I let my kid watch 13 straight hours of television over winter break.
That’s right. 13 hours. In one day.
Don’t judge. He was sick. Actually, we were all sick, and when you are achy and sneezy and just plain blah, mindless TV is all that you have.
But as we sat huddled together on the couch, wrapped in blankets and sharing the last Kleenex box I had an epiphany: TV is more than just an idiot box. Yes, there are plenty of examples of idiocy—Honey Boo Boo springs to mind, as does everyone on The Jersey Shore and anything with the name Kardashian in it—but TV also lets you believe that anything is possible (and I don’t mean that it’s possible for a redneck child to land a TV deal).
My son spent his 13+ hours watching the entire second season of the television show, Chuck. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this television series the premise is that the show’s namesake, Chuck, is a brilliant but underachieving nerd who works at the equivalent of a Best Buy until he gets all of the NSA’s and the CIA’s secrets programmed into his head. Eventually,he becomes an amazing CIA agent who fights crime and gets the beautiful girl to fall in love with him.
When I watch the show I laugh that all of the female spies look like super models and I wonder how all of the employees of the store where Chuck works are incompetent but they still get to keep their jobs. My son, on the other hand, doesn’t notice the ridiculousness of the situations. He just thinks, why not:
Why can’t a gorgeous woman, who’s wearing a leather cat suit and four-inch heels, take on five terrorists with a plastic fork?
Why can’t someone build a computer program that would allow one person to carry the nation’s security secrets in his brain?
This, of course, leads him to ask: why can’t I be the one to build this super computer…with my friend…in our basement?
He’s not thinking about how much work he will need to do or how long it will take. He just wants to be the first human with a computer in his head.
My first impulse—always—is to point out all of the difficulties my kids will encounter when they try to bring an idea to life instead of pointing out all of the possibilities. For instance, I want to point out that my son can’t possibly build a computer that holds all of the nation’s secrets because a) he doesn’t know enough about computers, b) he knows nothing about neuroscience and c) why would anyone in his right mind think it’s a good idea to put the nation’s secrets into one person’s head??
I am such a killjoy.
But as I lay in my NyQuil-induced fog contemplating how I’ve utterly failed to encourage my children’s creative processes, I stumbled on an article entitled “Be Wrong As Fast As You Can,” from last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. The author, Hugo Lindgren, recounted the number of brilliant ideas he had that he was never able to bring to life. “It’s really about where you take the idea, and how committed you are to solving the endless problems that come up in the execution,” Mr. Lindgren wrote.
Did Mr. Lindgren have a mom like me, I wondered? Was his mom also too quick to jump in and try to solve her kids’ problems before they had a chance to see if they even could work through the difficulties on their own??
And just like that, I realized that those “endless problems” are going to happen whether I bring them up or not. I might as well let my kids slam up against the difficulties to see not just how committed they are to the project and, more importantly, how resourceful they are at solving the problems. If I jump in too early they may never know what they are capable of.
So, I will allow him to tinker with the computer in an effort to create a program that he can one day download into his brain. Maybe he will learn more about computers (or at least finish assembling the pile of computer parts in his bedroom) or maybe he will learn more about the human brain. And, if none of that works out, maybe he can write a television show about his efforts.
See, TV is full of possibilities.