Media Recommendations

7 Documentaries to Enjoy With Your Family Over the Holiday Break

Delaney Ruston, MD
December 12, 2023
Movie clapper board with words "Documentary Recommendations" on it

So many amazing documentaries, so little time!  December is always super packed for everyone I know, so I am going right to the heart of the matter:  I have some wonderful documentaries to suggest.

Whether you can catch one of these with your child on a rainy weekend day or holiday evening, these films provide excellent fodder for loving conversations.  

Remember to check out the trailer and ratings of the documentaries to ensure they will be appropriate to watch with your kids

Documentary Recommendations

To watch alone or with elementary-age kids and older

1. The Yung Punx

Full confession: I started watching this on the plane and enjoyed it so much that I stopped myself from finishing because I wanted to watch it with my kids over the holiday break. The movie follows Color Killer, a young punk rock band from Massachusetts. Chris Parnell from Saturday Night Live fame narrates. What I love about this doc is how it slips beyond the workings of an up-and-coming band in the punk scene into real-life funny moments between the kids and their parents, which are priceless. As a filmmaker, I know how hard these gems are to capture.

2. Science Fair

This film is great for older elementary and middle school agers in particular, as well as high schoolers. The film follows nine high school students from around the world as they embark on their science projects for an international Science and Engineering Fair. It’s fascinating to see how they handle disappointments, problems, and rivalries that arise along the way. One theme that comes up a couple of times relates to risk-taking and teen substance use --things addressed in my latest film, Screenagers Under The Influence. A wonderful section of the film features high school junior Kashfia, who enlists the help of a losing sports coach (their team lost 9 out of 9 competitions) to help her project about risk-taking among teens. Other projects include arsenic testing, airplane propulsion and Zika virus testing.

Bonus! The Screenagers Podcast

While not strictly a documentary, our podcast takes an investigative approach to the broad range of topics we cover. I'm super proud of our latest episode: "What Do We Really Know About Teen Vaping?" which just released yesterday. Join me as we dive into the world of teens, vaping, and the cunning tactics e-cigarette companies use on social media. We'll uncover the health hazards of vaping, examine how influencers glamorize it, and expose deceptive marketing strategies.

Listen Here: Website // Apple Podcasts // Spotify

Check out these short previews for this episode!:

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To watch alone or with teens

3. Mama’s Boy

This film had me bawling a couple of times — always in the most wonderful way. It fills you with intense compassion. I immediately emailed friends to let them know it was a must-see film. The movie, an adaptation of Dustin Lance Black’s book of the same name, deep dives into the Academy Award-winning screenwriter’s relationship with his mother. Black, who is gay, wrote and directed the movie Milk, about slain LGBT activist Harvey Milk, for which he won an Oscar. In one scene, we see how his mom sits with her son’s friends and ultimately becomes accepting of her son, it is incredibly profound. It is key that our teens see stories of such change because research shows us that one of the most effective ways for people to overcome prejudices of all types, is to spend time with people that they have these views about.

4. Hi, I'm Nancy Rubin 

"Hi, I'm Nancy Rubin" is an HBO documentary about Nancy Rubin, an innovative high school teacher at Berkeley High School in California during the 1980s-90s. She tasked her students with writing letters to their future selves, promising to mail them years later. Over 42 years, Rubin mailed over 10,000 letters, with only three remaining. This docuseries, a Banff Rockie Award nominee, explores the profound impact of these letters and Rubin's teaching approach on her students' lives.

5. Big Vape: The Rise and Fall of Juul

Netflix’s "Big Vape" is a well-done 4-part series that reveals JUUL’s rapid growth and how it impacted youth health. At its height, the company was valued at $38 billion, but deceitful marketing targeting adolescents, regulatory battles and devasting health consequences from using the product brought the company down. The movie offers a critical look at the ethical dilemmas and societal implications of the big business of vape culture.

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6. Wings of Life 

My son was always squeamish about bugs, particularly beetle-type bugs that would suddenly fly. This is why this documentary is a great find. For young kids, this could be just the ticket to open up their eyes to the wonder of all things with wings. For me, it was mind-bending to learn how bats travel in the desert to pollinate cacti. The footage is literally jaw-dropping. The pace of this film is slow, and the narration is meditative in tone. I appreciated getting into that flow since so many movies have quite the opposite vibe.

And finally, here is one from Rebecca, on our Screenagers Team, which I plan to watch over the break and hope my kids will join me.

7. American Symphony 

Heartache. Joy. Devastation. Resurrection. Survival. Beauty. You feel it all as you go along for an emotional and inspiring ride with the insanely talented Jon Batiste and his equally prolific wife, journalist, artist, and musician, Suleika Jouaud Batiste. While she is embarking on a life-saving bone marrow transplant, having been diagnosed with leukemia again after a 10-year remission, Batiste is simultaneously caring for his wife, composing his first symphony, and riding the wave of its 12 Grammy nominations. The sheer juxtaposition of their worlds is dizzying, but Batiste and Jouaud do not fall and break. They only get stronger. More than just a love story and show of resilience in the face of devastating circumstances, this movie is a real-time example of perseverance and dedication to your dreams amid crisis. A must-see for aspiring teens and adults alike.

Here are more documentary recommendations I’ve suggested from previous years:

Screenagers Blog | 2021: 12 Documentaries To Watch With Your Family

Screenagers Blog | 2020: 11 Documentaries for Your Family

Screenagers Blog | 2017: 10 Documentaries to Watch With Your Family

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Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

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Free Book Preview - Download a free preview of "Parenting In The Screen Age" by Delaney Ruston, MD

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Join Today - Members can screen and view our movies year-round, access new lesson plans, resources and much more!

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Our New Movie - Learn more about the third movie in the Screenagers Trilogy

Learn More

The Screenagers YouTube Channel - Subscribe for new videos and content from our team weekly!

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

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Find a Screening - Find a screening of our movies in your local community

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Screenagers Podcast - Join Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD for the latest Podcast

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Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
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Free Book Preview - Download a free preview of "Parenting In The Screen Age" by Delaney Ruston, MD

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Join Today - Members can screen and view our movies year-round, access new lesson plans, resources and much more!

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Our New Movie - Learn more about the latest movie in the Screenagers Trilogy

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Media Recommendations

7 Documentaries to Enjoy With Your Family Over the Holiday Break

Delaney Ruston, MD
December 12, 2023
Movie clapper board with words "Documentary Recommendations" on it

So many amazing documentaries, so little time!  December is always super packed for everyone I know, so I am going right to the heart of the matter:  I have some wonderful documentaries to suggest.

Whether you can catch one of these with your child on a rainy weekend day or holiday evening, these films provide excellent fodder for loving conversations.  

Remember to check out the trailer and ratings of the documentaries to ensure they will be appropriate to watch with your kids

Documentary Recommendations

To watch alone or with elementary-age kids and older

1. The Yung Punx

Full confession: I started watching this on the plane and enjoyed it so much that I stopped myself from finishing because I wanted to watch it with my kids over the holiday break. The movie follows Color Killer, a young punk rock band from Massachusetts. Chris Parnell from Saturday Night Live fame narrates. What I love about this doc is how it slips beyond the workings of an up-and-coming band in the punk scene into real-life funny moments between the kids and their parents, which are priceless. As a filmmaker, I know how hard these gems are to capture.

2. Science Fair

This film is great for older elementary and middle school agers in particular, as well as high schoolers. The film follows nine high school students from around the world as they embark on their science projects for an international Science and Engineering Fair. It’s fascinating to see how they handle disappointments, problems, and rivalries that arise along the way. One theme that comes up a couple of times relates to risk-taking and teen substance use --things addressed in my latest film, Screenagers Under The Influence. A wonderful section of the film features high school junior Kashfia, who enlists the help of a losing sports coach (their team lost 9 out of 9 competitions) to help her project about risk-taking among teens. Other projects include arsenic testing, airplane propulsion and Zika virus testing.

Bonus! The Screenagers Podcast

While not strictly a documentary, our podcast takes an investigative approach to the broad range of topics we cover. I'm super proud of our latest episode: "What Do We Really Know About Teen Vaping?" which just released yesterday. Join me as we dive into the world of teens, vaping, and the cunning tactics e-cigarette companies use on social media. We'll uncover the health hazards of vaping, examine how influencers glamorize it, and expose deceptive marketing strategies.

Listen Here: Website // Apple Podcasts // Spotify

Check out these short previews for this episode!:

Ok... back to the list!

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for more like this, DR. DELANEY RUSTON'S NEW BOOK, PARENTING IN THE SCREEN AGE, IS THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE FOR TODAY’S PARENTS. WITH INSIGHTS ON SCREEN TIME FROM RESEARCHERS, INPUT FROM KIDS & TEENS, THIS BOOK IS PACKED WITH SOLUTIONS FOR HOW TO START AND SUSTAIN PRODUCTIVE FAMILY TALKS ABOUT TECHNOLOGY AND IT’S IMPACT ON OUR MENTAL WELLBEING.  

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