They Need Their Space

You have to give them space. Not just space right after school or soccer practice, as we’ve talked about, but making sure you don’t bombard them with questions or instructions. But your kids need literal space too. A room of their own, literally and figuratively.

The physicist David Deutsch thinks parents are far too controlling about their kids’ private spaces–making all the decorative and design decisions, enforcing rules about cleanliness and organization. As he explained in a fascinating interview with actor Ken Campbell in the Channel 4 science documentary series, Reality on the Rocks:

Perhaps the most important thing is to make sure that the child has a space which is exclusively under his control. Then one should try hard not to have a preconception about what should be tidy and what should not be tidy – and what counts as “tidy”. Another thing is to encourage the child to form preferences about his environment and to help him act on them. For instance, honour his preferences about his space – what colour the walls are, whether there is a desk, or a box for the toys, and so on. Forming complex preferences about the use of one’s environment is necessary for creativity.

Let me put that another way. As I have said, a scientist’s study – with its papers and other resources in a certain configuration – is an extension of his mind. So just as academic freedom is necessary for progress in science, freedom of thought in the wider sense – including the freedom to dispose of one’s working environment in the way one chooses – is equally essential.

Children’s lives and ‘work’ are automatically integrated (except when forcibly separated by school and suchlike), because their lives consist of learning. So if you intrude into their bedroom, which is usually the only private space they have, you are intruding into their minds. Then they will not be able to learn to use that space creatively, and the development of their creativity will be disabled.

Besides, how clean is your office? How messy was your college apartment? How much help do you have around the house now–and even still, how clean are you?

Give them space. Let them control it. Reap the creative dividends later. Celebrate the self-contained, confident kid that comes as a result.

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