Saturday, March 18, 2023

A brilliant imagination: not really a DIY guide for parents

My dad and his brother and the family cats.
We are entering an era where people many are concerned about ability of children to develop proper imaginations because they don't get bored enough. Is boredom the necessary prerequisite for growing a good imagination? The idea goes that if kids are constantly handed a device to keep them quiet or to stave off boredom, they won't have the chance to figure out how to entertain themselves by playing.

I don't know whether this is true or not. I think the theory makes a lot of sense. We've certainly believed in using screentime limits for our kids. I'm always trying to figure out how to spend less time on my phone and constantly backsliding. There's lots of other things I want to do with my time and the phone gets a hold on me and my brain and I don't want to transition into "up and at 'em" mode. I'm like that with pretty much anything that engages me, whether I'm in the midst of an art project, playing music, reading, zoning out in the nice warm shower, or weeding my garden. Don't take me away! I see another weed! I just have to finish this chapter... and read a little in the next so I'm not left on a cliffhanger! 

However, the point about imagination not developing because of screens? Maybe? But I do have friends with kids who really don't put any restrictions on time with devices and those are some of those most freaking imaginitive kids I know. They spend a lot of time on their screens but also seem to be playing dress-up and inventing things and getting incredibly dirty outside.

So, I guess my opinion on this is fairly wobbly. My youngest gets a lot more time on his devices (still with limits) than my oldest did, who is always ready to point out this proof of parental fallibility. He had to make do with 5 thirty-minute screen-time tickets per week when he was a certain age, and decide how he was going to budget his time. Poor kid. He was so deprived. 

But I can tell you ONE way to develop a brilliant imagination and it DOES have to do with high levels of boredom. Here it is:

Be born in the 1940s, have a case of strep throat that doesn't get treated with antibiotics and turns into rhematic fever which damages your aortic heart valve which causes you to spend much of your childhood in bed. 

Yeah, that's the idea you were looking for, right? That was my dad as a kid. A man with an incredibly brilliant imagination. A great storyteller, master of silliness, fabulous writer of the best silly cat songs. And I have a strong suspicion his childhood of being made to stay in bed had a lot do do with it. Of course he made do with the electronic entertainment available to him at the time: radio shows, for example. But there certainly wasn't an infinte selection of shows for kids all day long. They only came on at certain times on certain stations. He read a lot books. His favorites were books with talking animals: the Thornton W. Burgess Books (The Tale of _________. Insert appropriate animal- Grandfather Frog, Jerry Muskrat, Billy Possum, Reddy Fox), all the Freddy the Pig books. Cowboy adventures, Tarzan adventures- those were good too. His father gave him a big world atlas and he spend untold hours poring over all the lands of the world, marking out routes for adventures he wanted to go on. And he loved his stuffed animals! One of the favorite games he played with his stuffed animals was to use them as cat-teasers. He would tie a long string to them and dangle them out his bedroom window as one of the family cats came strolling by. 

When I was sick as a child, he taught me a game he used to play in bed: Bedcovers Zoo. First, get out your collection of plastic miniature animals. Then put your top blanket over your head to create your own personal tent. You'll note that the next blanket or sheet underneath is all wrinkled around your legs. If you want to sit cross-legged, that's fine, but make sure there's lots of wrinkles all around you. Use these wrinkles as the walls of the enclosures for a zoo for all your minature animals! There's plenty of room for everyone to have their own area, and they can visit back and forth and talk to each other- it's really good for a full day of play. Then you have to convince your mother to let you have your chicken soup and saltine crackers in your personal tent on your bed. That's a little harder. 

Really, I have no moral or wise parenting advice to offer about the use of screens in childhood. But I think that maybe kids figure out how be kids in nearly any circumstances.Sometimes they need help with moderation in all things, if that's your motto (thanks, Hesiod). Maybe my grandma used to come in and say "now Christopher, I think you've spent enough time reading Freddy the Pig today, it's time to dangle your stuffed animals out the window" but I kind of doubt it. 

To be perfectly honest, the whole point of today's post was not to have an Impotant Talk About Screentime but to tell you how cool my dad is. Because he is.

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