmother. In lighter moments, the young showman acts out little skits for the camera. But beneath the smiles, Bynum discusses the shame he feels not having had his father around in over two years.

In another story, a Muslim girl, just recently arrived from Turkey, considers whether to wear a head scarf to her junior high school. Another focuses on a girl on an all-boys football team who ponders what it means to be a woman.

"All these issues that you think kids may not be considering until they get into their adolescence, they're getting into these issues a lot earlier," Kohn says.

Kohn joined Bynum — and participants Drew Nelson, 11, of Plainsboro, N.J.; Lisetanne Scherschel, 11, of New York City, and Cole Massie, 9, of Los Angeles— at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel & Spa last month, where they discussed the series with members of the Television Critics Association.

Before the press conference, Nelson happily talks about being a "boy ballet dancer," his six-hour roundtrip commute from his home to the American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline

Kennedy Onassis School where he hones his craft, and his dreams of becoming a principal dancer at a professional ballet company.

“Boys should do ballet and the arts, it’s such a great thing,” he says, “because you can really express yourself in a certain way. In dance you don’t talk, so you dance how you feel.”

He concedes there are challenges. “Sometimes kids pick on you,” Nelson says. “They say, ‘Oh you do ballet, you must be a girl,’ because most kids don’t do ballet when they’re a boy, so that’s sort of weird, I guess. That is different.”

Being different

Difference is what most of these children have in common.

Massie was born with cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Yet he has earned a yellow belt in karate and likes to perform on stage. He hopes to walk one day.

“I just wanted to show people that children of all abilities, even if you’re in a wheelchair, you can do things just in a different way but it’s still everyday, ordinary things ... not that karate is ordinary.”

“Being different is a part of being human,” interjects Scherschel, an aspiring actress who has already appeared on NBC’s “Law & Order.”

Scherschel, who is black, was adopted by an unmarried Caucasian woman. She speaks frankly about her mixed-race family and acknowledges being comfortable filming herself, not only because she wants to be a professional “drama queen.”

“We all were having a lot of fun expressing our ideas,” Scherschel says. “You’re talking to a camera so there’s nobody there to judge you ... or to say that what you’re saying is wrong, that your life isn’t right.”

The key to the project, says Kohn, was allowing the children be the directors of their own films. In editing, “it was very important that all the words that we used were their own words, that it was very true to what was going on in their lives, and never losing sight of the fact that they are kids,” she says.

This kind of “user-generated” documentary filmmaking, she adds, “is a wonderful way to find out what is going on in this country. I think people are going to be really amazed when they see what these kids have to say.”

As for Bynum, he says he wants to be president of the United States someday. “I have two strikes against me, that’s a fact,” he asserts. “But I’m not going to let those two strikes hold me down and I’m just going to keep going for what I believe in and gonna do whatever it takes to fulfill my dreams.”

Spoken like a real man.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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