A thoughtful parent wrote us with the following question:
How do I encourage my child to be more creative with his time? For example, not spending so much time on the computer or sitting in front of the television?
This is an important question to think through well since so many kids are being drawn into the virtual world these days. It’s not an all bad world, but definitely a world with quick access to trouble of all kinds.
To answer this question well might require a little more information. How old is the child? What is your level of connection with him or her? What other sorts of things is your child involved in? We’ve written a whole section about this in the Appendix of our book, “Discipline that Connects.”
When there’s a boundary you want to enforce, here’s the really short answer:
- Say “no”
- For every “no,” find a “yes”
- Make the “yes” fun and about the child’s growth
It’s good to set boundaries, and even better when you can find a “yes” for every “no.” The “No” Lynne and I chose with our young kids (and until they left home) was to unplug all TV access and restrict internet access for defined periods.
The “Yeses” took many forms. Our primary goal in each “Yes” was to foster creativity and help our kids to grow their gifts and talents — for enjoyment, but also to learn to bless others.
We bought them a little camcorder. We gave them lumber for building forts. We bought art supplies and facilitated other 3-D, real life forms of fun. Then we spent time with the kids as they played with or utilized these things. We emphasized ways they could use the gifts in ways that would bless or involve others. This gave them more of a mindset that they are here to serve rather than to be entertained. Over time they grew to be largely uninterested in online gaming or endless TV. Today as young adults, they are wise about media usage.
Sometimes when we suggest “outdoor adventure” alternatives like building forts, parents say, “But is it really safe for my kids to do that?”
This is a valid question. We’ll let our most active fort-building son, Daniel, share his thoughts:
When I was a sophomore in high school, my dad helped me build a tree fort. Power tools 20 feet in a tree at age 15. Risky stuff in some respects, but it taught me to be mindful of risks, and to be both careful and bold in the face of them. A calculated risk by my parents to teach me about taking calculated risks. I wouldn’t have learned that from the ground. Not saying every kid is ready for that kind of thing, but the point is that it’s important to recognize when there’s an opportunity to responsibly help your kids push the boundaries of their creative capabilities.
So, talk with your kids about their gifts. Talk about technology and boundaries, too. Find some 3-D alternatives. Have a lesson in tree-safety or tool-safety or oven-safety if need be. Then enjoy the results together! You can help your children begin to build and enjoy real-life skills and learn to use them to bless others.