“Raising Up The Imagination Generation” ~ An Essay By John Schlimm
The Imagination Generation
Kids born after 2012 are tagged as Generation Alpha—a term coined by Australian researchers led by Mark McCrindle to maintain, as he told The New York Times, “scientific nomenclature” in denoting the first generation to emerge entirely in the 21st Century.
While I can appreciate a grandiose nod to the noble Greek alphabet and the allusion to the birth of a new beginning, the majority of us on Main Street who are not researchers in a lab with surveys in hand can certainly add a more personal touch here. One that actually meets these extraordinary kids where they are with a nickname that better befits who they are and the unprecedented potential they possess. From there, we raise them up!
So, I prefer to also celebrate today’s kids as The Imagination Generation.
What exactly does it mean to be a part of The Imagination Generation? What does it mean to parent them, teach them, mentor them, understand them, learn from them, or simply show them the respect they deserve and to provide them with the tools to launch themselves and, indeed, all of us into the brightest future yet? And, what is the one major pitfall that threatens to bring it all crashing down, and how can we avoid it?
Every human being is born with a limitless imagination. However, kids today—newborn to age nine—have more tools and pathways for exploring, cultivating, and wholly realizing their imaginational potential—inside their still-developing brains—than any other generation before them. This moment in time is their jackpot-winning lottery ticket.
The ever-expanding and evolving tools at the disposal of kids today for kick-starting their imaginations are plentiful: minute-by-minute upgrades in multimedia technology and inventions and breakthroughs; thriving skills-based education; increased awareness of social and cultural issues; more fluent ease of travelling from here to everywhere; a spectacular menu of eclectic role models; bulkier exposure to the Arts and Humanities; expansive options for extracurricular activities; greater understanding and appreciation of diversity, equity, and inclusion; and older siblings, parents, teachers, community leaders, and others—spanning Gen-Zers, Millennials, Gen-Xers, Baby Boomers, and beyond—who have helped to pave the way before them into this fantastic, unprecedented new era of personal exploration and development.
All combined, with this massive tool chest The Imagination Generation can more easily step into, navigate, create, and realize who they authentically are and the contributions they will make in the world.
The collective creativity in both quality and quantity of their imaginations is poised to become the greatest gift that The Imagination Generation will give to this world moving forward. Much like Gen-Zers have given us the biggest leap forward in mental health advocacy through their ease and raw courage in smashing stigmas by speaking aloud words like “anxiety,” “depression,” “addiction,” and “suicide,” and emboldening the rest of us to follow suit. And, how early-on Millennials, who are largely the parents of The Imagination Generation, gave us the gift of tearing down stereotypes and barriers around things like race, gender, and faith as a fresh lens through which to see more thoroughly the unique beauty of other human beings standing before us.
While challenges such as income inequality, housing and food insecurity, systemic discrimination, and access to other resources can be roadblocks for sure, imagination is the one constant gift—from the beginning of time—that has consistently allowed us to leap over these and other challenges.
Our imaginations need little more than thin air from which to create whole new worlds before our very eyes.
On paper, this all looks and sounds very Happily Ever After: Ahhh, The Imagination Generation! YAY! And it can be, but unfortunately it’s not that easy. After all, every compelling story for the ages also has a formidable villain.
Today, The Imagination Generation faces a singular threat that is naturally positioned as their archnemesis: mental health challenges—such as anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and so on. The greatest enemy that can prevent young people from fully embracing their imaginations stems from the same fountain as their boundless creativity: their brains. Mental health issues are often the vicious and angsty vacuum that sucks the life out of that thin air from which imaginations can create magic and light and destiny.
But one thing I know for sure about us adults is that we don’t go down without a fight, and The Imagination Generation is comprised of the toughest, most resilient little superheroes-in-the-making that I’ve ever met. So, Villain, BEWARE: It’s game on!
In creating my first picture book The Star Jumped Over the Moon—a story about a tiny star that wakes up one day in a nest inside an apple tree and doesn’t quite understand who, where, or why he is, which is exactly how we all enter this world—I sought to portray, and empower, the ultimate heights to which recognizing and embracing our curiosity, imagination, natural gifts, challenges, and all that makes us different can lead. This life is not an easy maze of branches to traverse, especially when you factor in mental health, but it’s not impossible either and it’s so worth the journey. And for The Imagination Generation, reaching the moon and stars truly is only a beginning for them. We just need to defuse the toxic and add the fuel of encouragement, kindness, and inspiration. From there, they rise!
My experience with The Imagination Generation—who are naturally fun, energetic, fearless, adventurous, creative, humorous, and wise beyond their years—has produced five main guideposts for us adults to follow. These aspirational trailheads, if you will, to amazing pathways will help us enable the young people in our lives to stride full speed into the eternal space of their imaginations and to make sure the villain of mental health challenges is effectively managed and neutralized in each of their narratives.
Trailhead 1: Encourage them to discover, develop, and use their natural gifts, curiosity, creativity, empathy, and critical thinking.
Trailhead 2: Introduce them to exploration and to as many heights of possibility as you can.
Trailhead 3: Help them to recognize, appreciate, embrace, and utilize what makes them unique and different. And in doing so, teach them to be nonjudgmental and forgiving toward themselves and others.
Trailhead 4: Let them have a lot of fun! (And have fun with them!)
And, Trailhead 5: When it comes to mental health, first recognize and work to heal your own mental health issues. Then, open lines of honest discussion, speaking words like “anxiety” and “depression” aloud to them—give them the vocabulary, clarification, and confidence they need to further empower their own voices, brains, and well-being. Also, proactively research and verify that there are beneficial mental health resources and knowledgeable influencers readily available by interviewing teachers, school counselors, and community leaders; making sure your pediatrician and larger healthcare system are comfortable talking about and treating these issues; keeping your advocate’s eye and voice tuned to community activities and legislation impacting mental health; and ensuring that extracurricular activities are feeding the mind and not stressing it to a breaking point.
Never forget: we are the superheroes today that The Imagination Generation is relying on to help raise them into the superheroes who will create tomorrow!
Please also enjoy The Imagination Generation Activity Zine, which is available as a free download, by clicking HERE.
About John Schlimm
John Schlimm is a Harvard-trained educator, artist, advocate, and international award-winning author of more than twenty books, including his new picture book for children, The Star Jumped Over the Moon. He is also the co-founder of The Kindness Rocks & Smiles Community Project™, as well as creator of The Gen-Z Time Capsule in collaboration with The Andy Warhol Museum and THE SMILE THAT CHANGED THE WORLD (is yours).