Strategies for Raising Children and Preserving Deep Thinking Skills

Having and raising children is a critical part of the propagation of the species. Until Immortality or other reproductive options are realized, or otherwise finally engineered, it is critical to our long term survival. Children are therefore our most important resource.

As you might be aware, we as a society are dealing with increasingly powerful personal technology; including smart phones, google glass and the like. One of the outcomes of this, which we see in the current generation, is increasing pressure for multi-tasking and other randomization while still performing additional tasks. While multi-tasking is a great skill and learning to use this ever increasing amount of technology can be a good thing, it also seems to be degrading certain skill sets in the current generation.

One issue is attention spans, for example teachers and parents alike are seeing short attention spans incidentally and research seems to be supporting this; for example, research by Dr. Chirstakis that studies the impact of technology on the brain at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital said, “teachers’ views were subjective but nevertheless could be accurate in sensing dwindling attention spans” [C].

Using further research from Dr. Pruitt-Mentle and Dr. Kim; "This constant switching, coupled with the fact that information is often reduced into as few bits and bytes as possible, and available nearly instantly through a search on Google or Wikipedia or other such database- type system, may be reducing our ability to store information and therefore reducing our ability to make well-reasoned decisions." [B].

And the worst bit of information comes from the Pew Research Center and Elon University that came to the conclusion, “Millennials Will Lose 'Face-To-Face Social Skills' And 'Deep-Thinking Capabilities' By 2020” [D] because of this indulgence in larger amounts of small bits of data and short term thinking and analysis of that data.

Is this really where we want to go? On many levels our memories are being off loaded to external systems like Facebook and increasingly this is leading the current generation to not be able to do the jobs that require the most knowledge, wisdom and intellectual horsepower. Basically, moving forward will depend on an increasingly small percentage of the population that can do deep thought in Physics and Computer Science and the like. In a worst case scenario, we really are going to increasingly exacerbate the difference between the top 1% and technological elites and the masses; which could easily be compounded numerous times over by other factors. That being said, we can only really focus on ourselves first and how we help our children first to fall onto the elite side of the equation.

I have been researching a lot about deep thought and intellectual skills and finding a balance between giving my children the right access and training but retaining those mental skills on top of the new multitasking; so here is what I’ve tried with some success ...

Controlled Access and Time

While I want my children to learn to master technology especially the bleeding edge to make them better, smarter and the like, I also don’t want that same technology to limit them; so my wife and I place limits on its usage. The children all have smart phones and devices that are allowed out of the house but when they come home, they must set that technology aside at the device bar. When you enter the house, only those over 24 years of age are allowed slates and smart phones; with the exception of homework in specific locations, under controlled circumstances. There are no immersive video games, no TV access except as a family for say a movie and all devices are tightly monitored. Initially this was straight forward, until my sons figured out they could get around this with sneaking in old devices and getting them online etc.

Of course they were thinking I would not figure it out; this resulted in us having a very complex and draconian home network where the kids can’t even ‘try’ to connect without me knowing. This probably is part of the learning for them; the key is to free them to do things without the aid of technology, except when absolutely needed or when they are out of the house and at school to master those technologies. My wife and I also limit our use of that technology in front of the children at home to make it easier to justify our rules to them. In other words, we lead by example.

I’ve found this strategy gives them the access they need to master technologies but the time they need to master their mental strengths. Think of it this way ... the brain is a muscle and to be strong it must be used. What would happen if you sit in a wheelchair all day and never walk for a year? Would your muscles even let you walk after that year? The same principal applies to the mind/brain.

Questions Requiring Critical Thinking

Now that your children have time, how do you actually exercise that brain of theirs? With our children, there are a couple of strategies we use. First, we make sure the children learn how to do math without a calculator. While high school algebra can get into problems that really require it, knowing how to work them even without the calculator is important to really grasping higher mathematics. The calculator or other computing technology needs to augment not act as a crutch. That’s the easy one, the next one is really a bit more esoteric ...

We talk to our children ... walking them through questions that require complex thought and analysis often is important. Learning how to critically work through these complex problems, where we might not even know how to solve the problems, helps get them into the mindset of being able to do deep thought. Start this process by just asking open ended questions. Ask them to explain their answers and their thoughts on it and then asking them to justify those responses and then their conclusions. Applying this to real and imagined scenarios is a great method that we use; and then, as you get better at that or as problems come up, help them confront those and think through those issues on their own; guiding them socratically is what has been our chief technique and so far with success.

When looking at complex problems, they need to learn to filter for relevant data in their heads then correlate and analyze the core facts, and how they relate, and come to complex conclusions. Learning this process is what has historically allowed our great minds to move society forward and these are the minds we need to cultivate to keep that trend going.

Once you get them doing this to one degree or other, you can then engage them in debates where they have to justify their arguments; I think this is the step where those skills really come together, when they articulate their conclusions, back them up and justify them logically.

There is a lot more to this and I’ve included some links at the bottom around references and additional resources but this is, in fact, how I’m attacking the problem and I hope this helps you do the same with your children ... IF you don’t have children and are smart ... find a mate and get going ... while tiresome at times, children are our best hope for the future.


A. “Psychology Today” 3 JUN 2014 by Jim Taylor, Ph. D.
B. “Technology Today Radio” 3 JUN 2014
C. “NY Times” 3 JUN 2014
D. “Business Insider” 3 JUN 2014

Additional Resources: