No Time to Dream…

The Importance of ‘Barbie Time’

By Marilee Jones

I once asked a group of high school students how many daydream during the day and few raised their hands.  Most rolled their eyes and finally a boy in the back yelled out, “Dreaming?  Forget it, there are no awards for that.” Everyone laughed at the absurdity of the question.  No one in their lives valued the dreaming time, so they had no incentive and no time to do it anyway.

Every object outside of nature originated first in the imagination of a human being. Just take a moment to think about that and look around you to see the sheer diversity of human-made creations.  In one quick scan around the room, you will find hundreds of examples of the products of human imagination…your coffee cup, the pen you write with, every stitch of clothing you wear.

I like to think of the imagination as the 6th sense, an organ – not unlike the skin – that picks up information and translates it in ways that then can be examined, manipulated, inverted, reordered.  As far as we know, imagination is a uniquely human sense, the tool we need to create what we want in life.  The blueprints for anything to be created in the 3-D world, for all of human advancement, are formed there. The imagination is the thing that makes us all unique.  Within it lies that little pilot light of individuality that reminds us who we really are.

Yet adults constantly tell kids to stop daydreaming and get back to work. This is particularly troubling because adolescence is the period of intensive self-discovery, the time when kids are supposed to become attuned to their own uniqueness, the time when they begin to differentiate themselves from others.  They need a healthy imagination for that.

When my daughter was little, she loved Barbie dolls.  At first it was a struggle for me to accept, since I never played with dolls as a kid and I grew to become a feminist who believed that Barbies brainwashed girls into becoming focused only on their looks.  But as I watched my daughter script and direct complicated community plays throughout our house, I gave up my resistance and got over it.

One day, when she was five years old, Nora came with me as I ran too many errands for the time I had free.  After the 4th store visit, I was heading for the mall when she begged me to go home for awhile.  “C’mon, Nora, we’ll run to the mall and have a girl’s-day-out lunch and then do some shopping there.  We’ll have fun. We’ll rest at lunch.”    No, she cried, “I need my Barbie time”.  I reluctantly returned home, whereupon she ran upstairs to her room to play with her Barbies and I collapsed on the couch, feeling resentful that my day’s plan had fallen apart because she needed to play with her dolls.  Forty-five minutes later, she came back downstairs, refreshed and ready for the mall.  I, in the meantime, had lost all of my energy and had to work hard to rally.

Just after that, I participated in the Meyer’s Briggs test where I came to learn how different people recharge their energy.  Some need to be outside in an external environment, around people and light and action – the mall -, like me.  Some need to be alone for awhile, to recharge in their own internal way, like Nora.  I came to see that she was using her Barbie time to recharge and refresh herself.  She was also using 100% imagination with no real point…imagination for the pure pleasure of it.

One of the most serious problems in our culture today is how we adults curtail our kids’ Barbie time, expecting them to do something socially responsible or leading toward an external reward.  A good friend of mine recently bemoaned that her daughter was having trouble fitting in at her new school.  When the child came home from school, she just wanted to go to her room and rest for the afternoon.  My friend was frantic because ‘resting is not achieving’.  She kept urging her daughter to study or read or write or practice her instrument, like the other kids do when they go home from school.  She worried that her daughter won’t be competitive enough to get admitted to a top school.  Her daughter was in 7th grade, the worst year in all of Girl World.  No wonder her daughter wanted to come home and rest – she was fighting her emotions all day at school.  She needed her Barbie time, her recharging and imagination time, to figure out how to get through another day of catty, bratty girl behavior.

We have done a good job of educating kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but we reward workaholic behavior, and in so doing we are substituting one addiction for another. Here’s the simple fact: it’s hard to access imagination and creativity when you are working all the time.

Most importantly, what does it mean for the future of our culture, especially American culture – built on innovation and creativity – when our children have no time to dream?

Less Stress, More Success

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Our book group just read your book and it sparked more conversation than we’ve had in the seven years we’ve been reading together. Being successful professionals with busy lives and even busier children, we’re all trying to figure out how to find the time to just stop and enjoy our lives amidst so much pressure. Some of us find ourselves quoting you to our husbands and kids now, so you are our hero. ;-)
Sophia N. and Nancy R.

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