Hanna Rosin, in her April 2014 article, The Overprotected Kid in The Atlantic, has something important to say about today’s kids and the parents who are raising them. Back in the days when many of us had the freedom to take off for the afternoon on our bikes or invent our own games on the local playground, the sky was the limit. Now kids seem to be swimming upstream to get some time on their own. And that is impacting their creativity.
Rosin was curious about how children choose to play. Observing at a British playground that looked more like a dump site than the pristine, safe places we design for kids in this country, she was amazed at what she saw. Taking recycled pieces of metal or wood, they were creating something from “nothing.” They were taking risks, because that’s what kids like to do when given the chance. They were envisioning what things could become, combining them, and making them.
Although statistics reveal that the world is no more dangerous now than it was in the seventies, parents don’t seem to agree. To protect their kids – and to help them “get ahead,” they enroll them in multiple, structured after school classes, often depriving them of the opportunity to figure out who they are, to explore, and invent.
In 2011 a psychologist at the College of William and Mary, Kyung-Hee Kim, reported that kids’ creative thinking has declined over the last ten years – results revealed from the administration of the Torrance Test of Creative thinking.
Children are now less: “Emotionally expressive, imaginative, unconventional, lively and passionate, perceptive, apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, able to synthesize, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”
At the same time, many schools are cutting Art programs due to budget constraints. Teachers are using class time to prepare students to take tests, rather than allocating time for complex projects that require creative thinking, originality, and connection making. Hands-on and/or long term projects are relegated to the home, where parents often do the work for kids so that they can compete with their peers. Will today’s parents realize, before it is too late, that this generation of young people must know how to let their imaginations soar? Take the long view? Solve small problems now that will give them practice for solving bigger ones later? If we want our children to know how to push the limits of their thinking, we must give them the chance to experiment, organize their thoughts, learn to trust themselves and their theories.
If you have or have the chance to be with children, give them the chance to figure out who they are and who they can be. Give them time. Give them inspiration. Assure them that their thinking is sound. And then let them go.
Nancy Harris Frohlich