Imagination on a short leash

Recent surveys have shown that as employers look to hire, one of the first characteristics the look for is creativity and ingenuity, that out-of-the-box type of thinking that allows for new marketing opportunities for businesses to grow. That’s all the more reason to foster creativity among your kids, right?

Unfortunately, the sense of creativity is actually becoming more and more of a rarity, particularly with the most recent wave of digital natives who struggle to find inventive ways to play (gasp) outdoors. This drastic loss of original thinkers is devastating to our culture, since inventive new ideas are such a rich part of our heritage and we pride ourselves in it as a nation. Think, if it weren’t for Thomas Edison, we would be watching TV in the dark.

Sorry to say, the sad truth is that creativity is a dying feature. But before everyone takes up their torches and pitchforks, and storms after the “careless” parents of the digital age who use television as a babysitter and the internet to teach kids about sex, a recent report published by National Public Radio suggests that kids could be losing that longstanding creative edge because they’re not allowed the same room to go outside and explore the way they once were. That is to say that over time, parents have restricted how far they allow their children to roam from the house. Decades ago, an 8-year-old would be pushed out the door at 8 a.m. on a summer morning and told not to return until 5 p.m. unless someone was dead or dying. Young children would walk miles from home, just to go fishing. Think the opening of the Andy Griffith Show, minus Andy Griffith. The world was literally their playground and with it, endless opportunities to explore.

It’s a stark contrast to a today’s world, when kids can’t wander more than 10 yards from their driveways (that’s only under adult supervision, of course) and this restricts the creativity kids can indulge in because they no longer have the time or free rein to create their own space. Over time, that bubble of freedom to roam has gotten smaller and smaller – once measured in miles, now measured in feet.

I guess parental concern is warranted, given the increased reports of whack jobs and dangerous nutcases over the years. Still, there’s the looming concern that kids are being robbed that ability to explore and create. Every adult has stories to tell of when they were kids, and then compare their experiences to those of the newest generations of youngsters. Personally, I can say that growing up in a small village gave me a little more freedom than some. I had the chance to play some of the typical inventive pubescent games like “Is This Flammable?” (the outdoor game for every boy); and “Rock Tag,” the game when no one wanted to be tagged “it” because it could result in a trip to the ER.

Were those games stupid? You bet. Were they safe? Safe as tugging on Superman’s cape. Fun? It really depended on whether or not I was winning. But at least I was outdoors, away from home, exploring and staking out my own space, which I think is a pastime going by the wayside.

As their range of freedom becomes more confined, the truly devastating news is that kids now seem to be OK with it. Essentially, they’re content with their iPods, laptops and game consoles. It bothers me so much that I’ve even dabbled with the idea of opening a toy shop to sell toys that don’t require an electrical outlet or AA batteries. Nor will I be selling the “Is This Flammable?” home version, or the official “Rock Tag” rulebook (for the record, I don’t condone either of those games).

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