I’m convinced that children are born brilliant.
Spend time with toddlers, and you see all the trappings of genius at work: problem solving, connections, creativity, manipulation and enthusiasm for learning.
Yet it seems the modern-day parent is becoming more adept at stripping these traits away from his or her children. We are actually dumbing down our children in their most formative years. Our kids grow up, and suddenly we wonder why they can’t make decisions, follow through on commitments or move past the video-game console.
Here are six ways we dumb down our children, and how we can fix it before it’s too late:
1. Immediate gratification
We live in a society of immediate gratification. There is so much of life right at our fingertips. Yet we do our children a disservice by giving in to their every whim for new toys, an ice cream cone or the latest iPhone app. Just because we can afford it doesn’t mean our children need it.
Learning delayed gratification is an important skill for children. Even saying things like, “After dinner, you can have a cookie,” teaches children to wait. Extensive studies have shown that kids who know how to delay gratification make better financial choices, score higher on the SAT and have better social competence.
2. Solve their problems
As a parent, it’s hard to see our kids struggle. Whether they’re dealing with a friend issue or falling behind in math, the trigger reaction is to step in and fix the problem. We want our kids to live in a perpetual state of happiness, believing that every conflict gets resolved with a Disney ending.
Of course, life isn’t a perpetual state of happiness. There are bumps and roadblocks, times of sorrow and frustration. Learning how to navigate these as a child and teenager prepares kids for the time when they don’t have a parent around to tie up the messy ends. We need to teach our children emotional independence by getting out of their way and letting them work through the difficult times.
3. Schedule their every minute
We hear so much about the over-scheduled kid, yet we’re still uncomfortable really letting go and allowing our kids downtime. After all, the neighbor kids are all involved in soccer, hockey, chess club and the school play. We worry about our kids falling behind. Or maybe we just like to tick off the accomplishments of our children to our friends.
But kids need unstructured time. They need to get righteously bored watching the grass grow. This time helps them process the challenges of life, and like I mentioned above, gives them a chance to solve their own problems. They need to make discoveries, get dirty and flex their creative muscles without the direct supervision of an instructor.
4. Turn to the electronic baby sitter
Media drives a good deal of our lives. Some of it is fantastic. A lot is simply filler garbage. The problem with introducing our kids to media isn’t the medium, but the fact that we use that medium at the basest level. It becomes something to pass the time, keep kids out of our hair or simply entertain. And we use it way too often. We’re teaching our kids to be passive consumers instead of conscious creators.
The thing is, there are fantastic education tools at our disposal, but they take more energy to find. It’s like sifting for gold. We have to rustle through a lot of shale to discover quality media tools, the kind that will actually teach and enhance our children’s learning. From a young age we can teach them to use media to create video, learn a processing program or even create their own games. These are the tools they can carry with them into the job market.
5. Teach them that learning stops the minute they exit the red-brick building
Education isn't going to get any better unless parents do more to expand learning outside of school. This doesn’t necessarily mean workbooks and flashcards. What it does mean is teaching kids that the world is a classroom, and you don't switch from learning to entertainment when the bell rings or when you’re handed a diploma.
If our kids see us learning, they will want to learn. If we talk about concepts and ideas with enthusiasm, we teach our kids that exploring new ideas is exciting. We can piggyback off what they are learning in school with library books, videos, trips to museums and good plain talking. Most importantly, we can teach by example that learning is fun, not drudgery.
6. Talk to them instead of with them
“Get your shoes on. What time do you need to be picked up? Have you done your homework? Get ready for bed.”
The human race has never talked so much. We chatter, text, call, Instagram and update our Facebook status. We exchange a lot of words, yet we’ve lost the art of conversation. Debate used to be a meaningful exchange of idea. Now it is an excuse to drag an opponent’s name through the mud.
It’s up to us as parents to communicate effectively with our children. We need to teach them how to have a conversation. Our children cannot be effective teachers, spouses or job applicants if they don't know how to communicate.
Our kids are born with infinite capacity to learn, create and contribute. If we keep that in mind, and make an effort to enhance their natural abilities (because it is work), we can let our children shine.