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When I was a youngster I was obsessed with the Titanic. Not the movie, but the famous steam liner itself. I read articles about it, browsed the internet, and even drew a picture of the ship on a big piece of butcher paper. I was obsessed. My parents encouraged that obsession, and I want to encourage you to do the same with your child’s obsessions.
When the Titanic exhibit still traveled around the country, we went to see it while it was at the Seattle Science Center. Our tickets had names of real passengers, and whether they lived or died. I can’t remember for sure, but this is likely what sparked my obsession.
There were survivor stories, pieces of the hull that they brought up from the ocean floor, and so many more amazing exhibits from the ship and the time period. The metal from the hull had to stay in salt water to preserve it, since it’d been underwater for so long by the time Robert Ballard discovered the wreck in 1985.
Over time, the entire wreck will disintegrate into nothingness.
Identifying Healthy Obsessions
Kids will naturally find things that fascinate them. When we’re much younger, we call them phases. My niece went through a Minnie Mouse phase, and now she’s obsessed with My Little Pony.
There are healthy obsessions and unhealthy obsessions. I think we all know how to identify the unhealthy ones. Drugs, alcohol, pornography, and other vices like that are on the “unhealthy” end of the spectrum.
Obsession: an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind.Google Dictionary
My Titanic obsession was healthy for a number of reasons:
- Because the Titanic was real, it encouraged historical research
- It gave me a conversation starter, since not many people know all that much about it anymore
- It kept me busy (parents didn’t have to worry about what I was doing)
Because of the knowledge I gained from obsessing over the Titanic, I could give short speeches in English class about it without fear—and in a British accent.
So what obsessions are healthy? Books, historical events, TV shows, movies, video games, and popular culture offer a range of things to focus on, but context and content is king.
As a personal preference, I’d people obsess over Harry Potter than Twilight. Or Fifty Shades of Grey, for that matter. Game of Thrones isn’t child-appropriate, yet people are naming their daughters Khaleesi now.
Besides obsessing over content is obsessing over activities. Sports, theater, creative writing, art—anything that stimulates the brain or the body in a healthy way is acceptable.
Why Encourage Obsessions
Encouraging an obsessive mentality is how we get Olympic-level athletes, child actors like Drew Barrymore and Emma Watson (the ones that don’t go bad), prolific authors, and record-breaking musicians. It’s how people end up deeply skilled in one area, like a neurosurgeon, nuclear engineer, or a criminal defense attorney.
What’s the common thread in all of these?
They require massive amounts of focus. Encouraging obsessions encourages that deep focus on one thing that brings joy to a child.
The freedom to focus on what we really want to focus on brings joy to people. Cal Newport calls this “deep work” and when we’re in that zone the time just flies by.
What Can Go Wrong
Have you ever seen Dead Poets Society? It’s a 1980’s drama that showcases what happens when parents try to take away the things their children love. If that sounds depressing… It is. It’s really depressing.
There’s research that shows humans thrive with autonomy. People who have the choice of what to do with their lives are inevitably happier.
The unhappiest people on the planet as a profession are lawyers. They have to bill their time in 6-minute increments and billable hour minimums can range from 1700 to 2300 hours per year! That’s the equivalent of billing between 33 and 44 hours per week… Without vacation. They have practically zero autonomy, and their mental health suffers for it.
So what happens when parents don’t encourage their child’s obsessions?
Apathy, depression, rebellion. Things you’d never choose in a perfect world where you could pursue your dreams and focus intense energy on your obsessions.
What Are You Obsessed With?
Obsessions are not just for kids, but the sooner you encourage them to pursue their passions, the better off they’ll be as adults.
As a kid, my most notable obsessions were with the Titanic and writing original fiction.
So what are you obsessed with? Did it develop in childhood, or is it more recent? Did your parents encourage your childhood obsessions? Do you encourage your kids’ obsessions? I’d love to hear more about them in the comments!