This Summer, I was reading through one of my favorite everyday education websites and came across an article about kids and their obsessions. I’ve always wondered what could possibly be good about letting kids get sucked into the craziness of Webkins, Pokemon, anything at all that sent a kid reeling when they couldn’t have the latest and greatest and made them freak out when you just mention it.
It, honestly, drove me crazy…until my kid became one of those kids (ah, karma).
In the last year, her curiosities and loves have turned rather compulsive. If there is an owl or a unicorn in the universe, it must be had. This Summer was all about catching grasshoppers and butterflies (redirecting her was like slamming my head against a very large wall) and these days the world revolves around Scooby Doo.
I figured that if I could “approve” anything and somehow limit access to it, all would be well. Deep fascination was good – obsession, the path toward major teenage issues.
But our attempts at managing her enthusiasm according to adult “rules” wasn’t going so well. Yes, there needs to be something else in life besides Littlest Pet Shop and Star Wars (although Ken would debate me to the death on that one). But, not letting her fun-loving, childhood spirit follow something that she loves through to a logical end was starting to make less and less sense.
What did make sense was the skills we were beginning to see develop in the tiny person as a result of her long list of loves. In cricket and butterfly mode, she is more focused, determined and willing to share her discoveries than ever. The piles of owls and unicorns that have taken up residence in her room live in magical forests and make secret gardens. They protect her at night and are the muse for an unbelievable number of stories and songs. Scooby Doo, well, believe it or not this crew of mystery solvers has given her a great reference for team work and problem solving.
They aren’t necessarily what I want, am interested in or even think is a positive use of time (although Scooby Doo breaks do mean very pregnant mama can nap). I checked in with a few education professionals to see what they thought about obsessions and here’s what they recommend:
1. Childhood obsessions are NOT the mark of a kid who is destined for obsessive behavior later in life. Kids really are discovering everything for the first time. Letting them follow something that is not going to hurt them to the end is a natural learning course.
2. If your kid loves trains or dinosaurs or ponies or something that you absolutely have no interest in, help them discover ways and people with which to share that love or find a part of it that you can join in with. Squashing obsessions because of parental disinterest is a quick road to disconnecting from your kids.
3. Set limits without turning the obsession into something toxic. Scooby Doo is my best example. Am I thrilled with a TV show being #1 on our list? Not so much. What it has done is force us to be very clock conscious about time in front of the boob tube in order to make sure that regulating Scooby also applies across the board.
4. Childhood obsessions are some of the best learning tools. They teach a wide range of skills, open up doors for other interests and plug kids into paths that resonate with them. As parents, watching how obsessions unfold can help us better direct our kids when it comes to extracurricular activities, things to focus on in school and possible problem areas.
5. Childhood obsessions make for passionate adults. This one came up with education professionals again and again – kids who are encouraged to follow their passions as kids often make for more determined, creative and focused adults.
So, even though our kid’s obsessions may drive us crazy at times, they also challenge us to let our kids discover who they are and find their place in the world. Can that be a bad thing?