Monday, May 28, 2012

How A Little Imagination Goes A Long Way (Or, “When I Was Your Age…”)

So I’m in a counseling session with one of my young clients, and I’m listening to her talk about her interests. And true to form with today’s crop of teenagers, the word “boring”—the personal bane of my existence—inevitably worked its way into our discourse. And no, you didn’t misread…I fatalistically anticipated that my client would assert how easily bored she becomes when faced with the prospect of doing something either constructive or—heaven forbid—as an alternative to inactivity.
Having worked with teens in one form or fashion for the last 15 years, I have observed that for whatever reason, today’s parents have failed miserably when it comes to instilling in the current generation of youth a sense of Imagination. Some may argue that today’s youth have quite a bit of imagination. If so, I challenge anyone to take away any form of technology that become commonplace today America youth and see how imaginatively impotent the average child in becomes.
Just as in my counseling session, when my young client complained how “boring reading” a newspaper and “journaling” were as a means to spur thinking and to focus thoughts (respectively), many of today’s youth have an aversion to devoting time to self-improvement, exploring the realms and recesses of their very thoughts, or just engaging their imagination in simply playing; never mind more complex exercises in cognitive engagement such as abstract thinking.
Simply put, many parents—and adults in general—have become lazy custodians, unwilling to say “no” to the materialistic indulgences and desires of today’s youths. And many are too busy to engage in the responsibility of direct parenting (or guardianship if they are left in our charge). We are too quick to give kids some shiny heavily-coveted objects of desire just to shut up their incessant whining and complaining that “I am bored.”

And to be honest, I’ve never quite understood the word “boring.” And while I understand the psychological mechanics of the concept, I just can’t wrap my mind around the idea that in a country where, from birth we’ve been indoctrinated to consume-to-satisfy, today’s young people simply cannot “find” something to keep themselves entertained. From my personal perspective, it’s “bored” people who are “boring.” In fact, I would go so far as to declare that boredom is the result of an untrained, unsophisticated, and unintelligent mind that lacks the imagination to keep itself occupied (or entertained). And like many things that are wrong with today’s youth, we have overly-emotional liberals and conservative we-know-what’s-best parents to thank for uninspiring today’s young people with their half-assed child-rearing.
When I was young (there…I said it), many families didn’t have the resources to buy things in order to keep us otherwise mind-occupied. For that, we were reared to develop and rely on our imaginations. One of the institutions where we learned to use our imaginations was—believe it or not—in the public schools of yesteryear.
Schools didn’t teach for standardized testing; creative and talented teachers had the skills and the ability to instill in us the creative—as opposed to standardized—thinking (even if we as children failed to appreciate their talents at the time). They tended to be older, wiser, seasoned, and not young and inexperienced enough to be our older sisters (or brothers). In lieu of some formal lessons, they could regale us with tales from their youth, and inspire us to work around problems which presented themselves. They inspired us to cut, paste, draw, write and write repeatedly…and we were graded on penmanship (which inspired some of us to be the most creative in adopting the most unique and/or the neatest handwriting). They had the experience to frame lessons in such a way as to compel us to ask questions to supplement what they were already teaching us. They made us want to melt crayons and iron the shape of maple leaves onto paper in order to understand their structure. They made us want to cut paper in the shapes of snowflakes. And like the cavemen of earlier times (which we learned about), the tools we used to help us learn were simple; we had to use scissors, glue, rulers, abacuses and (gasp) books if wanted to know about the world around us. They were given the freedom to teach, and not handcuffed by policy to ensure our “rights” were observed; most seasoned teachers had an instinctual awareness of both theirs and our rights as students. We were not allowed to use calculators. We were taught how they counted and added in ancient times…whether we thought doing such was relevant or not.
Today’s teachers are every bit as quick to take unimaginative shortcuts to learning as the students they rob of imagination. They lack the age-life experience of those who taught my generation. As such, they lack the experience gained through a life of relative simplicity and technological deprivation which imparted into us the appreciation of—and the encouragement to develop—wit as the source of our abilities. This is to say that the lack of technological sophistication which both our generation and the generation represented by the older teachers who taught us put on something of a parity insomuch as our will and confidence to use our heads to meet challenges; a if-s/he-can-do-it, so-can-I attitude. Schools taught those of us within the “X” Generation (as well as the early part of Generation “Y”) not to rely on scripted and imagination-curtailing only-this-way type of thinking in order to find solutions to problems, but to use the lack of technology to develop and arrive at our own solutions. Nowadays, unless they are unusually interested in learning and expanding their mental faculties, youth are more likely to seek any and every shortcut toward the goal of learning. They right-click, cut, and paste in order to “complete” assignments in school. They walk up next to the nearest computer terminal and type in a term, eschewing the legwork and effort of actual research, and simply copy the entry…almost verbatim onto paper. In worse cases—those requiring absolutely nothing in the way of imagination, they appropriate papers from each other. They are encouraged to use calculators. They are too quick to come up with excuses for why learning isn't important…and teachers, often too young and too inexperienced in life, do not have the insight to tell they why doing so is important.
But the lack of imagination that kids today have starts in the home, and translates into many other aspects of their lives. As a child, my own imagination was the best remedy for boredom, inactivity, and —at least in limited ways—a means to address the lack of economic resources which painted my reality. Whereas today’s crop of youth are quick to complain about “nothing to do”—despite their X-boxes, computer tablets, and access to unlimited learning—I had no issue with passing my time walking to the local public library, just reading and learning about the world the old-fashioned way…actually seeking out knowledge instead of sitting on my butt at home on a computer, searching for irrelevant pop culture references. Whereas kids today are quick to become “bored” with all of their electronic gadgetry, I made my own toys; the “unusable” cardboard roll from paper towels, combined cut cardboard strips made a very realistic looking “X-Wing” Fighter a-la “Star Wars” to use with my action figures. And whereas today’s kids are always looking for someone to give them money (or things), out of a misplaced sense of entitlement rather than duty, I would team up with siblings, other relatives, or friends to go out to look for aluminum cans for recycling money, searching the city for abandoned cans and bottles to recover the deposits, or to secure a ride out to farming areas to work the farms for a little summer money. Others I knew had similar hustles, including paper routes, cutting lawns, raking leaves, and other colorful ways of making an honest buck. Having work with children for the last 15 years, I often find myself standing in silent disbelief at the lack of imagination, and by extension, the lack of creative thinking among today’s youth.
As a child, I routinely found myself in the company with peers who were just as imaginative as I. As kids, we would (for example) not just read fiction but use a combination of staplers, paper, creative folding, and actual penmanship to actually make our own “books” to share among each other. We could (and did) scavenge for bicycle parts from all over the city to build our own bikes; as you can imagine, we addressed “boredom,” not complained about it. And we would work together to secure ways to secure money…work together to find (or make) work.
The lack of something as small as imagination among today’s youth has resulted in a generation of lazy, uninspired, and cognitively unsophisticated future Americans. And the more we force them to focus on things, the less they will be capable of developing themselves and contribute to developing our country.


  1. My kids are so lazy and "uninspired" (like you said) that I could have gotten pet...and paid less!

  2. Oh, the stories I could tell you working with today's youth...It's like you have to do everything for them, including think

  3. I respectfully disagree. I see many examples of young people, particularly with regard to the various science and academic competitions who exhibit great imagination.