What to do if you hate your child’s interest
Holly made this comment on the sliver post:
[My son] still goes straight for the t.v. as soon as he walks in the door after being out. He still heads straight there as soon as “school-time” is over. Again, my bias gets in the way here, but I start to go crazy! Really, how many episodes of SpongeBob can one person endure?!
I guess the fact that he chooses to spend his time watching t.v. gets me the most. I’ve noticed that a lot of commenters mentioned Minecraft or other strategy-type games. I could probaby get behind that much more so than something as passive as t.v. watching (e.g., SpongeBob!!). I liken it to the parent who constantly provides entertainment for his/her child. In this case, it’s the t.v. constantly providing entertainment and he’s become totally dependent on it.
Just venting here a bit (sorry for that), but I do wonder if you have any advice or wisdom to share?
If you can’t stand the thing that your child is most interested in — or if you can’t see any real value in it — these are my suggestions for things you might think about or try:
- Look at what you WISH he was doing and then build that into your everyday life. Do those things together as a family. (This is the essential message of the sliver post.) Then you know his day contains those elements as well as TV — and it helps him see himself as someone who has more interests, more experences, and more potential.
- Imagine the ways SpongeBob might connect to activities you would be happier about. Would you be happier if he was writing Spongebob stories? Learning animation? Drawing comics? Is Spongebob really the problem, or is the problem that he isn’t oriented toward making and doing?
- Make sure he has the time and the raw materials to make and do. Does he have a workspace and materials? Are they clean and attractive and enticing? Does he have a desk or table in a place he wants to work (not off in a part of the house where he’d be by himself)? Does he have enough free time to watch TV and pursue other interests?
- Start journaling to identify his strong interests and carve out some dedicated project time. This includes SpongeBob and other interests as well. Open up a space in your life that is focused on helping him take those interests further.
- Sit down and watch SpongeBob with him. (You can just watch one episode.) Have him tell you about it. Ask him about his favorite characters and his favorite episodes. Dig into what he likes. The important thing isn’t SpongeBob — the important thing is connecting with your son, letting him see that you care about what he likes, respecting what he enjoys, and letting him know you want to know more about him and what interests him. You’ll also be able to start dissecting his interest and figuring out if there’s something you can help him explore further in a more active way.
- Make sure he has the ability to produce the media he likes to consume. Break his interest down and think about the component parts. Somewhere down the road, he might produce a podcast or a Youtube show. Right now, he might write his own original story or script, make a storyboard, learn how to do animation, make a flip book, draw a comic, put on a puppet show or skit, and so on.
Because everything is connected, it’s difficult to find ANY interest at all that a child has that can’t connect to books, films, community resources, hands-on making and building, websites, experts, writing, programming, and on and on. Roller-coasters connect to physics and design and business. Minecraft connects to programming and city planning and strategy. Spongebob connects to storytelling and animation and art. His interest is a point of entry that you can help him take in many different directions.
It’s easier to see the rich learning potential of an interest like bugs or dinosaurs or the human body. You nod and say, ah, science. I heartily approve. Yes, let’s explore this educational topic. Onward, ho!
It’s not so clear when your child has an interest like princesses or pirates or SpongeBob. You say, er, hmm. Well. Surely you have other things, better things, you want to learn about. Bugs? Anyone interested in studying bugs?
But when you start shutting down interests, you lose the child because he figures out very quickly that it’s not about him. It’s not about what he likes and what he wants to do. He isn’t in control of this time and these resources, and his interests are being judged as unworthy. That’s not a recipe for an excited, self-confident learner.
If you hate what your child likes, he may not understand enough to separate “Mom hates SpongeBob but she might like some other thing I like.” He may think, “The things I like are dumb.” He may just decide to keep his interests to himself. And if he feels like his interests do have value — whether it’s SpongeBob or Minecraft, comic books or Pokémon — and you loudly declare they have no value, then you’ve created a big dead spot where the two of you can’t share, can’t come together, can’t communicate, can’t understand one another. If you stay open to your child, you can approach any interest as a spark that can start a whole new rich line of inquiry. You can say
“Tell me about what you like. Explain that to me. Show me. How does it work? How would you do it?”
and so on.
If you’re open to it, his interest can be a starting point that goes everywhere. If you’re closed to it, then it’s a shut door and he may not take it further on his own, but even if he manages, you’re unlikely to hear much about it.
The most important thing is to take the focus off whatever he’s interested in that you don’t like and instead plow your energy into building up the making, doing, creating, thinking, learning part of your life. If a child is interested in SpongeBob but doesn’t know what to do with that interest other than sit back, get comfy, and watch episode after episode, then that’s what they’re going to do. If you make a space for digging into his interests and exploring different ways to express what he knows, he might draw Spongebob, write Spongebob stories, sew a SpongeBob doll, screen-print a SpongeBob shirt, make SpongeBob stop-motion animations with SpongeBob legos, and on and on.
You see how this works: It’s the bigger context that matters, and that’s what needs to change. Once the elements are in place for a life focused on digging deep, exploring, making, doing, and sharing, any interest will be explored in a meaningful, active way. And when he switches interests, he takes his skills (and his mentor) along with him.
Now, if your child has a lot of interests, you get to pick and choose what to invest in, and it makes sense to support something that you think is worthy of deep, prolonged study. And you may as well steer away from the things that you have a real distaste for. But I like to think that any parent who really gets experience mentoring their child’s self-directed learning will become more and more interested in their child and what they care about. The more you do this, the less likely you are to easily dismiss something they really care about. You’ve discovered how deep and complex learning born out of self-motivation and authentic interest can be. That’s what I think — that’s what I hope!
Stay open to what he cares about and design a life that is focused on the things you care most about. You won’t go wrong.
Also check out: Video games can actually give you ideas (guest post by my son)