There's a wide range of parenting books out there about how to raise your kids to be smart, kind and respectful. But knowing how to raise your child to be more creative is less tangible. How do you create an environment that fosters self-discovery and helps your son or daughter find his or her voice? We took this question to First Lady Chirlane McCray. Not only is McCray a poet herself, but she and Mayor Bill de Blasio have raised two teens who are both extremely creative.
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The First Lady recently became involved with Girls Write Now, a non-profit that helps teens find their voice through writing and a mentorship program. McCray wrote the forward to Girls Write Now's new anthology, "Breaking Through," where she reveals that a poem by Nikki Giovanni helped her feel less alone as the only black student in her class and sparked her to pen her own poems, which ultimately gave her a greater sense of self.
"Helping your child develop her creative voice is one of the most precious gifts a parent can give. Personally, I can't imagine a life without words; writing is how I make sense of the world," McCray tells us in an exclusive interview. "Now that I'm a parent, I'm so happy Chiara and Dante love music, art and literature as much as me - although our tastes certainly differ! Whatever challenges they face in life, I know they'll be able to work through them with help from the arts."
Girl Write Now founder Maya Nussbaum says encouraging kids to be more creative is especially important during the teen years, even more for girls. "Around 10th or 11th grade is, developmentally, when a girl starts to get creatively and intellectually awakened — and that is the moment to seize and nurture," she tells us. She says that because women —especially minority women —are underrepresented in leadership roles, Girls Write Now's mentorship program matches teen girls with role models who have strong voices and are in prominent positions, to inspire them to dream bigger.
But regardless of sex, every teen can benefit from writing or other creative outlets. Below are McCray's tips on how parents can encourage their kids to be more creative:
- Be your child's creative role model. Make the arts a part of your own life, and your children will do the same —even teenagers!
- Be generous with your feedback. There's a time and a place for tough criticism, but after your child's school play isn't one of them.
- Be encouraging! That doesn't require a lot of money —New York is home to a vast array of free and low-cost arts resources. Check out the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs website for ideas.
Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmLaurence