Imagine Imagination

The sad truth that many elementary students lack imagination just breaks my heart.  All children should be the masters of imagination and creativity.  I believe, and I’m supported by research, that television and video games are significant contributors to this problem.  With bombarding, over-stimulating graphics and audio there is nothing for a child to do to build upon what is presented to them.  Everything has already been done for them.  No imagination is needed.  Since most children couldn’t come up with the graphics or ideas presented to them, video games and television discourage curiosity and encourage passive consumerism.  Few children have any interest in learning how that graphic or game was created.  All their energy gets channeled into addictively collecting higher point scores which they themselves don’t even have to add up.

I am not anti-technology. I love my ,   mapping, memory, reasoned judgments, and simulation of real world skills.pattern recognition, inductive reasoning and hypothesis testing quick thinking, strategy and anticipation, The following are proven benefits that video games offer students: problem-solving and logic skills, hand-eye coordination, multitasking, following instructions,  I am grateful for advancements in medicine, defence, as well as in education, as a direct result of video-gaming and imaging.  digital toys.

But, like anything that is not used in moderation, video games and other electronic media prove to be harmful.  Every day, children (ages 8–18) spend approximately 7.5 hours using entertainment media.  (Approximately 4.5 hours watching TV, 1.5 hours on the computer, and over an hour playing video games).*  Sadly, children only spend 25 minutes a day reading books.

 There is a long list of negative effects when video gaming is not moderated.  The most often cited problem is that children who play violent video games are more likely to have increased aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and decreased prosocial helping, (Anderson & Bushman, 2001).  As they play these games, children virtually experience the first-hand act of killing, kicking, stabbing and shooting.  Kids are rewarded with ever higher scores by becoming more repeatedly violent.  This active participation, repetition and reward are effective tools for learning behaviors. 

Video games teach wrong values of vengeance and aggression.  Women are often objectified and depicted as sexually provocative.  Fantasy often confuses reality.  Studies show the more time students spend playing video games the poorer academic performance becomes (Anderson & Dill, 2000; Gentile, Lynch & Walsh, 2004).  There are physical concerns of inactivity, obesity, and muscular and skeletal disorders.  A study by the Minneapolis-based National Institute for Media and the Family suggests that video games can be addictive for kids, and that kids' addiction to video games increases their depression and anxiety levels.  Addicted kids also exhibit social phobias.

However, the specific point of this editorial is that video games do not exercise our children’s imaginative thinking and creativity.  At the same time, they socially isolate a student so they spend less time in other activities such as doing homework, reading, healthy play, and interacting with the family and friends.  The benefits of virtually learning tasks become swallowed by the more destructive loss of innovation and social interaction.

 How did this happen?  A lot of the blame can be placed on non-regulating parenting, the newness of technology and the learning curve involved in understanding all the complex residual effects.  But, I believe the most willfully insidious contributor is consumerism; the turning of our children into passive consumers of entertainment.  Corporations specifically market to children products, toys and technology which isolate and deaden their imagination and relationship-building skills.  Is it any wonder why it is challenging for our students to learn self-regulation and delayed gratification as we evidence their increased anger, fights and short tempers on the playground?  The natural beauty of free-time healthy playing and creative arts is being thwarted by corporate greed that cares little about the welfare of our children and a lot about how to continually market and make money off of them. 

 After any given weekend when your students return to your care, ask them, “Did you play outside with any friends?”  Too many students unfortunately answer, “No.”  If they played at all, it was a video game.  This is so tragic.  How many opportunities do children have to play with a group of 20 other children in harmony and cooperation?  Children rarely play in neighborhood parks. Parents are sometimes afraid to let their kids be there unsupervised. Sometimes, parents don’t have or don’t want the time to play in the park with their children.  Some are addicted to video games themselves.  Some even hide behind technology. “Yeah, I don’t play catch with my kiddo but I did buy them an X-Box.” 

 At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old geezer, I wistfully think back upon the hobby kits of the 50’s and 60’s with their gazillion parts. If you built model ships you not only had to glue together so many plastic parts, but also had to cut out sails from cloth and string for rope. Afterwards, you’d paint it.  This could take days and often mom, dad or siblings joined in.  Today, most model kits are composed of less than 10 pre-painted pieces that you snap together, are completed in a few minutes, isolated from an adult or sibling.  Before you get it out of the box it is practically completed.  Manufacturers are banking their profits on our attention deficit and immediate gratification culture.  This culture of least resistance is catered to and encouraged.  And, then as teachers, we wonder why when we ask kids to do a simple assignment they say things like, “This is hard!” or “How many sentences does it have to be?  That’s too many.  Do we have to?”

 Even food has become far removed from nature by making it so over-stimulating.  The taste of food has to be crazy insane with eye-popping colors, salty or sugary flavors, and often accompanied by a toy so that an apple becomes bland in comparison.   Video games remove play so far from nature as well.  And, unable to compete with “crazy insane,” school becomes an under-stimulated, boring place with its slow, old-school education style and simple offer of a place to make connections with other children who unfortunately are not flashy digital avatars. 

 However, when given exposure to modeling, opportunity and freedom from shiny distractions, children gravitate to what is natural and healthy.  This is precisely how positive school cultures and wise teachers provide opportunities that will be truly meaningful, creatively rewarding and sustaining.  So, let’s slow our children down, remove them from over-stimulation and gift them with just…stimulation.  Let’s provide a healthy stimulus for their minds and of making friends.  Let’s facilitate an internalized joy of learning and real connections with their peers and the adults who care for them.  Entertainment needs a balance with genuine and natural play.  Remove destructive corporate token rewards of over-stimulation and replace them with genuine words and acts of encouragement, steeped in self-satisfying joy, curiosity and fascinating wonder.  Let school offer opportunities of self-creation in harmony with other children.  Melt away your students’ attitude of, “I must be entertained so entertain me,” so they may embrace an awareness of, “I can, I want to know, this inspires me.”  Follow natural pathways that enable your students to imagine imagination.