My nine-year-old son is a video game enthusiast. When I ask him about his unequivocal love of playing them; he assures me that video games are educational, and one day he will create his own, make a million dollars and buy me all the Australian licorice I can eat. The kid is smart; he knows just what to say to earn a few more hours of playtime.
When I was his age, playing Frogger on Atari was a big deal. But no matter how many hours I committed to playing that game; I never imagined creating a game of my own. So I admire my son’s ambition because I recognize that his desire to be a gamer is the start of the creation of his very own dream machine.
My unscientific definition of dream machine is the birth of personal and professional goals through the development of positive imaginative experiences. In other words, to possess a dream machine is the equivalent of daydreaming with your eyes wide open and believing that anything is possible.
Unlike my generation, my son is deeply emerged in the high-tech innovations that influence almost every part of his young life. From his fourth-grade school curriculum, which is heavily web-based, to kid-focused apps and programs on his tablet, he wouldn’t recognize a world void of technology.
But technology doesn’t inspire the creation of a dream machine. What inspires a dreamer is the belief that all things are possible. When children believe in a boundary-less world, they can envision a life of accomplishment and success. Technology is just one of many tools our kids have to help them expand their dreamscape.
I, like my son, had big dreams as a child. I wanted to be a best-selling author, President of the World and a Fly Girl dancer on the show, In Living Color. My dream machine empowered me to believe that anything was possible in spite of my circumstances. It didn’t matter that my parents weren’t college-educated, and I grew up in public housing. Nor did it matter that my dancing skills were sub-par and my grades were good but not stellar, my dream machine provided me with the inspiration I needed to believe in a bigger and better tomorrow.
My machine was composed of three key components:
- My ability to believe
- The power to dream
- My desire to achieve
My imagination was endowed by five power sources:
- Faith in God
- Freedom to explore
Although I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I was positively influenced by my family, friends and teachers.
The power source that I leaned on most as a child was reading. When I read a good book, I envisioned myself to be as gifted as Helen Keller; fearless as Anne Frank and inspirational as Maya Angelou. Books helped me to create a world filled with possibilities and adventure.
Countless youths today struggle because of their inability to dream of a better life and to work towards achieving it. Their imaginations are stammered by crime-infested communities, failing schools, substance abuse, gang-life, and a lack of good-paying jobs.
Many of our youth are not being encouraged to explore their imaginations, build on the foundation of strong communities and look to the future for new opportunities and adventures. Instead, they are directly impacted by overworked teachers, underpaid parents, no playtime, and a lack of positive influencers who should be mentoring, encouraging and motivating them to build a dream machine of their own.
In addition, our children are struggling because of social and parenting changes that force them to be independent too early in life or not independent at all. These factors make it difficult to envision a world much different from what is currently around them. These changes include:
- Permissive parenting – the end to parents taking a leading role in the discipline and guidance of their children.
- The destruction of the village – we are no longer a community-oriented society. The positive influences of being integrated into the community are getting lost.
- Lack of spirituality – our world has moved away from encouraging youth to build a strong relationship with God.
- Over-criminalization of youth – the criminal system is imprisoning youth longer and for less offensive crimes and therefore, robbing them of any chance of securing a good job and creating a decent life for themselves. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, on any given day, approximately 70,000 juvenile criminal offenders live in residential detention facilities, and about 68% are racial minorities.
- Overexposure to drugs and alcohol – kids are making illicit drugs and alcohol their substitute parents. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) National Institute on Drugs, abuse of alcohol and illicit drugs extract more than $400 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and health care. Furthermore, young adults (ages 18 – 25) are the biggest abusers of prescription (RX) opioids. In 2014 alone, 1,700 young adults died from prescription-drug overdoses.
- Increase in gang-affiliation – gangs create a false sense of security for youth in inner-cities. According to the National Gang Center, annual estimates of the number of gang members have averaged around 770,000 nationally. Gang-related homicides decreased 2 percent from 2010 to 2011 and then increased by 28 percent from 2011 to 2012 in cities with populations over 100,000.
How do we start to fix this?
Although many kids may find it difficult to imagine a life beyond their current circumstance, that doesn’t give us (adults) the right to fail to teach them how to create their dream machine. However, to do so, we must be a unified voice of encouragement, and we must think creatively on ways to get youth involved in positive activities.
From sports to youth entrepreneurship, we must expose our children to new ways of seeing the world. Encourage them to read a book, learn to code or write a song. Help them to envision a world of possibilities that is worth their hard-work and commitment. Inspire them to activate their own dream machine by sharing yours. Be an inspiration by living well and sharing your passions, joys and failures. Let them know that a good dream machine can take them far.
The challenge is placed before all of us and not just parents and teachers. Kids need to be inspired and included. Playtime should be encouraged, and integration into the community must be required. Kids need a safe place to explore.
No matter how challenging life can get, our kids deserve to know that day-dreaming is a form of art, and their minds are already equipped with the tools they need to create a beautiful and fulfilling future.
Michelle D. Jackson is Founder & Executive Director of i.Invest National Youth Entrepreneur Business Competition , CEO of PR Solutions LLC and author of The Heart of a Man.