TED Conversations

Singer Songwriter & Vocal Coach, Lizanne Hennessey - Voice Coach


This conversation is closed.

How can we talk to kids?

How many of us have (albeit inadvertently) asked a child, "What are you going to be when you grow up"? Admittedly, I have caught myself doing this.

It's a bizarre way of making small-talk with a child, isn't it?
"Having fun in the sandbox? That's a cool sandcastle... so tell me, kid, what is your ultimate goal in life?" This isn't an easy question for anyone to answer, let alone a 5-year-old.

To me, this question reinforces the way our system is put together - which is designed to mold children into consumers, so they will be instrumental in our economic growth. At the same time, it is a question that can help us understand what drives our kids, what they are passionate about, what their dreams are...

In this article, Jennifer Fulwiler proposes that we should altogether stop asking kids this question, as it "reinforces the idea that the way to find identity and value is through career" and "undermines the concept of vocation":

How can we talk with kids, encourage them to explore who they are, and get them excited about who they will become, without asking such a weighty question? How can we allow them to expand their imaginations, and let them know they are taken seriously at the same time? How can we differentiate things like a purpose in life, as opposed to a career, in a way that children can focus on and hopefully achieve their passions?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Jun 24 2013: Wonderful question, indeed!
    It’s true that our questions to kids are quite focused on ‘who they want to be in the future.’
    It’s a superficial question, though.
    I, myself also did the same thing to my 8-year-old sister—although the answer changes almost every week lol.

    As a child, I was told by my parents that I should be ‘a powerful person’ when I grow up—because “you are my daughter”. Well, that kind of sounded good for a while since I figured that means my parents put their faith in me. But once that kind of parental defined expectation started to define how I should live and what I should aim for, everything became “boring.”

    Literally, boring.

    You know, adults’ words are the most powerful to kids for they are quite vulnerable to what adults say.

    The ways they teach children and talk to children have huge effects on kids, needless to say.

    Once children hear something from their parents or teachers they start to imagine what they say and it remains for a long time.

    The problem is it also occupies most of the room called ‘a child’s mind’.
    “What’s ya wanna be, kid?’

    Simple, oriented, and explicit.
    No room for a naïve child.
    It consumes creativity, ultimately.
    • Jun 24 2013: Wow, Elizabeth, those are indeed some big shoes to fill. Being 'powerful' can mean anything, but when emphasized the way you described, can be quite simply unattainable! I truly understand your interpretation.
      Sir Ken says how hard it can be to stifle a child's natural sense of curiosity and creativity. That's something I think about often.
      Thank you so much for this contribution!
      • Jun 25 2013: Yup, for parents, it's regarded as crucial encouraging their children to be 'successful' by emphasizing on specific career goals, I suppose.
        Again, how lame it is....!!
        And by lame I mean, it almost kills kids’ creativity and ‘curiosity—as you quote’.

        • Jun 26 2013: So true, Elizabeth.
          I was confronted with an example of that yesterday.
          My daughter is going for her swimming diploma (mandatory in Holland, what with all the water), so she and her group of about 15 kids did all the tests, and were all successful, except one.
          The one who was not successful, is a little girl in my daughter's class, who is a wonderful, spontaneous, loveable kid. She plays here often, and has the most contagious laugh you've ever heard. She obviously had difficulty with diving underwater, which is not uncommon, I would think! Because of her fear of being underwater, she did not pass the exam, and did not get her diploma.
          Instead of supporting her, I heard her parents yell at her. Instead of showering her with support, they called her 'stupid'.
          It broke my heart, and breaks it now to even write this.
          This kind of parenting not only kills creativity, it kills spirit.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.