Let Them Be Bored

Here’s my February SCMP article promoting our upcoming visit by Dr. Madeline Levine to Hong Kong (a link to the SCMP, or the text below):  http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/family-education/article/1721677/imagination-just-important-children-books

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“Use your imagination,” my mother exasperatedly replied to my whiny claims of boredom one day when I was little. “I don’t have any!” I dramatically exclaimed. But the truth is, my childhood was replete with unstructured time and full of imaginative play. I fear, however, that for this generation of students who are intensely scheduled, pressured and expected to excel in all areas of life except free time, that answer might just be true.

We all want what’s best for our children, but determining what that is and how to get there is not easy. In our best effort to shepherd them through this competitive, harsh world, we fight their every battle, smooth every bump, give them every advantage and then we wonder why they can’t do anything for themselves. Collectively, as helicopter parents of the fragile teacup generation, we view the nurturing years as a complex battle strategy of defense and attack, and we’re arming ourselves to the teeth.  It’s exhausting and ultimately not helpful for our kids.

A practicing psychologist and bestselling author, Dr. Madeline Levine has identified alarming rates of depression among teenagers who are adored by their parents and successful by any measure, but who are feeling empty and lost, with no sense of self, or purpose in life. Dr. Levine has dedicated her recent years of practice to identifying this alarming trend of performance-based, pressure-cooker culture among teens and offering alternative parenting strategies to help mitigate it.

Dr. Levine describes the problem in this way: “The kids I have seen have been given all kinds of material advantages, yet feel that they have nothing genuine to anchor their lives to. They lack spontaneity, creativity, enthusiasm, and, most disturbingly, the capacity for pleasure. As their problems become more evident, their parents become confused and worried sick.”

In her bestselling book, The Price of Privilege, Dr. Levine explains how parental pressure and material advantage are creating a generation of disconnected and unhappy kids. Her second book, Teach Your Children Well tackles the contemporary narrow definition of success and provides practical suggestions for raising truly successful children in all aspects of life.

In addition to the work of Doctor Levine, many child development specialists, college admissions officers and companies are reexamining their true determinants of success. Perusing Stanford University’s Challenge Success website nets a treasure trove of research-based resources for parents and educators who believe that schools these days are too focused on grades and test scores. Instead, they should focus on creativity, adaptability, critical thinking, collaboration and communication leading to greater resilience, success and ultimately more meaningful lives.

Dr. Ron Ritchhart from Harvard University’s Project Zero was in Hong Kong last week speaking about how to develop what he calls “cultures of thinking” in the classroom and at home. He encourages the creation of environments where “individual and collective thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted as part of the regular day-to-day experience.”

Diane Frankenstein, a child literacy expert guides parents and teachers in the art of Conversational Reading as an excellent way to stay engaged in the lives of older children. Talking about books helps kids convey feelings, develop empathy and continue to converse in a way that is not so personal, but gets to personal topics. Far from a passive, solitary activity, reading can be active, social and collaborative, particularly when a carefully constructed discussion ensues. She advises, “Read a story. Ask a question. Start a conversation.”

More than an additional extracurricular activity, tutor or AP class, children need time to be bored and the space to think deeply about ideas, discovering who they are as much as what they can do. After all, there really is no proven formula for future success and happiness, so why make adolescence so unpleasant? Why not enjoy our kids and listen to them, try to make the best decisions we can for them while we have the luxury of being the decision-makers, but more importantly, try to plant the seeds for them to make good decisions for themselves in the future?

Dr. Madeline Levine will be in Hong Kong on March 11 to speak at the HK Convention Centre at 7 p.m. as a guest of Bring Me A Book. Tickets can be purchased through HK Ticketing.

 

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