Q: I owe my handiness to projects I helped my father with as a kid. But my children show no interest in lifting a hammer. How do I motivate them to become capable do-it-themselfers?
A: Thanks to affluenza as well as the draw of computer-based learning, instead of hands-on tutorials, many of today’s young digital natives are sorely lacking in analog skills. We are creating a generation that may never know how to paint a straight line or re-shingle a shed.
The effects are twofold. First, your kids may grow up into adults who, for every household project, are at the mercy of those few capable peers who become handymen and contractors. They’ll pay every time they need to tighten a rattling window or fix the toilet.
Also this lack of hands-on knowledge is—ironically—a contributing factor as to why other countries are outcompeting the United States in science, technology, engineering, and math education, those so-called STEM subjects where many of the good jobs of the future promise to be.
Getting your kids involved with you in safe, age-appropriate DIY projects is a great way to bolster their “spatial awareness,” an understanding of 3D space and how things work that helps later with engineering and physics, according to Vanderbilt University psychologist David Lubinski.
Thus spending a few hours away from their screens helping you build garage shelves or plant flower bulbs can give your kids a leg up on a career in the very technology they love.
Of course, as any parent knows, telling them that may not be enough to motivate them. Yet don’t resort to bribing your kids with a trip to Five Guys or extra screen time to get them to help out, says Carol S. Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University. That sends the message that the job is an unpleasant one that no child in her right mind would want to do.
You’re better off channeling Tom Sawyer and making the project feel fun and interesting. It helps if you pick an exciting improvement task, such as building a fire-pit, hanging cabinets in the recreation room, or painting the kid’s own bedroom in her choice of color (perhaps from a list preselected by you), rather than a maintenance job like snaking a drain or bleeding the radiators. Older youth may be enticed by the chance to use power tools (with plenty of knowledgeable and safe parental supervision).
Projects with relatively immediate gratification, like painting or laying sod, are more inspiring for young minds. Thus make it a project that they’ll get to enjoy the results of—and do it at a time when distractions like video games and social networking are off limits anyway. Then, let her post photos of the finished work on Facebook, if she wants, to help build her pride and a sense of accomplishment in her work.
Got a question for Josh? We’d love to hear it. Please send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.