ANN BAILEY: Want creative kids? Stay out of their way

As a reporter, I get volumes of news releases. Some contain useful information that I relay on to the public. Others are a source of story ideas. A few make me laugh, although that was not the intention of their writers.

Ann Bailey
Ann Bailey

As a reporter, I get volumes of news releases. Some contain useful information that I relay on to the public. Others are a source of story ideas. A few make me laugh, although that was not the intention of their writers.

One of the latter came across my desk the other day. The release, which had a headline asking, "Where has all the creativity gone?" cites news articles whose authors talk about the lack of creativity in today's kids. The news release then gives information about a clinical psychologist who can provide tips to help parents re-create creativity.

Maybe it's just me, but it seems contradictory to give suggestions on how to help children be creative. In my experience with my own children, the best way to teach them to be creative is not to show them how to do it, but instead let them figure it out themselves. As I tell them, there's a world of things to do on the farm, and being entertainment chair is not in my job description.


In fact, in the rare times my kids come to me complaining that they're bored, I tell them that, prefaced with the line, "That's your problem, not mine." If they protest, I warn them that if I hear any more complaints that I will find them something to do, likely in the form of a chore. Those words pretty quickly fuel their creative juices and soon they are involved in an activity of some sort.


Sometimes their play involves going outside and tramping through the woods pretending they are explorers, jumping out of trees into the snow or building bicycle obstacle courses, depending on the season.

Inside the house, they may pull out a board game, wage a Nerf gun battle or make a video. On a recent weekend they made a music video of Johnny Horton's song Battle of New Orleans. Watching my children hop through the brambles like rabbits, howl like hounds and "fire their guns when the British kept a comin' " made me laugh my way through my otherwise boring clothes folding routine.

Or not?

One of the reasons that the psychologist cites for children's lack of creativity is that "we" define success narrowly in monetary terms. He says that kids have been trained to focus on a linear and conventional model of success. Middle class kids, he says, are taught to believe "... that if you get to Harvard you can get an MBA from Wharton and then you make a six-or seven-figure salary and live happily ever after.

"In pushing this limited idea of achievement, we de-emphasize nonlinear and nontraditional ways of thinking. Innovation, unless it serves the end of making money, is discouraged."

After reading that, I decided I must not be a member of the middle class, after all. I haven't set our children's sights on any particular college, let alone Harvard or Wharton. In fact, I'm not nearly as concerned about where my children attend college or the careers they choose as I am about them being decent, responsible, and yes, creative, adults. I need to only read news accounts about the crazy, mixed-up lives of the majority of movie actors and actresses to know that making a lot of money is not necessarily a guarantee of happiness.

On their own

I do agree with the psychologist's suggestion that one way to foster creativity is to promote active problem solving. I think way too often parents jump in and try to fight their kids' battles for them whether that be in the form of calling another parent to intervene in a spat between their children or immediately taking their children's side in a dispute with a teacher. From my perspective, unless there's a real risk of danger, letting kids work things out themselves is preferable.


I figure that as they go forward it will be inevitable that they will encounter people with whom they disagree or have personality conflicts and that honing negotiating skills now will help prepare them for the future. Sometimes, as I also tell them, they just have to tolerate certain people whether or not they like them or agree with what they're doing.

My advice

Really, my advice and philosophy for fostering children's creativity can be summed up in four short words: "Let kids be kids."

I think kids have innate creativity and if they're allowed to use it, they will. By not scheduling every second of their day with organized activities and not buying them every new gadget that comes out, parents will encourage their kids to figure out how to amuse themselves.

Meanwhile, once they have honed their creative skills, if they're like my children, they'll use the technology they do have to be creative. For example, my son Brendan, 13, has loved to make movies since he was 9 or 10. As he has grown older, the movies have becoming more sophisticated and he has taught himself to use computer software that allows him to put in special effects and end them with credits and music.

The older I get, and the more experienced I get as a parent, the more I am convinced that knowing when to step in and intervene for my kids and when to stay out and let them figure it out, is an important skill to have. When it comes to raising creative kids, I believe that staying out gets results the majority of the time.

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