TED Conversations

Singer Songwriter & Vocal Coach, Lizanne Hennessey - Voice Coach


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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?


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  • Jun 28 2013: In a another post I said my father taught me nothing, that's not exactly true...

    I was lucky as I always regarded him as personal tutor, and that was always the impression given. Taught me the marvels of the oceans, the vastness of the land, the bounty of nature, the mechanics of celestial bodies in the sky, the beauty that surrounds us all. Always willing to show and encourage me to explore brave new worlds, of both sciences and the arts, while showing me the abundance of opportunity that exists for me. Always there to help me with my homework. Always there to just make me laugh and just let me be the child.

    But I'll tell you, it wasn't all sugar coated, I was told about the mean side of life too, it shocked me, it made we aware of the dangers out there, to know and be told that is vitally important to for a child. That knowledge served me well. There were explanations, always showing me the right way.

    As I grew up, again, always there to show me alternative points of view, and not to be judgmental. No matter what people's lifestyle was, I learned it was a matter of choice, and to respect others choices. Always there to entertain me, always there to cheer me up when I was down, always there to inspire me when I was up. Always there when ever I was in need, no matter what time of day, though those difficult years.

    I look back now and i remember how big and broad... or maybe it seems just seems that way as I was small, viewing the world with a child's eyes. From big and broad, to much thinner today, maybe that's old age, maybe that's because I've grown up, maybe it's both.

    It's funny how old age tricks the mind, as you realize, that the same stories told years ago are still recanted to you verbatim today, but even though I know them and remember them well, sometimes I indulge, and show my respects for all that was done for me. So I just listen and remember the past.

    Who is he?

    He is my father. He is your father. He is the father of children today. He is tv.
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      Jun 28 2013: Wow Tify, yes, you are so right, tv is everybody's father......and yes, even though we have, for example, seen a program many times, we will sit and watch it again......like old re-runs of our favorite show growing up.

      This is a good lesson that when our real parents repeat the same story for the upteenth time, we should listen and indulge them........and also when our children repeat a story do the same.

      We need a conversation on "How do you talk/listen to your parents"........Lizanne (wink wink....hint hint)
      • Jun 28 2013: When you watch the news tonight, maybe you'll see an old man with white hair, he represents your virtual father, and all that it entails.
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          Jun 29 2013: Tify, I can understand what you are saying.........but it is a sad thing to have a tv represent your dad.

          But I know you are correct in saying this.
          Alot of kids just have as their caretaker a tv set.
      • Jun 29 2013: I was talking about this Mary with some people, and read the comment I wrote, to some of them and maybe you too, it feels like a real gut punch at the last line. Others mentioned in the conversation after they got over the wow! of it had two alternative viewpoints, those being; (not including yours)

        That maybe what's really sad is that your father is not taking up the role.

        The other camp saw it as well look at all the benefits that the child is getting.

        Surprisingly some even went as far as saying that, in some circumstances they could see it as a better father, as certain very negatives aspects of human personality are not forcibly inflicted on the child, and therefore the child is safer.

        I must agree, I certainly can see the reasoning in that argument, and it really does hold water as a safer possibly viable alternative to anger frustration and abuse of of "real" person.

        Strangely, and as an adjunct, I also was watching something else recently, that now seems to clearly show the younger generation are more comfortable with machines and communicating through/with them, than in a direct person to person setting.

        I am surprised that you answered Mary, I'm not surprised it got no likes, I really did get this feeling when reading this out loud two days ago to a group, the same initial response was there in that it's one aspect of the question that Lizanne posed that really no-none whats to admit. A dark dirty secret of sorts.

        I get the feeling that a nicely worded platitude would have gone a long way in reaching many more ears, which to me, for many reasons, is a damn shame.
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          Jun 30 2013: Waxing grandiloquence is ok.....but sometimes, as in your case, speaking truth from your heart is just as moving and poignant.

          I have no problems interacting with people who are honest in their communication.
          Don't be surprised if I answer you when you speak truth and your words resonate with me.

          And Tify, I really feel you speak alot of truth, and you have quite a bit of insight into alot of social issues.

          And yes, even though I am not accustomed to speaking in such terms, it is a d____ shame that people do not realize the truth of your words........but, perhaps you may look at it this way------maybe, just maybe, they have nothing to add to your already honest contribution.

          Thank you for not keeping your thoughts and insights to yourself.
      • Jun 30 2013: I honestly admit Mary, it's honestly what I feel, and I did wax lyrical, and I deliberately wrote that last line leaving it to the last word.

        I wanted it to be a gut wrenching thing, something to think about, because all you have to do is look at advertising now .. the hammer over the head, as people dont react, think, get emotional, unless you do something like this, and because of the experience below I had with these kids below, and my own childhood, I can't sit by and say nothing.

        I have to at least try and make people think about it, not because it's an idea worth sharing, but because children are subject to our whims, fancies, idea's, frustrations and pain. And if we are going to ever make any progress, WE have to know and understand that we are the cause, and we are the cure.

        It's the same feeling when you see a kid on death row, who's mother was psychotic and on medication, and by another who took advantage and impregnated her. You know that people want the fix, ie the death penalty, but dont want to see and understand the cause. And until we put the effort in to get to that place, killing the victim of brutal circumstance, is no way forward.

        I apologize if I go on, but when you've seen the rewards in these kids eyes, hearts and minds, as I said below, even if it's only for two weeks, you wonder when will society as a whole get over the hump of the way it isolates and alienates so many children, who are unwitting victims themselves.
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          Jun 30 2013: No need to apologize ever for "going on".....your point is well taken.
          Thank you for your contribution, and for speaking honestly about this topic.
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        Jul 1 2013: Hi May,I just want to tell you some news about filial piety here.

        Yesterday,1, July,China enacted a new law which stipulates that children must often go home to see their parents,here is the link


        Take a look,this also triggers an enforcement issue.

        Be well

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          Jul 2 2013: Hi Jaden,

          Yes, I read that news and have been sharing it with my elderly friends here in Florida, and with my family.

          Also, I shared it with a 17 year old TED member yesterday in another conversation about lessons we can learn from older ones.

          Here is the news the way I read it:


          I will be reading your link and comparing information.

          Jaden, may I ask, did you get the two emails I sent you?

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          Jul 2 2013: Wow, the article really brought out more details than it's American counterpart.

          It is interesting that it mentions a "spiritual" and "moral" responsibility to the elderly.

          Also, they thought to include the children's employer in the legislation, providing time off to visit parents......did I understand that part correctly?

          And, lastly, the five points at the end were interesting.

          How has it come to this Jaden?
          Should a government have to make a law to force the children to love their aging parents?

          I am going to start a topic of conversation on this topic.
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        Jul 3 2013: I read Yahoo's news also,it provides the overall circumstance,the thoughts which evokes are quite right and relevant.Yes,the law is made our there,but the question then is how to put forward its purpose,this is very much thorny and complex. Yes,you understand it exactly correct.As it was stated,the employers,children,parent,legislation,these parties are interconnected,some even has little say about their free time. On the other hand, if a sue is unavoidable, which includes parents and children, attention,they are from one family,the sue is obviously a stigma of the family.Morals are playing a enormous part in our lives,even relatively bigger than laws.But I think you would misunderstand the part 'spiritual',when we referring to spirit,it not likely meansfaith, or soul,or some invisible substance of our body,but means our extensive styles of life,for instance,the interaction of family members,moderate sports exercises,hobbies,and things that facilitates our pursuit of happiness.How is it come to this point? I guess is the increasing time of children being away from their parents,intentionally or not,parents are quite upset. Especially,in rural areas, elderly are living alone when their children are pursuing happiness in the distant city in the coast,in some village you can not even see a single young people.Some people can't afford the loss of leaving their job for days,some can't afford the costs of transporting tickets,etc. My parents think my situation is quite understandable,thus I'm not in the exact position,I can't give some specific causes.I don't think a law is an ideal measure to manage this issue,but the deep causes are too far away from being solved voluntarily.I wonder what kind of introduction you will offer on your topic. I didn't get the emails.What a pity! What did you send,do you know my email address?
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          Jul 4 2013: Hi Jaden, your comment is very enlightening.......thank you for clarifying the Chinese version of the word spiritual........so spiritual is linked to the pursuit of happiness?

          I guess I also ask myself the same question....how did it get to this point?

          I think that would make a wonderful title for the Conversation, don't you think?

          "How did it get to this point?"........

          I will submit the conversation tomorrow.

          The emails I sent you, I sent you through your TED profile.
          I just clicked "Send Jaden an email", in the right corner of your profile.
          You should have received two emails from TED that read: Mary M sent you a message.

          What I sent you was a reply to a question you asked in another conversation.
          Not a big deal.

          There is a character limit there. So you can not write too much.

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        Jul 4 2013: Spiritual relates to the pursuit of happiness,but narrower.Say,if happiness is the whole status and feeling,which includes nice house,high-income job,good relationships with families,etc,then spiritual happiness is good relationship with families,I think in this case spiritual equals mental in China.

        A wonderful title,yes,I'm pretty keen to see people talking on this conversation.But I'm concerned that how can we steer away from talking about elderly,I remember you posed another topic on the elderly issue got few people participated long time ago.

        Mary,you know,I'm interested in the words 'the pursuit of happiness',it is on the declaration of independence,and a Will Smith's move 'The Pursuit of Happyness',that drew a lot of my attention.Can you please tell me your understanding of it?
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          Jul 5 2013: Thank you for further clarification of spiritual. It is very helpful.

          As far as the pursuit of happiness.......it is a kind of mirage isn't it?

          Pursuit....meaning chase after....not necessarily obtain it.....no guarantee.....But, you are free to chase it.....you will have the liberty to chase it......

          Happiness to me is something you can feel, inside, it does not come from external forces. Kind of like a joyful feeling that is always inside you, and reflects in your countenance.
          Also, there is contentment, satisfaction with your NOW moment in life.

          Happy if you are single, happy if you are married.
          Happy if you are with friends, happy if you are alone.
          Happy if you live in the city, happy if you live in the country side.

          It is a state of being for me.

          At least now Jaden, in this stage of my life.
          I am not looking for anyone or anything to make me happy.

          I am happy by myself. I do not chase things, or people to make me happy.
          I do not need to make more money to make me happy.
          I don't need an ipad, iphone, ipod.....I have I............I am the most important posession I have.........so I am happy.

          Do you understand?

          That is how I feel now.
          Because my life experience has brought me to this realization, and truth.
          My truth, based on my life journey.

          I think many immigrants do not understand declaration of independence.
          I think they view "America = guaranteed happiness".....some get very discouraged at all the hard work one must be willing to do to succeed.

          Arnab Dutta and Krisztian Pinter wrote some definitions in a conversation a while ago that shed light on different view of governments from different countries.

          Perhaps you will enjoy reading this lighthearted list of governments and their definition.

          Scroll down a little on this link to read:


          Which do you think the people will be able to pursue happiness better?
    • Jun 30 2013: WOW.
      Tify, your comment is extremely powerful, and says so much about why society is the way it is today.
      I agree with Mary, and also say "Thank you for not keeping your thoughts and insights to yourself."

      This is so vital!!! Television and media is the thing that is destroying communication, in my opinion. It is warping too many minds, minds that are not strong enough to realize what is truth and what isn't. You clearly had the strength to see the difference, but there are too many who are influenced to the point of forgetting their own beliefs. That is a dangerous development. As long as the TV is as powerful at it is, society will suffer.
      • Jun 30 2013: I say "damn shame" here are some reasons why:

        A lady I stayed with Europe ran a creche, 8 kids aged from 8-12, from 4pm to 6pm, to be safe until their parents collected them. Fair enough. I saw they were put in front of the tv, again understandable. 2 weeks I played a educational game with them 1/2 of them made a lego castle, the other 1/2 had toy/miniature metal cars. When the first group made the their building, the others took the cars and tried to ram the building to collapse it. Great fun, removing their frustrations. As the days went by, the kids (who swapped roles often) learned, and learned well, basic engineering principles of how to build better buildings. Sadly for all of us, when I left, we cried, not because I was leaving, it's as if all knew, it would be back to the old ways - the moment I was out of the door.

        I realized at that moment, we too often we don't look to ourselves, and what actions we take, day in and day out, that can drive the very child into isolation.

        Maybe we don't want to know the issue, we just want a resolution, or some platitude. To see that I need only look to America. School shootings are an example of this, school after school was exposed to these shootings. The "solution" was to put in metal detectors. For a while it worked, but the underlying isolation issue(s) were never addressed. People were genuinely surprised / shocked that then a cinema became the outlet. The response - beef up security.

        It seems inevitable they will continue, until WE really put the time & effort in to TALK and LISTEN to kids, & stop driving them away by our actions.

        How many nanny cases have there been? So now we cctv nannies. How many ask - if you have to go to those lengths is it worth putting your child at risk?

        The 1993 film "A perfect world" shows many other aspects. I recommend it.

        Isn't the original question “What are you going to be when you grow up?” - just another platitude - that again too often spoken in a non-serious tone.
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          Jun 30 2013: You know, I have also seen kids who have been sitting quietly in front of a tv set, come alive and jump for joy when an adult actually becomes aware of their presence, and engages them in a hands-on activity.

          The tv is a poor substitute for human interaction.

          Thank you for this reflection.There are many fields today where society looks for quick fixes without looking at the "ROOT" of the problem.......it is the path of least resistance.

          It is everywhere.....in my opinion, we need to individually be aware of this tendency.

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