Children And Cultivating Hobbies
( Originally Published 1916 )
WHEN a person has completed his share of the world's work, it is considered proper for him to " retire." And in accordance with this tradition, old Mr. Stewart withdrew from active participation in his business, when he knew that he had enough money and when his family thought that he " needed a rest." After a few weeks of " resting," the old gentleman became very uneasy and unhappy. He wanted to visit the office, but this was strictly forbidden, and as he could not think of anything else to do, he moped around, ex-tending his own misery to those about him. Cases of this kind are common enough, and in a large proportion of them, the man does return to his old affairs, there to remain to the end. But in other cases, there is too much opposition from those who look upon work as a hardship, and the old man withers away.
Many a business man, before reaching this stage, is merely tired. But why should the business man be more tired than other people? He does not work any harder than the professional man or the artisan. And the others are probably doing their share of worrying. It is very likely that the person who is always represented to us in the comic papers and in the theater as being in need of entertainment that calls for no exertion whatever on his part, is tired because he does not do enough. That is to say, he does not do enough different kinds of things. The tired business man suffers from all the evil consequences of early specialization. We may be sorry for him; but it is difficult to remedy his condition. What we can do is to prevent our children acquiring this same malady.
We may find the preventive in the lives of men and women who never grow old. The essential difference between one of these people, or a healthy child, and a " tired business man " lies in the wide range of problems and activities that can interest the former, as against the narrow interests and sympathies of the latter. It should be part of our aim in the training of children, to keep open for them all the lines of communication with ideas and feelings that may come to them.
But this is not a passive affair. Ideas and feelings do not come to us because we sit still. The child must learn to go forth and meet the new experience a little more than half way. We must cultivate the attitude which seeks satisfaction in doing, in overcoming difficulties in solving problems. We must discourage contentment with passive comfort, always receiving and never giving, with " letting well enough alone." This will mean retaining the versatility and the aggressiveness of youth as long as possible.
In practice we shall frequently be annoyed by the intensity with which the girl or boy will pursue a hobby. We realize only too well the folly of setting the heart too firmly upon this or that. But the child is, in these things, often wiser than his elders. For whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing with all the energy and enthusiasm that can be mustered. Nor must we determine for the child what is worth doing. We have learned the folly of air-rifles or of reading all the writings of a favorite author, not by suffering any injury from these interests, but by finding things that were better worth while. And the children need not take our preference for etchings or first editions as indicating absolute values. At every stage the child should be encouraged to pursue his hobby as intensively as time and chance permit. Some hobbies will last, but a short time ; others may last into the riper years. But in any case these represent interests that carry with them motives for application and effort and sacrifice, and they carry with them stimulation and recreation that are nowhere else to be found.
The selection of a hobby, like the selection of an occupation or a spouse, must always be left to the person most concerned. You may give your children a certain bias, however, that will have a value proportioned to your judgment and insight. As it is legitimate to have a prejudice against your son's becoming a bartender, or your daughter's marrying a gambler, so you may tolerate certain types of hobbies and discourage others. But these influences should not rest on our own tastes ; there are more fundamental considerations. Thus, you and I are fond of going to the theater, but it is better for Louise to cultivate amateur theatricals than a fascination for a popular actress. It is better for Harold to play baseball until sunset than to become a baseball " fan." Again, it is for the child to determine whether he will make a study of medieval armor, or of orchids, whether she will conduct a propaganda for the protection of the native birds, or for clean streets.
Parents should realize the advantage of a hobby that calls for some kind of activity, over one that involves being entertained or amused. In the same way, a hobby that means doing something is more valuable than a collecting hobby, which means having some-thing, although this is better than no hobby at all.
On the physiological side, entertaining a wide range of interests means keeping a large part of the brain surface in action. Specialization of interests, in the narrowing sense, means allowing a large part of the brain to remain unused, and thus to be a possible source of ill health.
Boys and girls who are encouraged to look upon, as legitimate, all appeals to curiosity, to inventiveness, to the impulse to do and to make, will not be likely to fall into old Mr. Stewart's plight, when they are some day kindly relieved of their regular occupations.