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American Children Growing Less Creative

American Children Growing Less Creative

Tests since 1990 show a steady decline in the creativity levels of American children, despite the fact that IQ tests indicate they are getting smarter.


Score one for public education, but subtract one for hours in front of televisions and computer screens?

As usual, it’s not that simple.

IQ vs CQ

IQ scores have been steadily rising with each generation, thanks to something called the “Flynn Effect”, which basically accounts for the fact that intelligence quotients rise over time. 

Creativity is measured using a test developed in the 1950′s by E. Paul Torrance. Torrance developed a method for using a variety of activities and questions to assess a person’s ability for convergent and divergent thinking, or more simply — problem solving on the fly.

Falling Scores

Until 1990, the creativity quotient of American children steadily rose, but since then, the scores have begun to drop for reasons that researchers can’t precisely pin-point. And this is in sharp contrast to IQ scores, which continue to rise.

Too Much Passive Entertainment

Possible culprits for the fall of creativity range from video games and excessive television viewing, to the fact that in the last twenty years children’s lives have become highly structured, with very little time allowed for play and daydreaming.

Indeed, even schools are guilty of scripting the learning environment to the point where spontaneity is viewed as counterproductive and a time-thief, stealing time away from preparation for testing, which dominates the educational environment.

It’s More Than the Arts

Some critics point to the elimination of art and music courses as the cause of the decline, but experts are quick to point out that creativity is more than art. Invention and imagination are necessary in all professions. Engineers, doctors and businesspeople all need to be able to think beyond the narrow confines of their professional boxes. Blueprints, diagnoses and balance sheets are all forms of “art” that require just as much imagination as writing a novel or making a movie.

What to Do?

One solution involves stepping away from the rote memorization that the testing culture has created in public schools and introduce learning based on problem solving. Schools that employ project-based learning ironically post better scores on their states’ standardized tests than those that “teach to the test”. It is when education centers around the asking of questions and the searching for solutions, that learning occurs and creativity is fostered.

Parents can promote creativity, too, by encouraging the natural instincts of children to ask “why”. This means reading to/with them, watching what they watch and discussing it, and just overall being engaged. Studies have shown that parents have a tremendous effect on whether or not their children grow up to be creative types. Parents who are responsive, but who also challenge their children and create a home environment where children must learn to be flexible and to entertain themselves, produce more creative youngsters.

The Hardship Factor

Growing up in a challenging environment also produces more creative people. This is probably because hardship also forces children to be adaptive and to think outside the box. But it’s not the hardship that makes people creative; it’s their reactions and ability to cope that do it.

Free Play

The king of all creativity makers is still play. Children who can entertain themselves, and who make up games or create alternate fantasy worlds, tend to score highest on creativity tests even as they get older. The child who would rather play with the box, instead of the toy that came in the box, is likely the future inventor or author or Nobel scientist.

Share Your Creativity Stories

What do you see in your community and schools that encourage creativity in young people? 


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8:04AM PDT on Oct 17, 2012


10:35AM PST on Nov 18, 2011

I wonder if it's because they have more exams than they used to, and teachers have to stick so closely to the curriculum that it must be hard for them to teach creatively too.

7:22PM PDT on Sep 13, 2011

Parents should encourage their childs creativity,from a very young age,the responsibility should not only be the education depts.Many teachers are not given the resorces or the time to teach creative subjects.I get fed up with people blaming teachers for lack of what is in many instances,things that are parents should be taking on board.Many school systems are not ideal,but there are a lot of very dedicated teachers out there.My daughter ,and my friend,being just two.

9:48PM PDT on Jul 29, 2010

hello most of these kids can work a computer better than most adults i have have a six year old nephew who practically showed me how to work the wii gaming system

7:40AM PDT on Jul 28, 2010

monica r: you are so right, and it's not just in the inner cities. Even back in the late 80s, when I was in high school -- not the inner city at all -- I would see the kids lined up for their free lunch vouchers (to be eligible, you had to come from a low-income family), and every one of them was wearing designer-label clothes. My nickname back then was "the K-mart Kid," because I was distinctive for not doing that.

And you are also right about the cult of the rap star and sports star. The fact of the matter is, both of those professions are entertainment, and a civilization can only support just so many entertainers. A civilization needs farmers, manufacturers, merchants, and clerks to function, and until kids start to dream of being those, every town will have to have a Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Every advance in civilization, every improvement in living standards, has come about because of creativity within these professions, not because of a new rap album.

12:00PM PDT on Jul 23, 2010

thanks for the article

11:39PM PDT on Jul 22, 2010

Slow down on the television. Back off on the high-tech toys/games. We need to get back to Lincoln Logs, Lego's, etc.

My 10 year old loves to explore the bugs that live outside. Learning during play, all day every day.

12:51PM PDT on Jul 21, 2010


These kids are bright, but behind in academics. I am there because I truly like and appreciate them as people, and I believe they deserve the same chance as kids in affluent neighborhoods. I enjoy working with them very much.

But, they DO have a bigger clothes and gadget budget than me. This saddens me, because it keeps them trapped in the lower economic bracket. I don't blame them, by the way. But the music and to some extent sports stars who brainwash these kids to think the designer labels are what matters instead of what's inside of them, should be ashamed of themselves.

My experience of the parents is that they care and want their children to succeed. I am well aware that resources are few, and minimum wage is not a living wage. I know they are surrounded by crime and violence. These kids do have narrow aspirations. They won't all play pro sports or be rap stars, but most of them say that's their career goals. Meanwhile, African American males are horribly over-represented in prisons, and in unemployment statistics, so it's a grim world.

I only said what I see every day. DH F, go volunteer in an inner city school, because that is what you'll be likely to see, too.

12:35PM PDT on Jul 21, 2010

"I assume you are referring to the welfare woman who lives in luxury while her children go hungry. Never mind that there is no welfare, or that when there was, benefits remained well below the poverty line.
Or is it just American mothers in general that you condemn?"

You assume wrong. I am referring to what I see & hear every day in my inner city high school classroom. It's reality, not a dusty old line.

I love my students, & care about each one, & have done way beyond what my job description requires to help them succeed, which could be preparing for a job or career or college, or just staying in school & out of jail, depending on the student.

90% of them have expensive new phones & MP3 players on them. My phone is old enough that you can't take pictures with it. Who spends least on a clothing item gets ribbed, so it's $100 shoes, which can't have scuffs, $50 t-shirts, $80 hoodies. It may make a difference that the check is SSI for disability. I doubt their mamas are living in luxury. If I had to guess, I'd say they go without constantly so their kids can wear the "right" clothes to school. The culture of consumerism is alive and well in the 'hood.

Paradoxically, these kids don't bring lunch, come to school without having had breakfast (I've spent hundreds on healthy snacks because it's hard to learn if you're hungry), apparently can't afford school supplies (so I buy 'em), & never seem to have money for bus fare.

11:44AM PDT on Jul 21, 2010

Wow I expect this kind of Propaganda from those we fight on here but for this to come from this site. Everyone knows our public school system is a dunbdown factory that puts out workers for McDonalds but to say that kids have no creativity is total Bull and you know it , it saddens me that you would even put this trash on your site its all lies.

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