Educator and author Gloria DeGaetano shares a revealing insight from a second grade teacher at one of her workshops. The teacher said that on the first day of class, when she began reading the children a story, one boy, Tommy, started fidgeting anxiously. Looking up, he asked what he should be doing. "Just listen to the story," she answered. He looked at her blankly. She tried reassuring him, but he grew visibly more anxious. Finally, she asked Tommy to focus on his imagination, on the pictures he saw when she read aloud. But he shook his head sadly. He didn't see any pictures at all.  

DeGaetano says she hears similar accounts from teachers around the country. While imagining pictures when reading or hearing a story may seem natural to most of us, our brains have to develop the ability to imagine. Today's children are deluged with manufactured images that crowd their minds and keep them from forming their own images.

Each day, our children are exposed to a barrage of images from television, billboards, clothing, fast-food restaurants, and the Internet. The average child, says DeGaetano, is exposed to over 1000 visual images a day (De Gaetano, 2004). Junk food for the mind, these images stifle our ability to imagine, to think symbolically, to create.

In Parenting Well in a Media Age, DeGaetano cites brain research, explaining how our mental images "weave a tapestry of thought and feeling that enable us to integrate knowledge with experience." They help us understand ourselves and our world, visualize the future, plan, set goals, and move forward with a sense of personal destiny. Children and teens with strong imaginations are more successful in school and less apt to be manipulated by mass-media advertising (De Gaetano, 2004, p. 127).

Without vision the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18). Without vision, children cannot imagine their own futures, try on the many "possible selves" essential for healthy development (Markus & Nurius, 1986). Remember all the identities you tried on as a child? Did you want to be a firefighter, a dancer, doctor, or astronaut? While other girls played with dolls, I experimented with my chemistry set, seeing myself as a scientist, and made up stories, imagining myself writing books. We often weave bits and pieces of our imagined selves into our adult lives.

Without vision we cannot achieve our personal potential or progress as a culture. As Robert Kennedy once said, "Most people look at things the way they are and ask, 'Why?' I dream of things that never were and say, 'Why not?'" To grow, to create new possibilities for ourselves and our world, we must cultivate our own inner vision and that of our children.

You can begin by:

  • Giving yourself some "open time" each day, unplugged from the media--time to reflect, take a walk, putter around in your garden, look up at the sky.
  • Reading to your child at least a half-hour every day.
  • Discussing books and ideas over dinner.
  • Playing a musical instrument and giving your child music lessons.
  • Telling stories--your own and those of others. Learn about the lives of people you admire. Let their examples guide you and your loved ones to your own triumphs and discoveries.

References

DeGaetano, G. (2004). Parenting Well in a Media Age, Fawnskin, CA: Personhood Press.

Gloria DeGaetano is founder and CEO of the Parent Coaching Institute in Bellevue, Washington, which trains parent coaches with the latest brain research to help parents raise healthier children. For more information on helping children develop healthier brains as well as parent coaching, visit the Parent Coaching Institute http://www.parentcoachinginstitute.com/

Markus, H. & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41, 954-969.

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