I am in awe of the imagination. It helps us cope with everyday stressors as we imagine our next European trip or crushing it on our imaginary audition on The Voice. Imagination is also the key to success because it can unlock our creative side. Imagination helps us solve problems, gives hope, and, best of all, we can create entire worlds within ourselves. Look at some of the most famous, successful people in history—Walt Disney, Stan Lee, Steve Jobs, JK Rowling, etc. Without their sense of wonder and creativity hard at work, our world would be a darker place! Yet in my work with kids, teens and their families, I’ve been noticing an ever growing trend--the lack of imagination.
In Why is Boredom Necessary, I talked about the digitally glued kid whose attention has been hijacked by the flashy imagery of whatever game or movie they are watching and why it’s important to promote boredom over screen time. I suggested letting the child’s imagination take flight in those times of boredom. But that in itself, can be a tricky for a kid who has never really had to use his imagination much when other worlds are readily available at the mere click of a button. Now enter video games, the internet, Youtube, enough superhero movies to question where they all keep coming from, and Snapchat filters of dog tongues and flower crowns. We have a generation of kids and teens growing up with no need to imagine anything.
So, what can we do? Unplugging kids and teens, for starters, and giving them something else to focus on. They’re especially going to need your help with this, if it’s not something they’re used to. Imagination needs space to grow. Take them out to nature or on hikes, go on long neighborhood bike rides or walks, get them involved in local groups or school clubs. Get them playing an instrument, maybe see if they like drawing, or tinkering in the garage with tools, or let them get lost in a music or book store. For little ones, pull out that finger-laser-gun, get that protective colander hat, and slip on your beach-towel cape—and go get them creepy crawlers from Mars in the living room!
And, no, I’m not just talking about kids. We ALL need some ‘play’ in our lives; it might just look different at different ages. Did you know that the adolescent brain is actually incredibly creative? Teens just need to find what they’re interested in, what lights them up and then let their creativity flow. We have to give kids and teens the space to get to know their imagination, and they actually need us to create that space for them. I also suggest that you do all of this with no phones—that’s right, take the phone away (for limited periods) and see what happens. There will be no googling their way out of a problem, nor taking a picture of this activity and then adding that special Instagram filter. Make sure you’re setting the example by keeping your phone away too!
For teens, it helps to schedule in some one-on-one or family time with them, but be careful to not make it too forced. Try setting up a schedule. I love weekly or even biweekly family nights! They can become part of the routine and are a great time to introduce some imaginative play. Focus on some games that will catch teens’ attention like Capture the Flag or go for some oldies-but-goodies like charades, Pictionary, Taboo. There are social games like The Resistance and Avalon that require everyone to engage while also being deceptive (yeah, can totally appeal to a teen!) or Dixit that uses images on cards as prompts for creating titles and stories. You can even adapt your own--start a story using 2 sentences and go around the room having everyone add 2 more sentences until the story is complete. There are so many options--just email me if you’d like more ideas!
Also, don’t forget that even how you ask questions can prompt the imagination and creative development. Instead of the straightforward--and boring-- “how was your day?” ask about the best and worst parts of their day, about what they wish had gone differently or about one thing that caught their interest. When it’s quiet at the dinner table, throw out some thoughtful questions like, “If you had 3 wishes today…” or “If you could be an animal, what would you be?” (Again, there are some wonderful games and tools to help you come up with all kinds of creative questions.) And, yes, be prepared that as you initiate these kinds of conversations, your family will probably act like you’re nuts . . . but I invite you to stick with it. Make it fun, make it routine. Your kids and teens will adjust, and even though they probably won’t say it--they’ll likely enjoy it, AND you know you’re helping them grow their ability to analyze, problem-solve, think outside the box and, yes, deepen that imagination!
Psst--do you have a tween son who is so locked into his video games that he has trouble coming up for air? Do you worry that he is totally out of touch with his imagination and a little out of touch socially? I designed a group just for him!
By Arielle Grossman