lauantai 2. toukokuuta 2015

Phew. I've been reading and thinking about play, learning, school, and the goodness/badness of humans almost 24/7 for a few months now. Now that I finally wrote those thoughts down, I'll take a break from this blog. I'll write my first international bestseller, and before that's done, I won't even look at this blog. 2 October 2015 the book will hopefully be written. Before that date, I won't post anything here. See ya later.

perjantai 1. toukokuuta 2015

How adults are creating a generation of apathetic jerks

Something very absurd and dystopian is happening in America:

Children aren't allowed to be children anymore.

Scientifically, play is how humans grow up. But now play has been replaced by constant practice. As a result, the youngest generation of Americans isn't growing up the way people used to. Looking at the statistics, they seem to be the most fearful, least creative, least caring generation in recent history.

This started in America, and now there are signs of it starting to happen in some other Western countries. And in terms of the future of the world, this might be among the most dangerous phenomena in known history.

I have a lot to say about this.

So if the idea of a generation of emotionally and cognitively challenged jerks doesn't bother you, don't read this. If it does, listen.

So, what’s happened? First, take a look at these statistics:

"A recent poll conducted by Reason/Rupe said that 68 percent of Americans think there should be a law prohibiting children 9 and younger from playing in a park unsupervised; and 43 percent think the same about allowing 12-year-olds that kind of freedom."

I didn't make this up. This is actually happening. I want to throw up.


Let me explain what happened:

In the USA, and increasingly in some other parts of the world, the media isn't interested in informing people; it's interested in making money. So, in order to make money, the media has to come up with stories that sell. What kind of stories sell? Extreme, emotionally stimulating stories. Using people's fears is a good way to attract their attention. What are people afraid of? Something bad happening to their children. So, the media starts bombarding people with stories about children being kidnapped, abused, raped, murdered, etc.
--> Parents start thinking that the world is more dangerous that it used to be, and that people are more dangerous than they used to be.

--> They start thinking that they can't let their children out of the house.

--> Kids aren't allowed to go out on their own at all. So they end up spending the majority of their time indoors, staring at screens. When they do go out, their parents follow them. All play is watched and controlled by adults. Unstructured, free play can't take place. Children are not allowed to break rules or take risks. They don't get to learn social skills, as every time there is a problem or a conflict, an adult comes and solves it for them. According to some studies, children are quickly losing their natural ability to play and use their imagination.

This is extremely dangerous. Playing in the park is not. This is. This is violence. Parents are so hysterically afraid of their children getting hurt that they end up severely hurting their children.


In reality:

Since 1993
, the number of children 14 and under who were murdered is down by 36 percent. For children 14 to 17, murders are down 60 percent. Only one-hundredth of 1 percent of missing children are abducted by strangers or even slight acquaintances, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

There's less violence than ever before. No, the number of perverts and kidnappers hasn't magically exploded. The streets are safer than they used to be, and it's not like the streets were dangerous in the past. The possibility of a child getting kidnapped by a stranger is about as likely as choking on a dead mouse and dying.


What is the most important thing in terms of the mental, social and cognitive development of a human being?

The answer is simple: unstructured play. Playing freely with your peers. That's how humans learn to be humans. That's what children have always done; that's what they did just a few decades ago; that's what they do in hunter-gatherer societies.

In hunter-gatherer societies, children are not bored. They play constantly until late adolescence:

[In hunter-gatherer culture] the norm of nobody telling anybody else what to do applies as much to children as to adults. "The children are trusted … and the parents don’t feel like they need to take control or take away the willfulness of the children." Advice from adults is only offered when a child explicitly asks for it.

Toddlers are allowed to play with fire, bows and arrows, and any other real tools that are part of daily life. Do the children ever get hurt? Sure they do, but "the general belief is that it’s better to suffer a little hurt than to squash a child’s will."


What makes free play important?

When you compare a child who plays a lot (unsupervised) to a child who doesn't, you'll see that the child who plays is better at pretty much everything:

They are happier.

They are smarter.

They are calmer.

They are healthier.

They are more compassionate.

They are more creative.

They are better at concentrating. Better at reading. Generally a lot, lot better at thinking. They have better self-esteems. They have better social skills.

In short: their heads work.

Why is it important to let a child spend unsupervised time out in the world with their friends? Because that's how they learn to understand people. That's how they learn to take turns and solve conflicts. That's how they learn to deal with their emotions, and the emotions of others, and to regulate their feelings. That's how they learn that there are others in the world with them; they learn empathy.

Why is it important to let a child explore the world and take risks on their own, like they've always done? Because that's how they learn to trust themselves. They learn to know their abilities. They learn how the world works. They learn whom and what they should trust. They learn that everything is not scary. They learn what they should do and what they shouldn't do. They learn to deal with failures, and how to get up after falling.

In order to learn how friendship works, you need to experience its challenges, away from the constant supervision of adults.

It's very likely that a child who has never experienced these things will not be a mentally healthy human being. It's likely that they will have problems with cognitive skills, and that they will be severely immature and unstable emotionally and socially:

If you've never developed proper social skills, you will struggle to feel empathy for others and to build healthy, lasting relationships.

If you've spent your childhood playing Angry Birds instead of freely using your imagination, you will struggle when it comes to things like creativity and innovation. No more genius.

If you've never done things on your own and taken risks, you won't trust your abilities or have a realistic idea of what you're capable of. If your parents have simultaneously told you that you're the greatest, most special little snowflake in the whole world, your psyche will be a weird combination of "I can't do this, I need somebody to do this for me" and "I am the greatest thing in the Universe; why doesn't everybody see that?" But you'll end up realizing that the world doesn't care about your expectations. And then you'll end up realizing that your mental health is a mess.

If you teach a child to be irrationally afraid of other people and the world outside, they will have a scared, needlessly negative idea of the world and of what it's like to be human. If a person believes that being human equals being a selfish monster, they won't stop and help a lost senior citizen on the street. People who believe that the world is nothing but cold tend to have colder hearts, whereas a more positive idea of humanity tends to encourage goodness and loyalty.

Parents are doing this to their children because they're irrationally afraid of bad people and serial killers. But here’s another interesting fact: what is the one thing that nearly all serial killers have in common? That they didn't experience unstructured play when they were children:

Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist and leading investigator of play, has found that deprivation of free play in childhood is associated later in life with lack of empathy, mental rigidity, diminished curiosity, workaholism, addictions, joylessness, anxiety and “smouldering” depression. Even more alarming is his observation that a common feature of the early lives of the hundreds of serial killers and murderers he has studied was few opportunities for free play and combined sometimes with perverted and cruel forms of play.

Wonderful! The future looks bright.


Parents are treating 10-year-olds like parents used to treat 2-year-olds. If you treat a kid like he/she is a helpless baby, he/she will become a helpless baby. Naturally, children are capable of almost anything. If a parent is always there helping their child, preventing every injury and solving every problem, the child will learn to believe that they can't do anything.

Nowadays in some parts of the USA and apparently in some other countries, if a neighbour sees an 8-year-old playing or taking a walk on their own, they call the police. Yeah. They. actually. call. the. police. Mothers have literally been arrested for letting their children play outside.

It seems that collectively losing common sense is possible. It seems that it's very easy.

A child, walking. It's time to call the police.

In the past, children used to get grounded if they did bad things. Now, they are grounded 24/7/365. And their only crime is having been born.

Luckily, some educated parents are rebelling against this insanity. Their work is extremely important, and I hope that their movement grows and grows and grows. Nowadays, letting a child experience a childhood is called Free-Range Parenting. Yes, that really needs a specific word. It's such a weird thing to do nowadays. Letting a child experience a childhood.

There should be nationwide campaigns all over the USA and other Western countries, a poster at every bus stop:
Playing outside is safer than it was in your childhood. Give your child freedom.
To become a functioning and mentally healthy adult, your child needs less rules and lots of free play away from your supervision.
Find out more about the severe dangers of overprotective parenting:
letchildrenplay-or-something-like-this-you-get-the-point.com


When children can’t relax and play, free play has to be replaced with something.

So children are running from one extracurricular activity to another. Piano lessons. Dancing lessons. Swimming lessons. Little League. Guitar lessons. Football. Chess. Scouts. Basketball. Piano lessons. Dancing lessons. Swimming lessons. Little League. Guitar lessons. Football. Chess. Scouts. Basketball. The children are going crazy. The parents are going crazy.

The main reason for this is that parenting has become strangely competitive. Many parents are trying to raise super-children by making them accomplish something all the time. If you let your kid relax, you’re a “bad mother” or a “bad father”. Seeing parenting as a competition like this is very dangerous, because scientifically, letting your kid be is often the best thing you could do in terms of their development. Trying to “develop” them all the time is a horrible mistake. Development is about letting it happen. When you let them get bored, they learn to entertain themselves. They learn.

The kids are stressed-out, the parents are stressed-out, and the fact that the parents are so stressed-out makes the kids even more stressed-out. Slowing down and taking it easier would be extremely healthy, but parents are too afraid of the opinions of other parents.

Children have become important projects and status symbols. They are no longer part of the family; they are the centre of the family. Over and over again, they’re told that that they’re “special”, when in fact, the healthiest, most honest thing would be to simply tell them that you love them no matter what. Darling, you don’t always have to be “special”, and although you’re very important to me, you’re not the only person on the planet who matters.

When the parents are obsessed with their child’s achievements instead of letting their child know that he or she is loved unconditionally, it’s likely that the child will adopt very materialistic values.

And that’s what’s happening.

In the coming decades, we'll face huge problems in our societies and on the planet. If we want to overcome them, people must have heads that work, and hearts that work. A generation of Kuzcos won’t be able to solve anything.

Jesus Christ, stop doing this to your children! Stop doing this to the world.


THE RESULTS

At least in the USA, and probably elsewhere, there are already signs of a horrible change in the psychology of young people. They suffer from all kinds of emotional and cognitive problems. Teachers are reporting that many of their students are horrifyingly incapable of thinking deeply about anything, incapable of dealing with moral questions and incapable of dealing with responsibility. Too often, when a student fails at something, they (and their parents) attack the teacher. Could it be that my generation of young adults really is the least empathetic, most narcissistic generation in recent history?

Okay, one thing is for sure: older generations have a strong tendency to believe that younger generations suck. The idea that the newest generation of young people are narcissistic idiots who don’t care about anything is ancient. When people are young, they tend to be dumb and self-absorbed, and when people get older, they tend to forget that.

But this time… it seems that the older generations could be right. And they can blame themselves.

Some statistics linked to helicopter parenting:

[Kyung-Hee] Kim has analyzed results from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking and found that American children’s scores have declined steadily across the past decade or more. The data show that children have become:
less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.
The largest drop, Kim noted, has been in the measure of “elaboration,” or the ability to take an idea and expand on it in a novel way.

Great. Kids in America are becoming zombies.

In order to become a healthy adult, you first need to experience being a child.

Just a child. That’s enough. Do children’s stuff. With other children. Away from adults. In order to learn how to function in the world of adults, you first need to experience living in the world of children. This means playing. Now it seems that children are forgetting how to play. Yes: CHILDREN are FORGETTING how to PLAY. Their lives are so busy and strictly controlled that sometimes the only form of free play that they get to experience regularly is playing games on their iPads/iPhones. The problems with this are obvious. The kids are losing their imagination, and because they are losing their imagination, many of them are severely and chronically bored whenever they’re not staring at a screen. And what do they do when they get bored? They start staring at a screen. It’s all they know.

More statistics.

It seems that as children never get to learn basic human stuff through unstructured play, and are raised to believe that the only important thing in life is to get good grades and "become successful", many children never really learn the importance of fairness, kindness, and caring about others.

Today's college students are not as empathetic as college students of the 1980s and '90s, a University of Michigan study shows.

The study, presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, analyzes data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years.

"We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000," said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research. "College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait."

Compared to college students of the late 1970s, the study found, college students today are less likely to agree with statements such as "I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective" and "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me."

---

“Compared to Boomers, Millennials were less likely to have donated to charities, less likely to want a job worthwhile to society or that would help others, and less likely to agree they would eat differently if it meant more food for the starving,” the report concluded. Likewise, the researchers found that this generation cares significantly less about “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” or “finding meaning and purpose” in their life than previous generations have.

The study also found that the millennial generation is significantly more likely to say that being rich is important to them than previous generations. According to one report the researchers analyzed, 74.4% of first-year college students surveyed between 2000 and 2009 rated “being very well-off financially” as essential or very important. By comparison, only 44.6% of students from the boomer generation said so between 1966-1978.

So, according to these studies the young people of today are the most callous, self-centered and money-oriented generation ever. (At least in the USA.) They want to be rich, but many of them don't really give a shit about being good people. Compared to the generations that came before them, they are… well, let’s face it. Many of them are kind of sociopathic. (However, it seems that according to these studies, about 25-30% of them are still roughly as empathetic as the highly empathetic previous generations.)

Okay. I'm 100% certain that the situation is not as bad as that sounds. There are many factors that could explain these findings. However, these claims could be true, more or less. If they are true, it could be among the most disturbing problems we have ever faced as a species, as empathy is essential in nearly all aspects of human existence, society, and social progress. A person who lacks empathy lacks emotional depth, and, well, humanity. A world without empathy would be a nightmarish chaos.

Of course, statistics aren't always very good at describing the real world as it is. Humanity never changes drastically from one century to another. There’s always been jerks, and there’s always been heroes, and most people are a combination of both.

But even the smallest change can have huge consequences. Right now it seems that a huge change is taking place. In several major ways, the kids aren’t alright. We should do something about it. We could do something about it.

Unfortunately, suddenly changing the behaviour of a whole generation of parents seems virtually impossible. If we really want to save generations of people from zombiehood, there’s one very important area in their lives that can be changed relatively easily:


SCHOOL.

What is the purpose of schools? Learning.

Now, here’s the funny thing: the modern idea of a “school” doesn’t have much to do with the way human beings naturally learn.

How does learning work? Learning happens when children have fun. It happens when a person is doing something that they want to do.

The modern school systems are based on forcing people to learn. But you can’t force it. I repeat: you cannot force it. In fact, when you try to force it, you may be making an enormous mistake.

Here’s a fact: humans are naturally addicted to learning. Naturally, learning is among our greatest pleasures. Naturally, we can’t get enough of it. (That's also the reason why we're so addicted to the Internet.)

So, how on Earth is it possible that for most children, a place where learning is supposed to take place is the most painfully BORING thing they know? It doesn’t make sense. We must be doing something radically wrong.

What drives people to learn is interest. Sometimes it can take a while before interest appears, and before that you just have to relax and wait. People learn by exploring and discovering while doing things that they enjoy. Forcing groups of children to sit still in rooms for hours a day, forced to listen to an adult telling them what, when and how they should "learn" is a ridiculously bad idea. As a result, people start linking "learning" with "boredom". They become afraid of learning. To turn a human being this radically against their nature is an unbelievable achievement in itself. People lose the interest that they’d naturally have. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" is true. People become dull. And when you’re dull, staring at a screen easily becomes the only thing that feels entertaining.

Peter Gray, a Boston College developmental psychologist:

"Playing with other children, away from adults, is how children learn to make their own decisions, control their emotions and impulses, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences with others, and make friends," says Gray, an expert on the evolution of play and its vital role in child development. "In short, play is how children learn to take control of their lives."

All children are born with an innate curiosity, playfulness, sociability and deep desire to learn, but at some point after they enter school, what was once fun and engaging begins to feel forced, he explains. And, anxiety and stress levels among youths are at an all-time high: they are bogged down with homework, over-scheduled with extracurricular activities, deprived of free play, and faced with the pressures of getting into a top college.

"How did we come to the conclusion that the best way to educate students is to force them into a setting where they are bored, unhappy and anxious?” Gray asks. “Our compulsory education system features forced lessons, standardized tests, and seems specially designed to crush a child’s innate and biological drives for learning." The traditional "coercive" school model, he adds, was originally developed to indoctrinate, not to promote intellectual growth.

So it seems that after all, the most important learning actually takes place during recess. The most stimulating kind of school day would be mostly free time and contain just some studying. For younger children, it would simply be play, play, play and play and maybe just a very minimal amount of "studying". I'd really like to see how these children would turn out compared to the ones who spend 8 hours a day unhappily staring at a teacher. If the science is correct, they should turn out to be significantly smarter, kinder and happier people.

As long as a school is a place where children feel bored all the time every day, it is not a place where learning happens.

In terms of intellectual (/emotional/social) growth, the ideal solution would probably be something like a Sudbury school:

A Sudbury school is a type of school where students have complete responsibility for their own education, and the school is run by direct democracy in which students and staff are equals. Students individually decide what to do with their time, and tend to learn as a by-product of ordinary experience rather than through coursework. There is no predetermined educational syllabus, prescriptive curriculum or standardized instruction. This is a form of democratic education.

While there is no accepted definition of a Sudbury school, the intended culture within a Sudbury school has been described with such words as freedom, trust, respect, responsibility and democracy. The Sudbury pedagogical philosophy may be summarised thus: Learning is a natural by-product of all human activity. Learning is self-initiated and self-motivated. There are many ways to learn. Learning is a process you do, not a process that is done to you; the presence and guidance of a teacher are not necessary.



These videos are amazing. The kids are so... happy and smart and incredibly creative. Full of genius. This is how all kids would be if we didn't kill them: alive. I have to use caps lock when I say that WE COULD MAKE SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPEN. WHY NOT? In terms of almost everything, it would be an amazingly good thing. Humans could be great again. We could see a much better world, in nearly every possible way. Nothing's stopping us.



Kids in Sudbury schools are not bored.

When they get bored, they quickly and easily come up with something to do. Unlike students in “normal schools” who are learning to hate learning, these kids are truly learning every moment of the day. They don’t spend all their time boredly staring at screens – they feel no need to, because they know how to entertain themselves. Unlike kids in “normal schools”, these kids know how to have fun. They play. They breathe. They are living. Learning happens through living.

These kids don’t spend their lives trapped inside classrooms listening to teachers. What’s interesting is that they don’t really seem to lack knowledge. When it comes to learning factual information about the world, it seems that kids in “normal schools” are not learning more. Probably because when you memorize something just to survive an exam, you forget the overwhelming majority of the information soon after the exam is over. Cramming is not an effective way to learn. What's essential is learning how to learn.

Kids in Sudbury schools learn to love learning, and they learn to learn, which makes them significantly better learners in later life. About 80% of them end up going to college, and what many of them report noticing is that compared to them, the kids who went to "normal schools" seem 1) rather bad at solving problems on their own, 2) uninterested and immature. The kids who went to Sudbury schools are more playful and more mature than their peers who went to "normal schools".

Kids in Sudbury schools are never "taught" to read and write. Yet every kid in Sudbury schools learns to read and write. Even the ones who never did when they were still going to a "normal school". When there's no pressure, learning just happens and you enjoy the process.


The ideal school would be something like a Sudbury school. But it could be even better. I have ideas. For instance: the great majority of each day would be spent playing freely, but every day, a "specialist" would visit the school. (Or, in some cases, two specialists; one for the younger and another one for the older students?) They would talk about their work, findings, or ambition. Kind of like a Ted talk, just to give an example:


The specialist could be a scientist (like an astronomer talking about space, or a mathematician talking about mathematics, or a psychologist talking about the common psychological mechanisms that make humans think and behave irrationally), or an artist, or an activist, or an entrepreneur, or a person belonging to a minority talking about their group's history and their life in society. They could also introduce different activities. Everybody would get to try.

The kids would be allowed to attend the "lecture", but not forced to. It's probable that every day, a large percentage of students would attend the lectures. Because attending would be voluntary, the students would have a great sense of inner motivation, they would feel that they're there because they want to be there, and because the "specialists" would talk about things they themselves are deeply interested in, the "lectures" would be as inspiring as they get. At the end of the school day, everybody would gather, and the kids who attended the lecture would get to talk about what they learned to the kids who didn't attend.

The daily learning process would be hugely exciting. Instead of learning lots of information just to forget it after an exam, the students would actually feel excited about school, science, learning, and society. They would not learn to think that everything important is "boring" and only mindless social media mush is information they're personally interested in. (There's nothing "boring" about important things; they are the most exciting things in the world as long as they're not forced down your throat.) People would actually love learning about the world, and thus remember a lot more and keep learning even after school. At the same time, they'd get to spend most of their time playing and having fun in an unstructured environment; becoming proper human beings.

___________


Of course, even smaller changes to our current school systems could make a big difference. Maybe all of us aren’t ready for a radical change. Okay then. There are smaller changes that can be done. All you have to do is listen to the science. Please, for once, let’s listen to the science.

1. During the school day, children should be able to relax and play a lot, and too much homework is a really bad idea.

2. AGE MIXING. According to several studies, regularly bringing a young baby to the classroom dramatically changes school kids and makes them more empathetic. They start showing declines in aggressive and bullying behaviours and growth in sharing, cooperative and helping behaviours. I think this must be linked to the way humans live in hunter-gatherer societies. In nature, 9-year-olds aren’t separated from 3-year-olds, and 5-year-olds aren’t separated from 18-year-olds. People take care of each other. When a bunch of 11-year-olds are forced to spend all day in the same room, they are going to compete with each other. This causes things like bullying. But if there are younger children around, older kids are going to take care of them, thus normalizing empathetic and responsible behaviour in the social environment.

3. MEDITATION. This may sound like a weird idea, but there's increasing evidence that meditation makes us better in pretty much any cognitive area. It makes us calmer, more focused and more empathetic, and therefore smarter and happier. Some schools have already tried making meditation a part of the school day. The results? "In San Francisco, schools that participated in Quiet Time, a Transcendental Meditation program, had twice as many students score proficient in English on the California Achievement Test than in similar schools where the program didn’t exist. Visitacion Valley Middle School specifically reduced suspensions by 45 percent during the program’s first year. Attendance rates climbed to 98 percent, grade point averages improved, and the school recorded the highest happiness levels in San Francisco on the annual California Healthy Kids Survey."



4. CHANGING THE WAY SCHOOLS TREAT BOOKS.

In general, I've realized that when it comes to children, adults very often have no idea what they're doing. For instance, who was the monster who decided that the best way to get people to like reading books is making it a strictly controlled and heavily forced activity? That is how you murder literature.

Like it or not, there’s a lot of evidence that playing games is a good thing. Gaming improves many cognitive abilities and this is a fact. The most important thing is that playing games is fun. Learning simply happens in the process, almost accidentally, while people are doing something that they enjoy. They are not playing games to get the benefits of playing games; they do it because they enjoy it, and the benefits follow.

Another thing that's really good for your brain: reading books. You learn to immerse yourself into texts, concepts and ideas. This is how the world of thinking deeply, understanding deeply opens, and this is essential if you don't want to be a superficial idiot. It's fair to say that reading books can change you on a profound level. The world is complicated, and if you want to really understand anything, you must learn to spend time with ideas instead of just running through them. You learn important information; you learn to deal with complex concepts; your memory improves; you get to know yourself better; you see what happens in the mind of somebody else; you feel what life's like for others; you learn psychological mechanisms; you learn empathy; you learn focus; you get the words and tools you need for expressing your thoughts and thinking deeply. These are all skills that could disappear if we don’t do something. And we simply cannot lose them, because without the words to understand itself (and the world) the human mind is mush.


In order to get these things from reading books, however, reading books must be something that you want to do. You must enjoy doing it. And learning... It just happens. Naturally. I believe that a child who just once reads the Harry Potter series simply because they feel like it has learned more about stories, words, reading, writing, language, imagination and concentration, and human psychology and friendship, than any teacher in any classroom ever could force them to learn even if the teacher tried hard for 7 years.

You see, the kid was doing something that they really wanted to do, and the learning just happened. "Grade level" meant absolutely nothing.

People don't do things just because they're "important". Someone who thinks that they should read because it's "important", instead of reading because they enjoy it, is not going to keep reading. Doing something just because it's important feels like eating food that's healthy but tastes awful.

The enormous mistake that has traumatized generations of potential readers is thinking that literature and reading need to be "taught". They don't need to, if the kids are reading for fun. The reality is that as long as kids are being forced to read, and books are something that is specifically linked to "school" in people's heads (unlike movies, games, and music), most kids are not going to be reading for fun a lot. And this is dangerous, because reading for fun is how you get the benefits of reading.


Another crazy idea is that kids must be forced to read "classics" or other books that adults consider "important". No. If kids like to read, some of them will independently move on to the classics eventually. Everybody doesn't have to read the classics, as long as some do. Isn't that infinitely better than raising a generation after generation to hate the classics? What's the point?


When it comes to learning, the most important thing is inner motivation. You must have the feeling that you're doing what you're doing because you personally want to. If you feel that you're reading because you have to read because someone else told you to and you need a good grade, it's not going to be a pleasant experience. Forcing a kid to read takes away that sense of inner motivation completely.

The truth is that there's nothing wrong with books. Books are not "boring". Reading a good book can be one of the most exciting and intense experiences a kid has ever had. The problem is forcing a kid to read. That is poison, and for the love of Western civilization, it must stop. Forcing must be replaced by letting, and this is how it could happen:
Every kid should have a device that would look something like this.

When you look at recent studies about kids and reading, the most important pieces of information to think about are these: 1. Most kids say that one of the main reasons why they don't read more is that they don't know what to read. They would read more if they knew what to read, and how to find books that would interest them. 2. 90% of kids say they are much more likely to finish a book they've personally chosen, and much less likely to finish a book someone else told them to read.

This device would only have one thing in it: books. No schoolwork, no social media, no games, there are other devices for those. This device would be only for reading for fun. First, you would give information about yourself and your interests. Then you'd get the first 4 recommendations: 3 books that you'd likely like based on the information that you gave, and 1 book "out of your comfort zone". You'd get to choose any of these books. Then you could start reading. If you didn't like the book, you could move on to something else. Nobody would force you to finish a book you didn't want to read. You'd get to rate every reading experience, and based on all this information, the device would get to know you better and better. The result would likely be that the average kid would be reading a lot more. They'd always know what to read. (Of course, you could use the device to find any book; the book wouldn't have to be specifically "recommended" for you to read it.)


The device would also have a social dimension. Everybody could recommend books to their friends, and you'd get to write comments and reviews on the book you read. There'd be no need to force people to write "book reports". When people get excited about something, they automatically want to talk and write about it. It's more than likely that this would happen.

Schools would encourage kids to use these devices, and they would let kids read during the school day, but reading would no longer be something that a teacher or anyone else forces you to do. This would be the ideal way to get kids to read more. Sure, there'd still be people who don't like to read, but there'd be significantly less of them. There'd be significantly more people that would read a lot, and the average person would read more than the average person reads now.

So.

Age mixing. Meditation. Reading for pleasure. Play. Much less work.

When it comes to essential human stuff like empathy, all of these things would make kids a lot better. It would also be very easy to give kids fun and interesting tasks where they'd get to take somebody else's perspective. To imagine and act out what life must be like for someone less fortunate than them, etc. Tasks like that change the brain very quickly. When the brain changes, so does the person. Learning empathy is very easy for human beings; our brains are naturally good at it, they just need some practice. And what if the school system actually encouraged children to help others on a regular basis? Not because they'd get some 'points' for it, but because being a good person is important in itself. After all, creating that kind of emotional intelligence is really damn easy. Really. It comes quite naturally if you just let it.


Finally

Being a parent must be hard work. Probably a lot harder than I can imagine as a 20-year-old who’s never experienced being a parent to anyone. I know that some people would consider it idiotic that someone like me is talking about parenting in the first place, but really: all this science, all these statistics exist, and we should react to them. Obviously, I didn’t write this post as a parent or a teacher, I wrote it as a 20-year-old who’s planning to continue living on this planet for many more decades to come.

Maybe all of this is (partly) nonsense. Maybe you can't destroy all the good sides of humanity this easily. Maybe I'm as silly for believing all these horror studies as the nervous parents are for listening to the kidnapping stories in the media.

The reality is that you can always find scary statistics, but the real world is never as black and white. As someone who’s spent 20 years on the planet, I can’t honestly claim that all the people of my generation (in Finland, or in America) are “apathetic jerks”. That would be absurd, as I’ve personally found hundreds of awesome people my age or younger than me. There are a lot of smart people, a lot of good people, a lot of creative people, a lot of people who want to do good things. A lot of beautiful souls.

But this should be the norm.

If all the hugely negative changes are really happening, they are relatively new. There's still plenty of hope. There's time to change. If things like empathy can be forgotten, they can be remembered. A child may forget how to play, but if you simply let them, they will learn again.

After all, this should be quite simple: don't do so much. Stop controlling everything children do. Instead, spend more time relaxing, doing other things. Simply let the children play. Open the door. Kids need to experience boredom before they can learn to play.

Parents are making mistakes that could be avoided very easily. And nothing’s stopping us from changing the school systems.

The next generation, or the generation after that, could be much better than mine.