One of the most valuable things that I learned as a kid was using my imagination to entertain myself. Computers weren’t a thing yet, I didn’t live in a subdivision full of other kids to play with and we only had three TV channels to watch, so I had to get creative with my free time. I learned early on that I could travel anywhere and experience endless adventures through whatever book I was reading. I created artwork from whatever I could find, wrote and illustrated stories, and playacted to recreate my favorite scenes from books and TV. When I learned to play the recorder in elementary school, I was totally hooked. I joined Band in the 5th grade, and playing my flute offered me a new way to fill the majority of my time. I liked playing the music we were doing in school, but I also listened to music and learned to play many of my favorites by ear. I could play anything I heard, if I worked on it long enough!
As my skills in creative pursuits grew, so did my self confidence. Whenever I created a piece of artwork, wrote a story, or figured out how to play something new on my flute, I was empowered. By creating something, I was able to express myself and say something in my own unique and personal way. It was mine, I owned it and I was totally responsible for it. This was a huge sense of pride for me, especially when I was only 12. Mom and Dad were always my biggest supporters, celebrating with me and then offering the next opportunity to explore.
As a middle school teacher, I have often wondered if kids still get this type of satisfaction from the myriad of activities they fill their time with in this day and age. Some might say that today’s digitized kids are less creative than in the past; I don’t think they are any less creative, but today’s kids definitely do seem more stressed and less confident in their own abilities. This is really sad, because they are so incredibly talented and capable, when they create, follow through and share their OWN ideas and abilities, instead of just copying what someone else did in a viral video.
The dreaded “screen time” that seems to dominate the lives of today’s youth does offer the advantage to explore museums and instantly listen to and view quality music and theater performances from around the world. Kids can look up just about anything and find an explanation and “how to” instructional videos in mere seconds. These are amazing opportunities, over the coveted World Book encyclopedias that I grew up with. On the other hand, I think it would be overwhelming if a kid thinks they have to be “as good as”, “as pretty as” or “as successful as”, the folks going viral online. As an adult I have to keep this in mind myself, as I view other family’s photos of magazine worthy homes and tropical vacations.
I have no doubt that my Band members play better than they think they do–when they play confidently. I have heard from a few who are too self-conscious to play much at home because they “don’t like to play alone” or “are afraid someone might hear them”; worse yet, they ”don’t like how it sounds”. It is easier to play (hide?) in a group, but you need practice time alone so you can blend with the ensemble. Most of the time when a young musician “doesn’t like the way they sound”, it’s because they are trying to hide by playing really quietly, and using very little air. That’s counter productive since lots of warm, fast air (among other things) is the fuel that makes your instrument sound good. Parents, if you have one of these “hide and seek musicians” in your home, encourage them to play more often, and to play with pride. Give them some privacy by helping them to set up a practice space where they can close the door. Tell them that facing into an open closet while playing can help to dampen their sound, and encourage them to play out stronger. Help to make them more comfortable, so they are more willing to play by themselves. Tell them they sound better every time they play!
I think creativity is an innate skill in all of us, but confidence has to be cultivated. If kept hidden under the surface for too long, it can take a lot of effort to build the courage to be seen and heard. In my opinion we are not fighting the loss of creativity among our youth, but we do need to take every opportunity to encourage and build kid’s self confidence, so they are able to shine, and are willing to share.