Are kids losing their imaginations?

I was reading recently about a group of people who are literate, but do not read for fun. These people believe that people who read for fun are anti-social beings who do not know “how to live.” It struck me that this sentiment was somewhat akin to the phenomenon I have heard about in lower income areas, where being literate and educated is not considered “cool,” and is often seen as “selling out.” It was also noted that these same demographics often have hundreds of DVDs and video games in their house, but few books. And it got me wondering about imagination.


Kids are inherently imaginative and creative, but in order for it to survive, it needs nurturing. In our culture today, I believe we are losing that creative nurturing. From very early ages, we plop our children down in front of the TV as an electronic babysitter, and they passively ingest the information fed to them from the screen. Their minds grow as flabby and lazy as their bodies. They have no reason to create anything—the characters are there in the flesh, to be seen and heard, and there are no blanks to fill in or leaps of intuition to make. No need to imagine anything. The same holds true for video games. Putting aside the whole issue of whether the games are too violent, the games are becoming so realistic that there is no need for imagination there, either. Strategy, yes, imagination, no. Because there is usually only one specific pathway to the next level, there is no creative problem-solving—just trial and error until they hit upon the answer the game-makers wanted.


Which brings me to books. Books are the epitome of imagination. Every reader will picture the characters looking and sounding different. Some readers will get the more subtle aspects of the book, some will not. Some will make intuitive leaps, some will not. But the entire world is in their heads. And, yes, it is hard work. The reader has to do all this work themselves, involve themselves in the world on the page. They cannot sit mindlessly stuffing their faces while mesmerized by pictures on a screen. They must build a fantasy world, taking part in every aspect of it. They must actively engage it, struggle with it, triumph over it. In becoming part of the adventure, the reader shares the tragedies and triumphs of the protagonists, and in the end, has “lived” much more thoroughly than the person watching a movie. The movie viewer has observed another world, while the reader has experienced it.


Kids today are in danger of losing their imaginations. Electronic gadgets passively feed them everything they want. School curricula are often rigid, discouraging students who think “outside the box.” There has been a great deal of talk over the years about the decline of the USA in scientific innovation on an international level. Innovation of any kind requires imagination. Exercise our kids’ imaginations. Give them a book.


  1. Kerry, I have to disagree. I know that the kiddos I work with are not the norm and they have many benefits that others do not – but still… My kiddos would rather read and write than do pretty much anything.
    There have been countless times where they’ve begged for one-more-chapter, despite the fact that it’s time for lunch or dismissal.
    The kids swap books constantly and I spend way too much money in bookstores trying to keep up with their appetites.
    They play sports, they read, and most play an instrument too. Granted there is some Guitar Hero and texting going on too, but they are creative, compassionate, and I truly believe our future is in capable and literate hands.

  2. Tiffany – Glad to hear it from an expert! Makes me sleep safer.
    But I do sometimes wonder if the sort of thinking that makes being literate “uncool” or makes reading an “elite” activity is a growing or shrinking mindset. If it’s shrinking, great; if it’s growing, then kids like yours may be in the minority in the future. Of course, it helps when kids have teachers and other adults in their lives who are enthusiastic about reading, and who love books, and love to share them!
    It is our duty to share books with kids, especially with kids who don’t get that sort of exposure at home. I’m glad there are so many teachers like you out there opening minds and exciting the creativity of our future!

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