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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    Jul 10 2013: Little brats always asking questions or they want to horn in on what you are doing eventually making you stop whatever you are doing because you're showing them how to do what you were doing. Why weren't they born with a remote control like tv's?
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      Jul 10 2013: Ken, Yes children are inquisitive. Their mind is a blank slate and the answers to their questions is how adults write on that slate to help them learn and figure things out. Since they certainly do not come with a remote, or even a handbook, I strongly suggest that you do not have any.
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        Jul 10 2013: Oh Amy don't you see the three phrases built into my comment? The last is the most poignant.
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          Jul 10 2013: Hi Ken, What a relief. No, I did not dissect your comment. I was just so angry that anyone would say those things. So glad it was in jest!!!
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        Jul 19 2013: To Amy's comment, I feel that actually their minds are not "blank slates" and that thinking of them this way or articulating it this way is actually a barrier to connecting with children. Children have their own agenda and actively pursue it at least from the moment they are born--I think one of the secrets of success as an adult interacting with young children is working on trying to figure out their agenda rather than always thinking the burden is on me to set one.
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          Jul 19 2013: Marjorie: Thanks for your comment, I do realize that it is not a completely blank slate and that there are certain personality traits that children are predisposed to in their genes. I was actually responding to Ken, and I didn't go into detail about all of the things that kids naturally want to do as a result of all the wonderful things that are already in their minds just by being here. I am all for trying to figure out your child's agenda. You put that so well. Parents needs to ask what interests the child and go from there, nurturing their interests and cheering them on with their successes. I personally was put into dance school for eight years as a child. Apparently, my mother never noticed that I was a complete clutz. And what I have to say about pageant moms cannot be written on TED. So, I just wanted you to know that I of course agree that they are not totally blank, but much more flexible to steer when children.
    • Jul 12 2013: You got to watch the movie 'Gods must be crazy'. It's a pretty old movie, however you have to consider the tribe to kids and the urban ones to the adult. Then you will know how difficult it is for the kids to accept & accommodate all the customs adults have formulated.

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