One of the most important things we can teach our children is to have a good sense of what is important.
In all fairness, there are many adults who don’t have a clue about this either, but it is a vital skill to cultivate in our young charges if we want them to be successful. This is a different issue than time management. It is an understanding of the inherent long-term value of how time is spent. It is an intrinsic appreciation for how choices made today will impact the future.
I once knew a delightful high schooler who was totally engrossed in J.R.R. Tolkien’s majestic fantasy books The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Obviously these books have huge literary value and are worth studying. He organized parties for friends where they were to come in full costume (each having an assigned character out of the books) and they would watch the movie trilogy together. That was fun, too. What most didn’t see happening behind the scenes were the hours and hours (rather days and days) spent researching and buying replicas of the swords and costumes from the movies, learning the elvish language, etc. It might have been a fun party trick to speak elvish, but, since no one else could understand what he was saying, the value plummeted drastically. Had this been an isolated incident, I wouldn’t have worried about it. However, it was the norm instead of the exception. As you can guess, the real school subjects of math, science, composition, and a college-accepted foreign language suffered and he wound up at a so-so college without a clue of how he wanted to spend his life.
My son describes this addiction to the trivial as “doodling in the margins of life.
Now, before you cut out all fun activities from your child’s life, I need to clarify that creativity and beauty feed the soul. It is enriching to spend time dreaming, creating lovely things, and planning for special events. It’s just important to keep it in perspective and not let the creative and trivial totally trump the practical. We always need to remember that kids grow up and will eventually need to provide for themselves. In today’s brutal job market, who do you think is going to find a job, the kid who can write beautiful calligraphy or the kid that can program a computer? Even here, it is important to distinguish between developing a skill and wasting time. I always tell the young men I work with that it is fine if they are programming computer games, but not fine if they are playing them.
It’s time to take a hard look at what goes on in your house. When given the choice of how to use their time, do your children automatically choose to spend it on things that will matter down the road or do they spend it doodling in the margins?
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