In today’s modern, tech-centric world, the ability to stick to strict routines while following simple instructions isn’t as important as it used to be when assembly line jobs were the main source of employment. Now, creativity, innovative thinking, & outside-of-the-box problem-solving are the most in-demand skills. With many of the biggest problems we’ll face still on the horizon & requiring new solutions that no one’s come up with yet, those skills will be of the utmost importance. Things like climate change, development of renewable energy sources & the threat of automation replacing most, if not all jobs, require creative solutions that have yet to be discovered. Yet as it turns out, many parenting styles currently in use to foster creativity & innovative thinking may have the opposite effect.
Sometimes, in a desperate attempt to accomplish one outcome, we actually cause the opposite. For one thing, the school system’s focus on standardized testing fosters an environment of memorization & short-term retention rather than one of learning or thinking. The level of constant supervision surrounding kids today also robs them of the ability to explore & learn by gaining a hands-on understanding through trial & error. Parents truly are trying to give their kids the best possible advantages in life, but packing their schedules with extra classes, lessons, & activities is actually more likely to create resentment of the subjects due to their mandatory & forced nature. Kids usually find more enjoyment in activities & subjects for which they develop a natural curiosity & passion.
Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., a psychologist specializing in family dynamics, is quoted as saying, “One boy told me that he was writing a secret play.” When she asked why it was a secret, she wrote in a Parents.com article that the boy replied, “I’m hiding it from my parents because if they find out, they’ll get too excited and then I won’t want to do it anymore.” Dr. Mogel warns that if kids feel obligated to use their talents & share them with others, they’ll be less likely to want to do so. She even goes so far as to say that when parents make a “big fuss” over everything their kids do, they end up feeling like they have to make everything into something amazing to meet those seemingly heightened expectations.
Not only does that put a lot of unintentional pressure on the child, but I can say from personal experience that they can even begin to feel like they’re less talented the more they’re complemented if the attention isn’t well-deserved. It may seem like encouragement to tell them everything they create is amazing, but just like the value of art decreases the easier it is to get, the worth of your adoration goes down if it’s too easily available as well.
Parents also have a habit of only seeing true educational value in things that have an obvious or exclusive
educational purpose. They don’t realize that playing make-believe can have just as much, or even more benefit, than games designed around learning to count or read. Bruce Nussbaum, a design school professor & author of Creative Intelligence writes in his book, “When people are playing, they take risks they would not ordinarily take. They experience failure not as a crushing blow but as an idea they tried that didn’t work. Play transforms problems into challenges, seriousness into fun, one right answer into any number of possible outcomes.“
Sometimes, the most important learning experiences, even for children, don’t come from activities we engage in for that specific purpose. Life lessons like those are often more important than the ability to multiply numbers or remember historical dates because those things can be applied to an array of real-life scenarios in which you can’t just rely on technology to calculate or remember the lesson for you in the future.
Effective Approaches To Raising A Creative Free-Thinker
So, with all of these methods that seem to be creatively nurturing being proven to have the opposite effect, what should we be doing? We need to give kids the room necessary to explore, discover, & become curious on their own. When a child’s engaged in an activity they truly enjoy, even if it seems pointless, we need to curb our instincts to steer them toward more goal-oriented activities or attempt to teach a lesson we feel might be more useful. Instead of making grades the focus of learning, we should teach that knowledge, true understanding, & curiosity fueled by a passion for learning are the most important things.
We need to allow them the freedom & space to discover things their own way, out of genuine interest, rather than guiding them to exclusively mandatory information. The ability to speak another language, play an instrument, or excel at sports can be a real asset to kids in the long run, but we also need to remember that not every child will enjoy or have a talent for every advantageous activity. Even if they might be well suited for something, they tend to be better at, have more passion for, & work harder at, ones they decide to try for themselves.
Whether it’s an artistic, creative, athletic, or educational endeavor, we need to remind ourselves not to praise every single step or average accomplishment so when they do create or achieve something special, they’ll know they’ve genuinely earned our attention because we don’t over-stress the importance or skill of just any activity. Also, shifting the focus from the result of a test, activity, or creative project to the process involved will show the importance of enjoying the journey over just the destination & take some of the pressure off to make the end result into something great every time. Often, enjoying the process, regardless of the result, is what tends to create the best outcome anyway.
If they feel pressured to share the things they’re good at, that can instantly reframe the activity from one of personal enjoyment to that of public obligation. So whatever they love, allow them to make it about themselves & do it for their own satisfaction alone unless or until they make the choice to share it, of their own free will. In addition, it’s really important that when they play, build, discover, or use imagination, we remind ourselves that they’re using the same skills & abilities that they’ll need later in life to succeed & which were pivotal in such innovation as the invention of the internet, successful completion of the first moon landing, & Thomas Edison’s assertion that he didn’t fail a thousand times to invent the improved incandescent light bulb, he merely discovered over a thousand ways not to invent one.😉
Until next time…