Dear Dr. Wes & Kendra: I heard your July radio show about teens and technology. I also remember you writing several times about how your kids go to museums and musicals. I don’t have teens yet, but it’s only a couple years away. How do you get kids away from their screens and into real culture?
Kendra: To get a teen to willingly agree to cultural immersion may seem about as easy as immersing him or her in the waters of the Trevi Fountain. However, the earlier you start, the greater the chance of building a genuine interest in culture.
Culture isn’t just about going to museums with your children and hoping they soak up the artistry of Monet or reading aloud the poetry of T.S. Eliot as they listen with rapt joy. My parents have always encouraged culture in my life, but they also have consistently given me options.
I tried ballet, and as much as I learned to appreciate the talent of those who can dance on point, I hadn’t the skill to do it. It wasn’t until I had sung in the Lawrence Children’s Choir that I became enthusiastic about culture.
Each week the director would give us a mini-history lesson on the composer, and somehow her passion induced a room full of teens and preteens to care about someone who died 300 years ago. As we performed this poetry-turned-music, few of us realized we were embracing a parental dream. Such activities allow young people to be a part of culture, not just to learn about it.
Parents get to do what great teachers aim to do: give kids a multitude of methods and chances to learn, to embrace culture so they learn how previous generations thought, created and related. By encouraging your children this way, you give them a chance to discover our cultural history for themselves.
As reluctant as I once was to turn away from a Disney Channel marathon, I am far more reluctant now to turn down an opportunity to hear a great choir or read a great poem.
Wes: I’ve had good luck with this because my kids have a natural curiosity about things that I’ve reinforced from early on.
I took my daughter to her first musical (“The Sound of Music”) at the Lawrence Community Theater, and later that year to her first off-Broadway show (“The Fantasticks”) on the last day of its 42-year run. Sometimes I think I went a bit too far, actually. Now I have a yearly budget for theater that runs several hundred bucks. Thank goodness for the Kansas University theater department, which stages awesome shows for not much money. “Kiss Me Kate” was off the hook this summer.
Museums are trickier because they lack the irresistible charm of singing, dancing and bright lights. Start with something obvious, like the KU Natural History Museum or the Field Museum in Chicago. What kid can resist enormous, toothy dinos? The hands-on Minnesota Science Museum in St. Paul is amazing for kids of all ages — so much so that it stays open until 9 p.m. as a date night venue for late teens and young adults.
The History Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum” or “American Pickers” are terrific to intrigue kids and get them asking questions, much as “Mythbusters” has gotten kids interested in science for many years, in part by blowing stuff up. We’ve gone to several “Mysteries” venues and looked up the artifacts.
But the best trick I know for getting reluctant kids interested in museums is to pay them. You can start with the Kansas History Museum and give your 5- to 12-year-old a bounty to identify every form of communication, or every weapon or every cooking utensil they can find. I pay about 25 cents per unit. However, I once told my son that he would get a special $5 bonus for finding something related to Lincoln. I had to renege after we arrived and found the special exhibit titled “Lincoln in Kansas.” It would have cost me about $600. So, always look online before extending any offers.
Use these easy, low-cost strategies to get kids interested in museums and cultural events at a young age and they’ll keep going as they get older. They may even sign up for the Arts Center or middle- or high-school theater, or volunteer at a museum.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his new practice Family Psychological Services at dr-wes.com Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.