What Kids' Imaginations are Revealing About Us

My oldest son is in fourth grade, and this week his class was given an assignment to write and illustrate their own books.  The kids were allowed to write about anything they wanted—they could just let their imaginations soar.

My wife helps the teacher with special projects like this and spent some time at the school yesterday assembling and binding the books, and in the process read many of them.  She was really taken aback by how consistently two topics in particular were featured:  missing children, and the end of the world.

More than half of the children in the fourth grade at this school focused on variations of those two topics in books that could have been about anything they wanted, anything that a nine-year old could think of. Consider some of the titles:

“The Lost”

“The Missing”


“3020, the End of the World”

“The Case of the Missing Girl”

“The Missing Parents”

In one of the end-of-the-world stories, a boy wrote about his family building a shelter under their house and stocking it with food and supplies because it would be their “home forever” after “the war.”

In one of the missing children stories, a girl wrote about being stalked in a shopping mall by a strange man while her father desperately searched for her.  In detail, she wrote about hiding in a changing room while the stranger walked from room to room hunting her down. The story ended with her being taken by the stranger and lost forever.

This may be a relatively small sampling of kids, but how they are interpreting and amplifying the fears that plague adult minds is telling.  I think we underestimate how closely kids pay attention to the news, and how much they are internalizing fears about children being kidnapped, terrorism, war and the variety of other frightening topics coming at us from all directions.

And not only from the news, but from television dramas and movies that we adults watch while the kids are playing in another room. Are they peeking over and picking up on the plotlines? Are they focusing on violence in the shows done to kids just like them?  If these stories are any indication, it sure seems that they are.

My takeaway from this is that the rising generation is very aware of what we, their parents and other adults, are afraid of, and they are spending a lot of time thinking about it. Their pictures and stories are telling us about their fears, but in an even larger sense, they’re telling a story about us.


9 thoughts on “What Kids' Imaginations are Revealing About Us

  1. David, those children who wrote the dark stories with themselves as protagonists have problems. Separation anxiety occurs on varying levels with all kids but especially hit hard are those children who have erratic parenting, or the relationship between the parents is erratic. My grandson is in the fourth grade and is both an ardent reader and an excellent athlete. He tends to read stories that are in a series. I have to admit a lot of the children in the stories are “on their own.”He has learned from his caring parents and grandparents that he is very loved and very protected. His self-esteem is high, based on his own achievements. Very intelligent, he is too young to have a full introduction to the world around him. A little at a time. That said – I heard last night that a high school girl in our small SoCal city, very bright and talented, hung herself. Communicate with the happy bright kids as well as the moody, difficult kids. tom Medlicott

  2. This is a great article. We live in an apocalyptic age. Not that we are necessarily facing an actual apocalypse, but that we are consumed with the thought of it.

    There’s a wonderful graphic novel by Neil Gaiman called ‘Signal to Noise’ that’s about a film director at the end of his life imagining a group of villagers in the year 1000 anticipating an apocalypse– which never comes. I think you’d like it.

    Still, I think the zeitgeist of doom is really just the sense that things are changing so fast. I hope this generation recognizes that the end of one world signals the start of a new one.

  3. Good stuff.

    More and more I’ve noticed that parents aren’t allowing their kids to be kids. There’s this weird, desperate vibe of their attempting to make their young kids into friends. Your kids aren’t your friends. They need discipline and guidance, not complete synopses of current gloom-and-doom affairs. You’re supposed to ease their fears, not add to them.

  4. With the demise of so many gloom and doom religious groups, I’ve often wondered where that attitude saw release. Not being one who watches much TV, it never occurred to me that it might be buried in the themes of so many TV series.

    I guess now I know.

    PS. My kids have a no TV during the week policy.

  5. We cannot effectively shelter our kids from adult themes and images because the media/marketing machine is everywhere. They definitely grow up sooner. I think that they have to.

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