By JAN OWEN, AM
In a world where children and teenagers are bombarded with thousands of stories and images every day – 621 million YouTube clips (and counting!), TV, gaming (on average 10,000 hours by age 21), and 24/7 communication via Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and more – it’s often overwhelming to know where and how to get your kids moving and contributing to their beyond-the-screen community.
The benefits are well evidenced these days. As both a parent and someone who has worked with children and young people all across this country for the past 25 years, it is clear to me that those who are volunteering or involved in supporting causes and movements are more likely to be mentally healthy; do better at school; are more enterprising, creative and solution orientated; have a broader network of friends; and are more empathetic and compassionate towards others.
As parents we know it’s not too difficult to ignite your children’s imagination and passions – but how do you inspire and help them take positive action about something they care about?
Jane McGonigal, an expert game designer, talks about the positive impacts of gaming in a powerful reframe that will be music to the ears of any parent of a teenager.
In her TED talk, ‘Gaming can make a better world,’ Jane describes the ‘urgent optimism’ created by the player’s ‘hero’s journey’; a mammoth challenge beckons, the hero rises, only to be cut down and have another go. She speaks about the ‘tight social fabric’ created in online gaming, where players must build trust and co-operation and have each other’s back. She says we are hard wired for the ‘blissful productivity’ of solving problems and overcoming obstacles and for ‘epic meaning’ – being involved in an inspiring mission or challenge. Jane describes these characteristics as gamers’ ‘superpowers’ and she believes they could just as easily apply to creating change in the world. I completely agree with her.
To combine Jane’s insights and my experiences there are five things parents can do to help their children and teenagers #getgooddone.
1. Unlock passion
Children have a finely tuned radar for what is right and wrong. They are moved by the plight of others, particularly the vulnerable and other children. Help them discover what they care about by listening carefully to the things they talk about from school and the media. Utilise all that time spent together in the car to discover what your child feels most strongly about before suggesting what they should do or how they should do it.
Once they have identified an interest or issue, help them discover who is doing what and where. There is nothing wrong with supporting online campaigns as part of this process. Recent research has demonstrated that ‘clicktivism’, as it is rather derogatively named, is often a first step for many young people and, for at least a third, leads to becoming involved offline.
For example, through The Propeller Project, FYA and Samsung are showcasing ordinary young people who are making a difference in their local communities, and providing opportunities for other inspired young people to follow suit.