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How and why you should encourage your childs interests, without spoiling them.

Updated on April 13, 2016

Disclaimer

I must first get this out in the air; I am not a parent. Nor do I ever intend to be one. I am somewhat repulsed by babies - both their appearance and secretions. I haven't a clue how to handle children when they run up to me and try to convince me that they are are indeed spider man, but just can’t show it on this particular day. I am writing from the perspective of having been a child, whose interests were well nurtured to the point of a successful career; while my elder sibling meandered through numerous expensive activities, coming out the other end with not a single usable skill or asset.

How My Interests Were Fostered Compared To My Sibling

I was twelve when I laid my hands on a piece of software that would change the way I looked at computers and set the foundations for my lifelong obsession with web development and programming. It was a stick figure animation application, with which I spent hours creating stick figure fights and stick figure superheroes such as “Belly Fluff Man”. Not long down the path, I learned that anyone could feasibly create their own software with interactivity. I just had to do it. Imagine the grand stick figure scenarios I could accomplish. While my parents might not have been overwhelmingly pleased by my obsession of blood-soaked stick figures, programming seemed an open option. My mother worked hard to photocopy every page of three textbooks from my elder brother's high school friend. She even cited my diligence in my ‘animations’ when discussing the plausibility that I could learn to program computers by myself.

My mother continued to support my hobby throughout my teens. Even accepting that daylight might be optional; that perhaps staying indoors in front of the computer was what I needed to make me happy and fulfilled. She would provide me with internet access, books, software and even my own web hosting plan from which I built a free web hosting service of my own. At each crucial step, my mother would emphasise how I had worked hard at what I was doing, before spending any money. The books, internet, and hosting were granted in stages as I progressed in my hobby. I was not simply showered with whatever I wanted from the start.

The same could not be said for my sister. Perhaps it was from her that my parents learned how to better nurture my interests. She veered from one expensive pastime to the next. Horse riding, Irish dancing, guitar, and piano were all enthusiastically explored; for a at most couple of months or so, until she realised just how much work is required to become good at something. Expenditure was not one of her concerns. She was given access to whatever she showed enough enthusiasm for, without actually proving that she was dedicated to spending the time to attain the skills required to become accomplished at whatever it was she was currently flirting with. She would become enraged when my parents did not immediately give in to providing lessons or equipment. Eventually, however, they would give in. By the time my sister exited high school, she had poor marks and no usable skills to upon which to build a career.

She eventually did build strong skills in a discipline, but not before a lot of hard and underpaid work as an adult. She ended up working in the kitchen at a small local pub, for what was at the time below minimum wage. After about a year of that, my mother lent her the money to go to one of the country's top cooking schools. She obtained her diploma and is now a fairly successful chef, cooking for the big spenders in five-star establishments. She has now nearly paid back the money she borrowed.

Key Point & Next Steps for the Next Generation

The point I am aiming to make with the above story, is that what your child is interested in now, may well become their future career, given the right conditions. It also may just be a passing phase; a whim. It is not easy to discern whether children and teens are really interested in something, or if they just like the idea of doing it because that movie they watched last week made it look thrilling. Just like every 5 year old wants to be a fireman or policeman, so does every non-depressive teenager have a grand plan for their future. It is in the hands of you, as a parent, to help direct your child’s energy in a manner that builds them up.

A good starting point is to show interest in their interests. Talk to them about it; ask questions and show genuine intrigue. It is also good to keep an open mind. Art, music and even computer gaming are now feasible careers. There are teenagers earning more than their parents by playing computer games. Times have changed since you were a child, and what may have been an impossibility when you were a young teenager or child, is now attainable.

The internet provides a platform for anybody with access to learn freely on just about any topic. Most of what I know in my profession was learned on the internet. Most of the software I use is free. The big question is how much to spend when something does need to be bought; whether it be a guitar, computer game or online course. This all depends on your socio-economic standing. A good rule of thumb is that if you child can’t wait a month for the item, then they probably won’t be using it much anyway. Make sure it isn’t a passing phase. Perhaps give them something small to encourage them, but do not buy something relatively expensive unless they have proven their interest.


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