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Monday, June 13, 2011

How Not to Kill Your Kids' Dreams ??

Teaching Kids to Think Big

Caleb Gardner is an amateur father and husband who writes at The Exceptional Man and dabbles in photography, design, and music. When listening to the cacophony of modern-day America, Caleb prefers a side of Scotch. He calls Chicago home, and in winter, less-nice things.

I recently saw an adorable video by Red Balloon, an English-language school in Brazil. The students say what they want to be when they grow up, and the school makes them official business cards for their chosen profession – even if it happens to be “Dinosaur Hunter.”

Imagine if we were all given this degree of creative freedom from such a young age. We start with this kind of imaginative power and the uninhibited ability to create any sort of future for ourselves — then “growing up” becomes growing to fit into any number of predetermined societal boxes. What I like about Red Balloon's project is that it gives these kids something tangible, something they can literally hold in their hands in order to remember how big their dreams were. (Plus the cards are just cool. I really want the “Ninja Ghost Super Hero” one for myself.)

My son isn’t yet at the point where he’s dreaming of being a dinosaur hunter, but this video got me thinking about how to eventually do something like this for him. He’s just at the age where his imagination is starting to bloom, and my wife and I see it as something fragile that needs to be cultivated. We want to be intentional about it. His imagination – or lack thereof – will affect his entire life.

In my experience, parents are often the ones who end up inhibiting big dreams in their children – not for sinister reasons, of course, but because “real life” demands a certain level of grounding; one can’t always play, so he'll have to buckle down and get to work. My wife and I will also have to eventually pass along these modern-day mores, and therein lies the rub: how do we let him think as big as “dinosaur hunter” while impressing upon him common sense and work ethic? How do we encourage him to keep his head in the clouds, while keeping his feet moving on the ground?

Photo by Red Balloon

My parents always focused on the outputs of what they saw as a successful life: get a steady job, get married, have kids, open a 401(k), die as materially well-off as possible. Their motivations were pure, of course, and I think there is something to be said about each generation working hard to help the next get a foot in the door. But I think this is where we can change the definition of success for our son. I’d much rather encourage him to do something he loves, to make a difference, to think for himself – to live life to the fullest. The outputs can be a natural extension of that, but I’d rather focus on the outcomes of a life well-lived.
Thankfully we have a few years until we seriously have to think this through, but until then I’d love to hear from some more experienced parents about how you tackle this challenge. How do you help your kids “think big”? Any tips for the rest of us?

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