The right problem

By Sergi-Andre Miranda-Benitez. Sergi-Andre,18, lives in Benfleet, England and studies at London South Bank University. Please read his article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

As kids, we lived in a cloud of cartoons and innocence, always protected by adults. Now the roles have changed: we are the ones that protect our children, and the key is education.

We make children remember things. From words to actions, we tell them what they should do in particular situations. If someone does you a favor, the reply for that is a ‘Thank you’. In this case, we make children say this to show gratitude or appreciation towards that person. That’s a response to remember. But, do we give them too many answers?

According to several studies, our level of creativity decreases as we get older. Creativity is linked to something called ‘divergent thinking’. Divergent thinking is the thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. For example, how many uses could you think of for a paper clip? The number of uses you can think of is correlated with your divergent thinking. The more uses, the greater your divergent thinking. It is a “non-linear” approach to situations, and uses imagination rather than logic.

If we confront a dilemma we have never confronted before, or that nobody ever told us what to do, we would think of a whole range of alternatives before jumping to a final conclusion. Giving children answers to everything gets them used to think in a linear way, that this step only leads to this next step. If we have them confront new situations without any previous guidance, what would they do? Trial and error, with no ‘they told me to do this’ restrictions. That’s the reason we mainly see a paperclip only as a device that holds sheets of paper, because as kids we were told to see things the way they are. Answers became the perfect excuse for avoiding creative solutions.

But, do we even give them the right answers? Your point of view is different from mine, so… who is right? Maybe none. We tell children what we think is right, without realizing that we could be wrong.

Plus, answers are just responses to specific questions, not problems. We cannot prepare them for every single situation in life, so we load our child’s mind with rules, hoping that they only make minimal errors. Ironically, we encourage them to do the opposite: making mistakes. Answers are usually too specific and for some reason act like rules. We respect rules, so do children. At the end, they end up trying to fit, somehow, a solution they remember to apparently similar new problems. Forcing procedures leads to mistakes and bad consequences. Children get frustrated and afraid, especially if we quarrel with them afterwards.

Nevertheless, I must say that I disagree with the statement.

Facts, rules and answers are the fundamentals for common sense. Human beings are ignorant at first. We need someone that teaches us first, someone that already has experience. Parents, school and family give guidance and knowledge throughout our childhood. We may make children remember lots of things, yes, but without these they would barely have common sense, and common sense is vital for our everyday life.

We give them answers and then, problems to solve. Answers are not the same as solutions. Children need to think deeper to get these. The reality is that they will make mistakes, but because of it they will start questioning the answers they thought were right, giving rise to their own opinions and views. I can even say that we don’t give them enough things to remember, because they need more answers to choose from. If we provide different opinions and perspectives, we will encourage them to think differently and understand other views.

We may give answers too often, but it does not imply that we give too many answers. Everyday we teach them how to respond to unusual situations, but we don’t overdose them with lots of explanations at the same time. Throughout a day, you might tell your child to look both ways before crossing the street, to wash their hands before having lunch or to do their maths homework as soon as they get home. The instructions they receive need to be memorised at first. In the long term, these will turn into habits. Habits become attitudes.

After all, all we are doing by giving children answers “too often” is creating habits in them and providing the knowledge and perspective so they can build their personal character.

Also, I don’t think we need to give them more “problems to solve”. Children are in a growing stage and barely have experience. As children grow up, life itself will take charge to give them problems to solve. What problems would we give them anyways? Because, actually, this is all about giving children the right problem, not the right answer. Problems that are inoffensive, challenging, fun and educational. Problems that encourage them to think and construct mental connections. Childhood is the stage where we learn how to fly, until we are old enough to fly for ourselves.

On one side, giving children answers too often may discourage them to think outside the box and be more afraid of making mistakes. However, I believe that we don’t. Children learn from us, and, unconsciously, they are looking for our answers to the world. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes with children: they need to be given the right problems, not the right answers.

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