Your Child and Creativity
By: J. Marlando
I most recently read an article by Peter Gray who makes the observation that “as children’s freedom has declined, so has their creativity.” In the article he refers to a professor of education at William and Mary, who has analyzed “scores on a battery of measures of creativity—called the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking. Professor’s Kim’s collect samples from school children in kindergarten through high school and his findings were that all grade levels began to decline somewhere between 1884 and 1990 and have continued to decline. He says children have become, “less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”
I will offer a hypothesis of why this is and what caring parents can do about it as the rest of the narrative unfolds.
Creativity & Media
As we all know television changed American life. It broke up togetherness at the kitchen table and sent family members into the altered state of BOOBTUBE-NESS and isolation.
Before television kids loved going to the movies where they surrendered their minds to the unfolding action of the screenplay but afterwards they were out playing in their yards creating their own fantasies and inventing their own games. Today life after television for most kids is an unimaginative march to the computer or some other electronic wonder.
Before the 1970s one of the biggest challenges to Mom was getting her children to come inside in the evening to eat. Most kids loved playing outside and playing outside was connecting to nature at both a conscious and unconscious level. When I was a boy, tree climbing, exploring vacant lots and changing sticks into swords was what we did. I used to sail the world without ever leaving my grandmother’s porch.
Before video games kids had to make up their own games or they had toys that stirred their imaginations, giving them creative opportunities like toy cars, rag dolls and even erector sets to actually build one’s visions. Today’s popularity of video games takes the creative genius of someone else and at best helps develop the child’s motor skills but motor skills and creativity are, in a term, apples and oranges.
The anthropologist, Michael P. Ghiglieri gives us an extremely bitter pill to swallow when it comes to the video games that many children play: The military uses similar video games to “desensitize” their assassins to violence and murder. (I personally believe that it is naïve not to connect the insensitive drive-by killing and/or the classroom massacre to a child’s steady diet of television and the killing fields of video games. Brandon S. Centerwall, an epidemiologist, did a seven-year study that revealed by the end of elementary school a child has watched 8,000 murders on television and by age eighteen, 18,000 television murders. I do not have a statistic for how many rapes, robberies and other brutalities).
I am not saying here that every child who views television and plays video games will become a vicious killer but clearly these electronic playgrounds do contribute to (some) children’s willingness to commit violent acts if not in a direct way in such a way that they are desensitized to harming others.
In regard to the above, when I was a child growing up we saw killings in the movies but the hero always persisted over the “bad” guy. For the last fifty years plus, the antihero has become the model for courage and daring. Indeed, today the insensitive brutality of machine-like creatures clearly gives the child the message that might is right.
A major problem is that too many parents are lazy. It is simply easier to shove a kid in front of a television set than to be the teacher of the heart as good parents must be. However, another problem is occurring in that we now have two and three generations of media addition among families. Metaphorically, those parents no longer want to go to the park or fishing or camping or even go outside with their kids when they are apt to miss news, weather and sports.
Creativity and Environment
I have a theory about this so-called modernization: It has always been moms that helped grow their children’s creativity. For one thing the creative force is feminine and so when mom is not home during the informative years of a child’s life, the child lacks a connectedness to the creative force. This is a topic for another article so I won’t dwell on it but, at bottom line, it has almost always been the mother who gifts their children with encouragement, applause, self-assurance and so forth; these are essential components to the creative spirit. When mom tells us we have such wonderful imaginations, we tend to develop…wonderful imaginations. And, returning to Professor Kim, she tells us that, “when children’s creative needs are not met, they often become underachievers and show behavioral problems.”
Child neglect covers a lot of territory but is especially damaging for infants. Brandon Keim tells us that, “Early life isolation sets off a flood of hormones that permanently warp their responses to stress, leaving them anxious and prone to violent swings in mood.”
The architecture of the child’s brain is actually changed by neglect and isolation and this can greatly diminish his or her creative ability.
Especially during the child’s informative years he or she needs an environment of peace, love and attentiveness. For example, a mom and dad screaming at one another can actually do a baby or younger child both psychologically and physiologically harm; how the child’s brain will develop has as much to do with how much that child is nourished with love and caring as how well that child is nourished with food.
End of School Year Standardized testing is also under scrutiny as being intrinsic in the loss of creativity for children. In regard to this Kim asks a very enlightened question: “If we just focus on just No Child Left Behind—testing, testing, testing—then how can creative students survive?
As a quick aside—when I was a child in school they still separated the classroom into three sections (1) the smart kid (2) the kids between smart and slow and (3) the slow or dumb kids. When I was around seven years old I was always shoved in the dumb row because I just didn’t connect with the lessons. Yet, at that age I was already writing creative stories at home.
What I was, by nature, is a non-conformist and non-conformists are the bureaucrat’s worse nightmare. However, a major problem in the entire educational system is that it rewards memory and not innovation. That is, the student who bests parrots his lesson is hailed an “A” student while the child who wants to explore and question his lesson is accused of not being concentrated. When I was in the fifth grade I remember asking my history teacher how he knew for sure that the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. I got in trouble for that and was assured the history was correct but growing up I would discover that the Pilgrims never really landed there.
The history teacher was merely repeating what he had read and not thinking about it or questioning it or imagining alternative ways of looking at it. I was forever in trouble for not simply accepting what the teacher said. And so, in view of those memories, I am convinced that the school environment should be a place that encourages creativity as opposed to limiting it as generally happens.
Especially younger children need an environment to play in. I had my grandmother’s big, front yard to build roads by scraping my hand across the dirt
Not every child is as subjective as some creative children are. They are more mathematical and practical. That’s okay too but intelligence cannot be judged by either personality and one is not more valuable than the other. Yet, in our US culture the child who shows promise of greater technical or mathematical skills is hailed far more of value than the child who is gifted creatively. America has never supported its artists except during a brief period during World War Two under Roosevelt’s WPA. Today even the National Endowment of the Arts is given to institutions and non-profit organizations as opposed to the struggling, individual artist. The individual artist is still condemned as being a dreamer and not a doer. Doers, after all, fit snuggly in the work force creating products and/or profit.
It is interesting that in America we simply do not support creative children. We support those who best conform to educational standards and walk the yellow lines of the educational process. Yet China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan have begun modeling their educational system based on the old-school training when American schools promoted creativity in their children.
The Creative Path
I believe that it is safe to say that a great many educators separate creativity, even creative genius from intelligence. However, I have written for a great many “non-creative intelligences” who know nothing but what they have been taught. I have “ghosted” for people who after years of being in some career are still parroting what their professors taught them and have no real ideas of their own. I have worked for clients who have made fortunes in scientific fields and engineering that cannot carry on a conversation outside of their own limited pockets of expertise.
Then we go to the other end of the pendulum and are amazed by creative talents of such genius as Judy Garland, Mozart, Georgia O’Keeffe, Louis Armstrong, Cher and others who have excelled in the arts. Where did their superb talent come from?
I realize that there are those who disagree with me but it seems too apparent that we are all born with an equal reservoir of unlimited possibilities. Every healthy infant is potentially a scientist or a seamstress, a dancer or a dishwasher, a preacher or prostitute, a teacher or thief. In other words we have within us the potential to develop whatever skills we are driven toward—depending on a number of experiences and conditions the same child might take one turn and become a musician or another turn and become a mechanic.
How creative we are will begin at least in the crib—as said earlier, how attentive and nurturing our parents are will determine how safe we feel in our world and so, how much confidence we develop in our personalities. If the infant (or young child) feels abandoned or isolated he or she will probably be brain damaged since emotions like fear, loneliness and being unloved can be physiologic. In other words, our brain’s structure can be changed by how it interprets its world. As a result, a child may close off his or her potential of greatness and settle for mediocrity or become a failure. How many times have you heard someone say, I could have been this or that if I’d only had some encouragement.
This is not a self-serving statement but can be most accurate. Children tend to dig into their potentials to gather the talent for what they are most applauded for and encouraged in. When mom sticks a piece of terrible art work on her refrigerator door saying how proud she is of the picture, the child is most apt to do better next time by going deeper into his or her creative potential. Kids who are told how smart they are will almost certainly do better in school than kids who are belittled and told how slow or dumb they are. (Negative comments only produce negative results).
This is a subject that should take volumes to cover in any sort of credible detail but for now all we need to recognize is that, say, a child rides his first two wheeler bicycle for the first time and falls after only a few yards and mom or dad says, “Wow, you did great.” That child will soon enough become great at riding his or her bike.
Like you, your child possesses all possibilities through his or her potential—nevertheless, how much or little we limit ourselves depends on the totality of our experiences. The concept that tells us that some people are gifted and others are not is a mere myth.
Again, what we decide to do with our lives counts much on what we have been told about ourselves and what we have grown to believe about ourselves; all our experiences have taken every one of us to the junctures we are presently at.
The creativity an individual evolves and develops is a response to stimuli—how we have been encouraged…the values that we have been given by parents and teachers…the level of confidence that has been instilled in us and…our own desires.
Some of us grow up to be creatively artistic…but being creatively artistic does not necessarily mean that we end up to be painters, dancers, writers or actors. I have seen creative genius expressed by cooks and bricklayers so creativity is applicable to all fields. In fact, I believe that Norman O. Brown gives us the best, most accurate description of the artist. He says: “The artist is the man who refuses initiation through education into the existing order, remains faithful to his own childhood being, and thus becomes a human being in the spirit of all times, an artist.”
As for parenting, I believe that parents need to encourage lots of playtime for their children. Playtime exercises the imagination and its imagination that seeds creativity. I also disagree with the idea of teaching children that effort should always be reward by some exterior gain. Art for art’s sake is also a legitimate, human endeavor.
I also believe that a parent should never tell their child what is right and what is wrong but rather discuss those matters with the child to permit the child to create and discover the truth in things. When the child is told to do the right thing that child might mind but how much better for the child to comprehend the right thing through his or her own imagination.
I believe that beyond all else, it is far more important for a child to learn how to think than to simply follow.
References & Further Reading
Brown, Norman O. * Life Against Death * Wesleyan University Press
Verene, Donald Phillip * Vico's Science of Imagination *Cornell University Press
Ghiglieri, Michael P. * The Dark Side of Man *Helix Books
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