I want my (unborn) kids to create, not just consume.

Here’s why — and my ideas for how.

I taught myself to code as a kid.

It was only in QBasic (this was in the late 90s and although Windows existed, MS-DOS and floppy disks were still a thing), but it was an amazing experience nonetheless.

I’d been lucky to find a tutorial book in the boring computer school I’d been enrolled in, and I was lucky that they were willing to lend it to me (or maybe just didn’t care), and I could teach myself using the old desktop previously sitting uselessly in our house.

So there I was, a young teenager, sitting for hours in front of a desktop learning to code. Rhythm 93.7 had just come out then, and my dial was permanently set to it on the portable radio that kept me company. (The only thing missing was coffee!) When I had worked through the book, I set myself to a project suggested by the author: to create a game of “X and O” (aka noughts and crosses, aka tictactoe).

I did create the game, after days of testing and debugging over and over, and it worked! It made two-player, although I started to work out how to teach the computer to play — but then I had to go to medical school. I’d caught the fever already though, and was thinking ahead to how I could learn C++, for which I’d need a better computer than our home one.

I had discovered the amazing pull of creating, of making things.

As someone interested in human behaviour and how it’s motivated, I find myself thinking a lot about habits and hobbies. And as a volunteer with youth work, I think a lot about how we raise kids. And I’ve become convinced over time that raising our kids with a mind to create is one of the biggest things we can do for them.

You see, no one really took my coding seriously, and after awhile, I went on to medical school and forgot all about it. Oh, it stayed on in my mind and I often thought back to that time with fondness, but I never really went back to coding. Not blaming anyone, but it serves as a reminder for me of the power of parents being involved and paying attention. (My parents honestly did pretty great, given how much they knew at the time.)

Thinking about it all since, I’ve come to conclude that there are (largely) two kinds of activities we engage in as human beings: the creative and the consumptive. Here’s how they break down in my mind…

Creative activities. Which are about making things, or making things happen. And I don’t mean the usual sense of creativity as fine arts (writing and singing and painting and all that). No, I mean “making” in the broadest sense of the word: making a book, making a song, making food or making a great game. Even making a family (parents), or making a business (entrepreneurs). Or making love. (Haha!) Heck, even making conversation counts!

Consumptive activities. Which are about taking things in. Reading is consumptive. So is listening to music. Or eating. While in creation, you enjoy the act of making something yourself, in consumption you’re enjoying what someone else has made.

The last point illustrates something important: consuming and creating are linked together. Everything created requires a consumer, and every creator needs to consume things other than what they create. Clearly, consuming, in itself, is clearly not bad, and we all do it to some degree.

I want to argue, however, that a life that’s more about creating is significantly more meaningful than one about consuming. (Not that this is not obvious, but it wasn’t always so obvious to me. Also, it’s only in the past year I’ve been able to articulate why it matters for how we raise kids. And I imagine you might find that useful.)

Take a moment to think about most of the people you know: most are consumers. (Any WhatsApp or Facebook group admin knows the frustration of the majority of members not engaging, most only content to consume the content that only a fraction creates. That’s not to say they aren’t creating elsewhere of course. Hopefully.)

When it comes to kids, it’s even more obvious. We are raising a vast generation of consumers. (Businesses love this, of course. Even social media is built around the near-certainty that this won’t stop anytime soon.) I read a statistic the other day about kids spending more time on social media than they spend thinking. And of course, almost everyone blames social media as this great evil distracting today’s kids.

Quite frankly, I have high hopes for the kids I finally get to raise. And I think instilling a creative mindset early may be the dealbreaker. Here’s what I’ve come to find out about the difference creating makes.

1. Creating demands attention.

Creating consumes you. That’s what I experienced as a teen then, and that’s what anyone who has seriously engaged in creating experiences. It demands your attention. And there’s a simple reason why: every time you create is a different experience. This is partly because it’s always “live,” so to speak. No matter how many times you’ve cooked or scored a goal or written a book or a post or built businesses or made love or raised kids: there’s always the possibility of failing this time. And that’s apart from the fact that you tend to move to higher levels as you progress, anyway.

Anyone—and any kid—who really gets into creating finds themselves very very occupied. Boredom? What’s that?

2. Creating teaches you to embrace failing.

There’s no way to create without accepting failure as part of the process. It simply doesn’t happen. (That’s why the fear of failing is one of the biggest blocks to being creative.) When you are about making things, however, the need to make overrides the fear of failing, and (depending on how important the thing you are making is to you, you can easily find yourself crazy enough about it to try again. And again. And again.

Trust me, that’s a lesson I want my kids to learn.

3. Creating surrounds you with commmunity.

People who really get into creating often find community around what they are creating. Parents hook up with other parents, footballers with other footballers, bloggers with bloggers, entrepreneurs with entrepreneurs. This doesn’t always happen, admittedly, but it’s quite common to find birds of a feather flocking together. Right now, a good chunk of my friends come from my volunteer organisation.

As I encourage my kids to get into creating, I intend to connect them with communities of other creators. I suspect I might find myself worrying less about who their friends are.

4. Creating changes how you consume.

People who really get into creating consume differently. I write, so I should know. When I read books, I’m enjoying them not only as a reader, but as a fellow (and growing) writer: I’m not only enjoying the story or the big idea, I’m reverse engineering it to understand how the author captures it so well. Ever seen a musician listen to music? Or a screenwriter watch a movie? A footballer watch a game? Or someone who likes to cook watching Food Channel? Or even a speaker watching another speaker? They don’t consume like other people. Even when they consume things outside their creative field, they are still relating it to their field.

Creating puts people in permanent note-taking mode. Because it consumes them, it shapes everything else they do. They move from mindless to totally mindful consumption. The entire universe becomes a school—how can they get bored? I so want that for my kids.

5. Creating becomes the best kind of habit.

Once you get into the habit of creating, you become hooked. Except the funny thing is creating isn’t really addictive. Not in the real sense of it: an addiction is something that takes over you, so you can’t stop even if you wanted to. The thing with creating is you can always stop! It takes will to keep coming back day after day. But you will, because when you have tasted the high of making something, you’ll want to experience it again and again. That’s the best kind of habit: it shapes you for greatness, has a pull on you, and yet never actually becomes addictive.

You know my worry for many of the kids I meet? They’ve never known this joy. Which brings me to…

When my kids come around, how do I raise them to be like this?

I’m not a parent, but I’ve had quite a bit of experience with young people: over ten years of volunteering with hundreds of kids from across the socioeconomic strata and all across Nigeria. That’s just so you don’t think I’m just mouthing off. Still, that said, no two kids (or parents) are alike, so what I’m about to say isn’t hard and fast.

Okay, enough with the disclaimers. Here are two tips I think will help.

  1. I’ll start as early as I can. I believe this is major. It’s not too late if kids are teens, but I won’t be surprised if they resist me if I start late. (I think I was just lucky to be something of a natural geek.) So no, I’m not planing on putting it off. I intend to be paying attention from day one, to be always asking the question, “What’s this child built to create?”
  2. I’ll carry them along. It’s not going to be my show. But it won’t be theirs either. It’s ours, both of us. So as soon as I can, I’m letting them know where all of this is headed, as much as they can understand it. And I’ll keep repeating it as they grow.
  3. I’ll pay attention to the child’s natural bent. Then encourage them to create along those lines. If they love to read, could they try writing? If they love watching sports, encourage them to play it. If they love music, why not try singing or playing music. If they like to use their hands, maybe work with them to build models? The possibilities are endless. Of course, it might not be any of these. Which brings me to the last thing…
  4. I’ll stay open. Their creative bent may be way different from whatever I have in mind. That’s okay. I’ll stay open to the possibility I’ve read them wrong, and focus more on the question, “What’s my child built to create?” I won’t assume I’ve gotten the answer. We may get into their teens before we both finally figure out the right answer. That’s okay. It’s not a race. It’s their own life, with me getting to be a part of it.

Here’s the thing, though: none of us can give what we don’t have. If you’re interested in this, and you feel like you aren’t creative yourself, how do you give this to your kids?

I have a course to help you get started with that. It’s called the, “Unleash Your Creativity Course,” and it’s an email course that runs for 6 days. Sign up for it here.

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