Creativity Part II: Future Proofing Kids

Do Media and Technology Impact Creativity? 

As I discussed in my previous post, creativity has taken center stage in the future of work. Even Mark Cuban believes creativity is a key job skill! So let’s move on from the what and further our understanding of the how

Sometimes, when we speak about creativity, we get caught with a loose, vague image of “being artistic.” But creativity manifests in various ways: each time we engage in our curiosity, are forced to improvise, or even when we process pattern recognition. 

When it comes to children and the future of work, what we are ultimately trying to unlock is the ability to innovate. Innovation, simply put, is “invention converted into value”. And the engine for innovation is… drumroll, please: creativity.  

Creativity X Screens

So, how do we make sense of claims of a “creativity crisis” at a time when the “screen-numbed child” is supposedly ubiquitous? Are they interrelated? Do media and technology have an impact on creativity?  The research isn’t robust yet on this topic, so we have to be use our best judgement in drawing conclusions.  But, we do know two critical things about screen time:

  • Active content engages children physically and cognitively
  • Gamification ruins the “natural world” and kills internal motivation

Why Research Backs Active Screen Time

Less random YouTube, more thoughtful usage. As we all know, unbridled passive screen time and unfiltered content are problematic for a host of reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. For a generation of digital natives, whether they’ll use screens though is now a moot point. Instead, it’s more productive to focus on what constitutes healthy usage. In a University of Michigan study of children 4-11, researchers concluded that “how children use the devices, not how much time they spend on them, is the strongest predictor of emotional or social problems connected with screen addiction.” 

Drawing parallels to nutrition. Technology’s role in all our lives will continue to grow. Therefore, it’s critical we help children make the better choices. Teaching children to have a healthy relationship with devices is just as important as teaching them about nutrition. Both require balance. In other words, what we feed our brains is just as important as what we feed our bodies, and in both instances we should strive for a healthy diet. Importantly, helping children shift to actively using screens can most likely avoid the pitfalls of device usage and help them benefit from tech-enabled activities. 

Let’s take on a producer mindset

Production vs. consumption. Knowing what to do with technology is the key to changing how our kids view and use screens. And it starts with knowing which activities are passive and which are not. Of course, this isn’t the first time you’ve heard us talk about production vs. consumption. Passive screen time includes the obvious suspects we’ve  all come to know: scrolling through social media, watching TV or YouTube, or mindless gaming.  On the other hand, active screen time gets kids moving either physically or cognitively. In fact, studies show that children respond positively to activity-based programming designed for them, especially when it is fun and encourages imitation or participation. 

Activate the brain. Actually, there are two types of active screen use: physical and cognitive. Kids can get similar benefits to physical exercise through screen-based physical activities (Story Party, BOLD Pop, HIIT the Floor).  There are also plenty of active screen uses that spark the cognitive side of the brain (that’s where Circletime excels…not sure we have any classes that don’t do this…).  

Why Gamification Is Problematic and why we keep our classes  “simple and authentic”

Live, authentic online interaction is here to stay. Unsurprisingly, at Circletime, we believe in live interaction in the virtual space. And research already indicates that participatory cues in educational media can facilitate learning, imaginative play, and creativity. On the other hand, flashy and reward-based content hinders development. They make the “real world” seem boring by comparison and it hinders children from being attuned to internal motivation. Dr. Jenny Radesky, a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media, studies how kids’ apps are designed and marketed. She was a lead author of the 2016 AAP policy statement Media and Young Minds.

Beware too many bells and whistles. Radesky’s research has found that a plethora of over-repetitive simple tasks with constant rewards keep children hooked. In fact, the abundance of bells and whistles concerns her. Too much exposure to flashy audio and visual effects makes our natural, “real world” seem pretty boring in comparison.  As Dr. Radesky points out, a child might do a simple math problem and then get balloons, fireworks, cheers, parades, even aliens cheering for her, which certainly “doesn’t happen in real life.”

Make sure to nurture internal motivation. Radesky continues: “This packing of rewards into children’s interactive media right now does create these artificial expectations, that after you solve a problem, you get this reinforcement. I want kids to have their own internal motivation.”  She cites the example of a cooking app where kids earn coins for stirring things or for feeding a baby. “This is just the kind of oversimplification and repetitive nature of a lot of the apps we’ve been studying.”

Are your kids playing creatively more? That’s a good sign!

Let imagination and healthy play take center stage. Unsurprisingly, all roads lead to play. That is the work of children and how they learn. Radseky herself has discussed how Fred Rogers talked about the importance of imagination and healthy play, and how kids grow and learn best through relationships. She asked: “What do you think Mr. Rogers would think of the App Store?” In turn, we’d like to ask you: what do you think Mr. Rogers would think of Circletime?

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