In my previous blog, "Parenting for Innovation
," I discussed innovative parenting as explicated by Harvard professor Tony Wagner, the author of Creating Innovators
. According to Wagner, innovators share three characteristics—play, passion and purpose. I discussed play in my last blog. This one will focus on passion and purpose as well as the challenges associated with being a “counter-cultural” parent.
Helping your children find their passion has at its base an inherent contradiction. Children must dabble in many things before they can find their passion (The odds about being passionate about the first thing you try is minuscule.) However, children must also develop a bit of expertise before they can become passionate about something. Katie Rae, former product director at Microsoft Labs and a parent of a seven and twelve-year-old comments, “[My husband and I] struggle with how much do you push your kids so they master something versus letting the kids figure out what they actually like.” Clearly parents must be intentional in making those decisions and must be certain that they are not pushing their children to do what the parents want. We have all seen parents who have their own ego invested in their child’s performance. Parents reliving their childhood dreams do not accomplish helping children find their passion.
Leslie Andreson, chief technology officer for a division of General Dynamics Corporation, reminds us that “quitting something doesn’t have to mean a lack of discipline. Parents can create the expectations for a child when he/she is involved in an activity. And the parent can allow a child to pursue other interests if putting in the work is unsatisfying."
It is also important not to mislead your child about their competency. One reason to work at an activity is to improve. Telling a child how good they are at the start of a new activity can possibly be counter-productive in at least two ways: one, it may minimize the need for hard work and two, it puts the parents in a position of of misleading a child. Passion must be developed, and mistakes and dead-ends are necessary for children to find their true passion.
The best innovators have purpose—they want their innovations to improve the world. As parents, we must not only do good, but model the joy in doing good. True satisfaction comes from making the world a better place.
This summer, employees at Duke School were fortunate to work with Harvey “Smokey” Daniels and Sara Ahmed, educational consultants and authors of Upstanders
. One of the theses of Daniels’ and Ahmed’s work is that schools should create opportunities for students to do the right things, in their class, in their neighborhood and in the world. Duke School is taking their entreaties seriously and we realize that parents and school must work together to create innovators and upstanders.
What is involved in this work? What does it take to be innovative "counter-cultural" parents? According to Wagner, to do so will be swimming against the parenting tide. To maximize a child’s chances of becoming innovators, parents must not over-schedule children and provide limited, but creative toys. Parents should also limit screen time and rejoice in a child’s failure, comeback and persistence.
Being a counter-cultural innovative parent can feel lonely at times. Some of your other parent-friends may ONLY be showering their children with material comforts, technology gadgets and a misleading notion of achievement. However, being a counter-cultural parent undoubtedly is the best for your children and our world, so keep at it.