Robert Coles '50 has spent his entire professional life listening.
In his more than 30 years as a psychiatrist, Coles, a Harvard professor of psychiatry and medical humanities, has lent an ear to countless people coping with life's struggles.
Now, for the first time in his career, Coles has allowed his work to be filmed. The result is a PBS special which reveals how he and eight of his adolescent subjects attempted to make sense of society's most troubling ills.
"Listening to Children: A Moral Journey with Robert Coles," which premiers tonight at 9 p.m. on WGBH Boston, Channel 2, follows the inner lives of eight American children who are faced with deteriorating families, racism, alcoholism, AIDS, poverty and emotional insecurity.
"Dr. Coles...focused on the way each individual develops a sense of inner strength, that force of character that helps one weather whatever storm society churns up," said director Buddy Squires, an Emmy-winner whose credits include Ken Burns' films "Baseball" and "The Civil War."
The 90-minute documentary was produced by Social Media Productions and is presented nationally by South Carolina ETV.
"Listening" has been three years in the making. Most of this time was spent trying to identify children for the documentary and to establish relationships with their families.
The film selected eight children from varying backgrounds through interviews conducted in schools across the nation.
"Children are our successors," Coles said in a press release. "In that sense, our concern for them is ultimately a kind of self-concern. They are us handed onto another generation."
Coles views the transmittance of inner strength from parent to child as a form of human survival.
Coles says he believes the struggles of the eight children are illustrative of the struggles many children face.
"These children represent millions of others who stand alongside them, whose lives in certain ways resemble theirs, for the good and for the worrisome," Coles said.