Parenting for an Age of Information

Chapter One - Inventing (continued)

Provide alternative activities

Changing the culture of your household in relationship to television may be tougher than you think. Be prepared for the times you do not see any alternative to using the television as a baby sitter. You may ask, "But what do we do on a rainy day? How about Saturday morning when we want to sleep late?" Early encouragement of your child's inventiveness and independence will pay off at these moments. If the house is filled with the "raw material" mentioned earlier, a rainy day can be a welcome treat and Saturday morning can be a chance to build a vast castle out of blocks.

"But what do I say when my child says he/she is bored?" We can teach our children that boredom is not a disease like the chicken pox. Boredom is the mood which results when one is not being inventive. Very early in life teach your child that he/she is the only one who can fix the boredom problem. Otherwise you will find your elbow being tugged on a rainy day as a whining voice complains, "I'm bored! What can I do?" As you helpfully list alternatives, the same voice will whine, "No, I've tried that." or "I'm tired of that game." You may go through a hundred suggestions without luck! Turn it around and make excitement (the arch enemy of boredom) the responsibility of the child, not the parent.

Make television viewing active

The value of television as a window on the world is limited by its entertainment format and the low demands placed on the viewer. You can make a difference in how your child views television by making it the object of analysis. Talk with your child about the programs you watch together. Read about the actors. If it is a serial, follow the plot. Talk about the writers. Who are they? Where do they get their ideas? While you are watching a program, talk to your child about the acting. Is it convincing? Is it exaggerated behavior? Is this character someone you would like to know? Why or why not? Point out camera angle, lighting, set design and costumes. Reveal the anatomy of television to make your children critical consumers of the images.

Encourage your children to watch documentaries about countries, animals and people. Help them to explore the world of "how to" programs for cooking, housebuilding and painting. Let them experiment with developing some of these skills.

Use educational programs to explore the many faces of television with your children. How does television educate? How much do they learn? Teach them to take notes, reflect and sum up a program, rather than just watching. Convince them that activity is more fun than passivity!


Being sincerely concerned about their well-being, we devote considerable energy to teaching our children safety in their early years. We warn them about touching hot stoves, we set strict rules about staying in the yard, and we punish them firmly when they show signs of disregarding our structures. We want them to learn "the limits" so they can navigate independently and manage the trip from home to school or store without being hurt or kidnapped. We read them stories like Peter Rabbit to underline the importance of obedience and boundary lines, offering up the specter of an enraged Farmer MacGregor as a warning of what happens to children who don't listen to their parents.

Sizing up a situation

How, then, do we justify teaching children risk-taking? Note the emphasis upon the word "responsible." The key to this kind of risk taking is assessment, the careful measurement of the degree of risk. We must teach children to ask, "What's the best that could happen?" And then to ask, "What's the worst that could happen?" Then, "What else might happen?" Finally, "How likely is each to happen?"

We don't begin teaching this process with life-threatening activities such as rock climbing. We start with relatively safe activities such as cooking or block building. Risk taking is closely associated with the "What if" games mentioned earlier in this chapter.

Looking for potential

Necessity is the parent of invention! Identifying situations with potential for change can encourage responsible risk-taking. Many family situations can serve as a model for everyday invention. For example, it seems modern work life leaves little time for cooking. As the economy has called millions of women into the workforce full time, many have become inventive about balancing traditional roles with new ones. No longer free to spend long hours at the stove preparing food, many have chosen to substitute microwave cooking, fast food or "takeout" for traditional cooking. Others entice their spouses and children into learning cooking. Still others win time for cooking by streamlining, "farming out" family tasks such as laundry or yard care. Some avoid time-consuming shopping trips by ordering clothes from catalogues and home-delivered groceries over a computer modem. Children in your household can become part of the problem or part of the solution. Involving them in the problem-solving helps to identify the risks associated with any change. Will the new system work? Will we like the food just as much? Will we eat on time?

Faced with the necessity of doing many more things in less time, the inventive mind seeks a shortcut, a new route, altering, modifying, elaborating and shifting the elements of family patterns until all the jobs are done within the amount of time allotted. Children today face many of the same scheduling problems adults have. How do they fit in sports, school, friends, homework and television every day? What are the alternatives? What are the risks associated with each?

Assessing risk - worst case scenarios

"What's the worst that could happen?" is a useful question in assessing risk. If the answer to this question is something you can live with, the risk is acceptable. When your child is debating about whether to try out for a play or a team, can he or she accept the worst case scenario - not being chosen? When they choose to stay up too late, can they deal with the consequence of being tired the next day? Being able to accept the consequences of a situation is critical to taking responsible risks.

Later in life as teenagers facing life threatening choices, they may bring "responsible" risk taking skills to those choices. Unlike peers who may drift into danger without conscious thought, your children will assess the dangers associated with climbing into a car with a driver who has been drinking and will think twice about the risk. Similarly, when selecting a career path or job, they will look past the salary and benefits to assess the other prospects of such a position. Once employed, they will be the kind of employee who takes responsible risks to improve productivity, suggesting changes to management that will be prized during a century of rapid change. They will approach both work and family life with a "change ethic."


The most important contribution you can make to teach your child invention is to value and practice invention yourself. Take pride in your own creative thinking and problem solving. The time you invest in making your own thinking visible for your children will be repaid many times in the skill and ease with which they adapt to their changing world.

Model inventiveness for your children by being willing to acknowledge your frustrations, think aloud and solve problems together. Play "what if . . ?" games with your children throughout their lives. Make it a part of play, work and tough situations. Nurture your children's imaginations with fantasy. Share with them your dreams and the fairy tales of yesterday as well as the science fiction of tomorrow. Let them know that sometimes you have to build castles in the air before you can build the foundations under them. Make television viewing a conscious decision, not an accident. Let it serve the purpose of enhancing a child's vision, not dulling it. Encourage your children to be responsible risk-takers - to push themselves within limits. Show them how to do it, and be by their sides as they take chances.

You can raise your child to see life with a mind open to new possibilities and a spirit willing to try something new and different. If you make exploration and invention part of your home, your child will greet the next century with confidence and skill, riding the waves of change with the enthusiasm and style of a world class surfer!

Chapter Two - Questioning
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©1991 JMcKenzie

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