Doing nothing creatively

Latest findings by Rosa Klein.

Children need quiet and unstructured time to be able to reflect, develop their thoughts and exercise creativity. Relying on television and videos to keep boredom at bay denies them opportunities to initiate and sustain their own ideas and occupations.

An analysis of more than 400 stories written by 10 to 12-year-olds found that, while television can capture the imagination, it rarely stimulates new ideas, which is quite different. Few of the stories incorporated unknown places or situations that the children had seen on television. But imitations of the kinds of crime, violence or action adventures familiar from the screen were not uncommon.

There were many dull stories, too. One reason for this could be that too much passive television-watching can induce the habit of exerting little mental effort, a conclusion reached by a number of researchers.

The researcher conducting the study found that the most imaginative, engaging and empathetic stories bore little or no relation to what the children had seen on television or videos. The children's own real-life experiences, whether physical, social or emotional, were more important. Among the 36 children who were studied in detail, those who appeared to live in warm and communicative families seemed to be the most imaginative.

The researcher concludes that the culture of television-dominated entertainment that characterises many children's free time stifles rather than encourages their imagination and creativity. Time and space to invent, observe, muse and wonder can be more fulfilling and truly nurturing of imagination than being bombarded with ideas and images from the external world.

Television and Imagination: an investigation of the medium's influence on children's story-making by Teresa Belton, University of East Anglia; e-mail: t.belton@uea.ac.uk

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