I recently listened to a Tim Ferriss podcast featuring Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. I have to admit, prior to the podcast my limited exposure to Dr. Tyson was from an episode of the Big Bang Theory, when Raj referenced him on a podcast and tried to spin in into a ‘celebrity’ twitter feud. What I didn’t realize, from listening to a podcast with a world renowned scientist (put his his resume very simply), was what I would learn about parenting.
Dr. Tyson spent his childhood living in the Bronx. Every other weekend, his parents would take him and his two siblings into ‘The City” and expose them to different arts, culture, science, exploration. His parents, from an early age, wanted to expose he and his siblings to as many areas of knowledge as they could, to foster their curiosity and interests. They wanted their children to encounter every aspect of the human experience, and turn it into a love of their own. Young Neil, discovered from an early age his love of science and exploration of the universe. His brother discovered a love for the arts, which he would ultimately turn into a flourishing career.
This concept, of filling our children’s lives with as much as variety as possible, and letting their curiosity guide their childhood experience resonated with me in two specific ways. First, this tied into what I discussed last week; Every encounter, every interaction changes a child’s brain, for better or worse. Exposure to trauma ultimately effects the way a child’s brain is wired, just as exposure to the arts, science, sports, and love create synapses as well. Dr. Tyson’s parents made a conscious effort to essentially positively effect the neuroplasticity of their children. They understood exposure creates connection, and the long term benefits and effects of this connection. They allowed their children to engage in the world around them in new and exciting well while encouraging them to pursue their own interests.
This brings me to my second thoughts regarding this podcast. Dr. Tyson’s parents did not push their own agenda. His father was a sociologist, and his mother stayed home to raise children, and did not pursue an education until they left home. They did not try to live vicariously through their children and push them into what they wanted them to be. They provided a plethora of opportunities for their children, and their children led the way. How often have we heard and seen the stereotypes of parents living out their unfulfilled dreams through their children? The dad who pushes his kid a little to hard in sports because he wants him to be the star he wasn’t? Or the mom who pushes her daughter into pageants as a way to rekindle her youth? Yes, these are blatant stereotypes, but in this case, they exist because they happen all too often.
As parents it’s easy for us to push our personal agenda onto our children. And although the intentions may not be malicious ‘we want our child to have a better life than we had’ these intentions can still steer our children in a direction of our choosing, and not theirs. So, what if we took a page from the this family? What if we exposed our children to as many ideas and concepts as possible and the let the child’s interests guide the way? Imagine the ripple effect this would create. Perhaps our children would be more engaged in their activity. Perhaps there would be less arguing about getting ready for the activity, because the child would actually be excited about participating. Imagine the pride in accomplishments they would feel when they were doing something they loved, not just something you loved.
I love these concepts. I love the idea of helping guide children toward a lifetime love of learning; To be able to foster a thirst for knowledge, where children come home from school eager to learn something new, not just thrilled for formal education to end. And although we all may not live near New York City, a playground for culture and activity, there are still numerous ways for us to instill these concepts in our children, despite geographical limitations. Public Libraries, local programming or community theater, outdoor exploration; Possibilities really are endless if we just take the time to look for them.