This piece originally appeared in the July 2018 ‘Curiosity’ issue of Fernie Fix Magazine.
Young people value play, discovery, and connection – those are the things that are important to all of us when we are little. Do you remember how easy it was to laugh and make friends when you were a kid? Remember how you could explore small outdoor spaces for hours studying a patch of sand on the beach or a squirrel nest in the woods? Do you remember how serious all these activities were for you?
As grownups we realize the society we live in values other things like competition, independence, and materialism. This has a huge impact, and many of us lose touch with treasured parts of ourselves when we become adults and align our actions with these new values. The real proof of what someone values is where they spend their time and money.
It’s interesting to me that our culture proclaims to value children, yet we tend to not value the things that children think are the most worthwhile.
Those first two values for young people I listed above, play and discovery, are not possible without a key ingredient – curiosity. Curiosity powers us to ask, “would you like to…?” and “what if we…?” Every time we wonder about a person or a place or an event that’s curiosity at work. Imagination and learning are fueled by curiosity. Each moment we come to understand something about the world or ourselves it’s because we have been both curious and humble. Humility is another key to acquiring knowledge, because it’s hard to learn if you already think you know.
One of my favourite things about parenting is constant access to a fresh and growing mind. Humans need our young to keep us linked to what’s humane about being alive. Our kids can be reminders of how significant and useful curiosity, imagination, and humility are. They are the magic combo of an open mind, of innovation, and adventure. Curiosity is the stuff of life! If you’re not curious then you probably aren’t having very much fun. And everyone knows an adult that is no fun is an adult whom young people don’t want to hang around.
Little kids ask, “why?” everyday. Teenagers start asking, “why not?” This hunger for knowledge and truth is something I want to protect and nurture. As a one-year-old person, my son was excited about walking and he wanted to check out everything. He was disappointed I wouldn’t let him wander into all the yards in the neighbourhood. He wanted to march up to every single front door and see what was inside the houses on our block. Even though there were dozens of times a day I had to shut down his curiosity, I worked to provide many opportunities where he could let it run wild.
The curiosity of teenagers can be risky in a different way. Teens may wonder why they can’t stay out late or what’s so bad about drinking alcohol. They are smart and articulate and can challenge us to defend our thinking about urgent issues. To little kids the world is big and interesting, but for big kids that same world can seem limiting and rigid.
Teenagers are often caught between having similar values to young children but being expected to compromise those values as they mature. This is a major internal conflict! It’s good for parents to notice that our teens don’t always argue with us because they hate us; often it’s because they are fighting for their personal reality and the values that mean the most to them.
When moms and dads are connected to our own curiosity and humility, it gives us the opportunity to wonder about our parenting. We might ask ourselves, “What do I appreciate about my teenager?” “What is hard for me about raising kids?” “What do I need to pay more attention to in my family?” Only thoughtful responses to questions like these will allow us to improve our parenting efforts and be proud of the hard work we do.
We are lucky to have children around to model the necessity of inquiry and reflection. I think we would be wise to open our eyes and hearts to the gifts of curiosity that young people offer.