5 Ways We Are Sucking the Soul Out of Children
In an effort to guide kids to become good adults, we often don't let them explore childhood.
"People have enough to live on, but nothing to live for; they have the means, but no meaning." ~Robert Fogel
Daniel Pink, in his book, "A Whole New Mind," lays out a convincing argument that a new skill set is going to be required for future workers, meaning our children. Highest on the list is creativity, artistic ability, empathy, people skills, and the ability to evoke meaning in products.
My concern is that parents and schools have gotten so wrapped up in the rat race of straight A’s, select sports teams, and top tier colleges that critical socio-emotional intelligence and creativeness qualities are being given short shrift.
The following are five ways we are sucking the heart and soul out of our children’s lives.
1. The freedom to play, explore and imagine. The grandfather of a 3-year-old boy encouraged him to take things apart to see how they worked, and by age 5 he was routinely using tools like soldering irons to build things. He would arrive at school with scars on his hands and arms from his constructions. By age 14 he was creating and selling computer programs, which led to designing many of the electronic products we all use today. I wonder how many parents today would allow their children to use power tools like this boy did.
If you want kids to bust out and let their imaginations go wild, they have to have the freedom to explore and take things apart and play with ideas. This also requires enough down time for kids to really get into the flow of their creative processes.
2. Encourage the artist within. If a high school senior told their parents they wanted to go to art school, the majority of them would receive a lecture about starving artists and how you can’t make a living blah, blah, blah. Ask a class of kindergarteners how many of them are artists, and you will see a sea of hands go up. By 5th grade, maybe a third will say "yes," and by high school you’d be lucky to get more than one or two to admit it. They have noticed that the arts are not valued as much as the 3 R’s or football, and so they get discouraged out of this arena. Budding artists need to be supported, not just with paints and clay, but with our appreciation of its importance to our culture. Give artists and dancers and musicians the same amount of financial and emotional support as you give kids in sports.
3. Navigate kids to explore their interests. Taylor, 18, a straight A student and captain of her soccer team, hates school. She, like so many other top students, has learned to just play the game of school in order to achieve the holy grail of acceptance into top universities. She studies what she’s told is on the tests and jumps through whatever hoops a teacher lay out for her. However, Taylor would tell you that her love of learning has gone out the window. The motivation to initiate and create and be fully engaged in passionate pursuits takes a back seat to padding resumes. Guide kids to pursue their own interests with zeal and to experience flow moments, for it’s only when they are fully engaged in their passions that they will put in the time and effort for mastery.
4. Be careful what you focus on because it grows. Kids are absorbing a cultural mantra that goes like this: get good marks in grade school in order to get into a good high school; get good grades in high school in order to gain admittance into a top college; earn A’s in college so you will get a great job; and finally get a good job so that you can make a lot of money. Tim Kasser, in his book "The High Price of Materialism," shows in over 30 countries where people who are driven by externals end up with higher levels of mental illness, are less happy and fulfilled, and have worse relationships. Teens and adults who are driven by internals like being of service and making a difference are happier, more fulfilled, and have richer relationships. Be very careful with what you focus on.
5. Winning isn't everything. Twenty million kids register each year for youth sports. The National Alliance for Sports reports that 70 percent of these kids quit playing these league sports by age 13—and never play them again. The number one reason for quitting: it was no longer fun. For many kids there was too much emphasis on competition and winning. Change the focus to having fun, spending time with friends, and learning lessons about hard work, winning and losing, and teamwork. If I had my way, I’d abolish select, club teams and mix all levels of kids together until at least 7th or 8th grade.
I’d like to see kids learning for the love of learning, playing for plays sake, and doing the right thing because it’s the right thing versus what they will get for it. Value passion where you find it no matter what package it comes in. Encourage original thought, creativity in all its forms, and enough down time to allow daydreaming, contemplation, and for kids to pursue their curiosities and interests. This will ensure that kids will have a more soulful childhood.
Dr. Tim Jordan is a leading expert on parenting girls from 2 – 20 years of age. He is the author is Sleeping Beauties, Awakened Women: Guiding Transformation of Adolescent Girls. He is also an international speaker, media expert and school consultant. He often speaks about girls and their journey through adolescence, relationship aggression, friendship, cliques and bullying and the best practices for parenting girls. For more information visit www.drtimjordan.com.