On a recent Sunday morning, I found my son asleep on our big purple couch, his latest Bionicle inches from his nose. He’d clearly been staring at it before he dozed off.
What was he was imagining about that fierce, reticulated monster? Did he picture himself doing battle, another armored warrior? Was he contemplating the way the parts fits together?
I have no clue. But when my eight-year-old son creates his very own inner world, a place of solace and inspiration, I know he’s developing a crucial life skill. As a writer, I believe this to my bones. I don’t know any other way to be.
Yet here’s where I question my own biases. My son is also at an age when he parrots the teenagers he knows or sees in exaggerated form in cartoons. He wants an iPhone and an iPod. He wants a GameBoy. He wants to immerse himself in computer games.
All these high-tech toys would put him in his own world, too, a world in which it’s easy to avoid the scrutiny of parents. But is this so different from the imaginary worlds inspired by books and daydreaming—really? Those take you out of adult range, too.
My guy is not getting a PDA or other Internet-connected gizmo in the near future, but I do wonder if I’m wrong to distinguish between their supposed evils and whatever he’s imagining when he reads or draws.
This is not just a question about how parents spark kids’ imaginations. It’s about how much we’re willing to let our children spark themselves.