Are We Beating Creativity Out Of Our Kids?

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No one knows exactly where talent comes from, some people say it comes from God, some say it comes from our Parents and in some extreme scientific cases…genetic mutations. Whatever the case, we know talent is a special gift, but sadly we manage to scare talent out of our children daily.

Just several weeks I am at the Nnamdi Azikwe Airport waiting for my flight (that flight was coincidentally suspended due to the Dana aircrash) to Lagos to be called up, when this young girl about 5 or 6 years in age suddenly gets up and starts twirling around like a ballerina. I know she was dancing like a ballerina because an older gentleman surrounded by his family stared in excitement and said “look there she goes dancing just like a ballerina!” But before his words of admiration could fully resonate into the ears of the twirling dancer, her mum screams the words most Nigerian children are used to hearing “C’mon will you sit-down!” sending the girl into a paralytic I-better-sit-down-or-am-gonna-get-whooped stance as she cowers into her seat as yet another dream is killed prematurely.

Everywhere I go in Nigeria I see people using the S-words on their kids “shut-up” and “sit-down.” In a country saturated with the S-word, we end up having very well behaved children that are afraid to touch toys in a toy store without the explicit approval of their parents! But who can blame them…in secondary school, I was afraid to touch computers in the computer lab…

We spend the first year of a child’s life teaching it to walk and talk and the rest of its life to shut-up and sit-down. There’s something wrong there.

~Neil deGrasse Tyson


In the early 90’s when computers were just becoming popular across the globe, we were fortunate to have some in my secondary school. But we were frightened of them, frightened because the computer teacher treated those things as sacred, we were not allowed extra time on the computers and did our boring DOS exercises and were promptly made to scoot. Anyone who tried to do anything beyond DOS was met with thunder, fire and spit from the inadvertent splashes of our computer teacher’s saliva as he yelled “stop playing around with the computers.” I doubt that I would have grown up to be a computer guru if I had the free reign to play around with the computers, but I do think that someone in my class set could have done something special with computers early on. Especially if they had the same level of computer freedom as certain silicon-valley entrepreneur did in his youth.

Everybody knows about Bill Gates…intelligent computer programmer who dropped out of Harvard to create arguably the most important computer company in the history of the world…Microsoft.

His story is a tale of pure talent and genius. But what people fail to realize is that the real reason Bill Gates was successful was not solely because of an innate technical talent but rather due to a combination of talent and freedom. Freedom to explore and play with computers without being yelled and spat at.

In the 1960s, when computers were still quite rare and computer programming was still being done with the laborious and tedious punch card system….the students at Lakeside high-school were programming with something different. It was a then sophisticated computer terminal that connected straight to a mainframe computer in downtown Seattle.

You see back then it was very expensive to own actual computers…so instead of spending anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 on a device…small organizations invested in what we call a time sharing computer terminal. What the terminal allowed you to do was to connect remotely to a mainframe computer and then purchase time to program with the computer. Despite the scaled down nature of the computer terminal device, it still cost a whopping $3000 to purchase. And in a time when only a few organizations could afford such a hefty price tag, the students of Lakeside high had the computer terminal device in their backyard.

One of the students that really benefited from this  was none other than Bill Gates. He was able to practice full scale computer programming hours on end at a time when very few people had even heard about computers. To put into perspective the significance of this exposure, one has to understand that $3000 in 1968 was way worth what it is now. I can imagine myself in secondary school with a $3000 computer in our computer the room…the teachers will simply just make us stare at the computer but never touch it. But in Bill’s case, he and his classmates were allowed to probe and poke at the computer freely and this is what defined his success.

Sadly, I see too many teachers and parents not allowing their kids poke around, dance around or mess around with items, for fear that they will break, spoil or destroy it. That fear limits talents and stifles creativity. But that is a fear we are used to…because it is ingrained in us right from birth. I remember buying a toy action figure for our housegirl’s 2 year old son…I gave it to the son one morning and he played around excitedly with the toy. By the time I had come back home from lunch break, the toy was on the top most part of our bookshelf. It was as if Michael Jordan himself had lifted it and placed it on the shelf. But I know it was not MJ but the boy’s mother (the housegirl) who placed the toy on the shelf. And that was where it remained for the rest day…after which I never saw the toy again. I really don’t know what happened to the toy, I would like to believe it was taken home so that the young child could play with it, but I doubt it. Because it was the same thing I experienced growing up, we got gifts, but were only allowed to play with them on special occasions such as Christmas day and Easter Holidays. The rest of the time the toys were locked up in some secret cabinet, which we had to break into from time to time (sorry mom) to access. The fact is that we were not allowed to be free with toys or computers…and that lack of freedom affects one’s ability to create or be creative.

That is why the typical (not every) Nigerian child tends to interact with their environment with hesitation, as if they are waiting for permission from their parents. While other children, run around wildly, exploring poking and yelling at their environment…sometimes with the encouragement of their parents.

The honest truth is that if we are to raise creative children, the ones that will challenge societal norms and beliefs, we would have to let them be free.

And even if they misbehave or are being naughty, we should still allow ourselves discover the genius they possess while still whopping their behind disciplining them. Because talent in all its mysteriousness shows itself during a child’s good behavior and when they are being naughty…just like a certain computer icon.

Steve Jobs was clearly a difficult child while growing up, he was always playing pranks, was extremely rude and self-centered. But despite his outlandish behavior, he had a talent and his parents were smart enough to notice it and rather than making his bad behavior their focus, they instead focused on his positives. Something quite difficult especially when you look at some of the crazy pranks he played on his parents. For instance he once wired his parent’s house with speakers and since speakers in reverse could also be used as microphones, he was able to listen in on what was going on in all the rooms in the house. You can imagine the sounds he heard from the master bedroom…All that came to a much needed  end when his dad discovered the devices reverse use and made Steve Jobs remove the system from the house.

Now ordinary parents would have focused on Steve’s misbehavior and discouraged him from playing with electronics…especially since he was being mischievous with them. But thankfully Steve’s parents where no ordinary parents, they saw the potential he had with electronics and duly supported his interest by enrolling him in numerous electronics clubs and supporting his internship at Hewlett Packard. If not for his parents ability to see the talent embedded in his mischief, the world might have been robbed of Itunes, Imacs, Ipads and Iphones. In a similar way, if the child in the airport was free to thwirl around who knows what she could become. She could become a world renowned dancer…

Gillian Lynne in the 1930’s suffered from a common classroom disease…boredom.

Because of boredom she could not sit still and was constantly fidgeting in class. Her fidgeting behavior had gotten so bad that she had begun to distract her classmates. Concerned, the school wrote her parents saying in their words “We think Gillian has a learning disorder.”

Her Mum, worried that her daughter might be suffering from a type of mental problem took her to a hospital for a medical analysis. They arrived at the hospital and entered an oak paneled room to see the doctor. With Gillian at her side, her mum proceeded to explain to the doctor all of Gillian’s problems in class. She talked about how Gillian was always distracting others in class and how her homework was always late. After they finished discussing, the doctor walked over to Gillian and told her that he needed to talk to her mum in a private room. But right before he walked out, he tuned the radio to a musical station and turned up the volume. What happened next could simply be described as magical…So magical I would narrate it exactly as it was narrated in Sir Ken Robinson’s classic TED talk “Are Schools Killing Creativity”

But as they went out the room, he turned on the radio that was sitting on his desk, and when they got out the room, he said to her mother, “Just stand and watch her.” And the minute they left the room, she said, she was on her feet, moving to the music. And they watched for a few minutes and he turned to her mother and said, “Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick; she’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”

I said, “What happened?”

She said, “She did. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was. We walked in this room and it was full of people like me, people who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.” Who had to move to think. They did ballet, they did tap, they did jazz, they did modern, they did contemporary…”

Today Gillian Lynne is responsible for some of the most amazing dance pieces and choreography in the world and as recent as 2001, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award by the Royal Academy of Dance, which is highest honor the academy could bestow on any dancer. She went on to become one of the most successful British dance choreographers in history.

Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not — because the thing they were good at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.

~ Sir Ken Robinson


If it was a typical family, she would have been screamed at and shouted upon and then flogged until she literarily stopped dancing for fear that she was doing something wrong. Her name would have graced the honor roll of noise makers repeatedly. But because, she was allowed to dance and without hearing the s-words she was able twirl her way to success and today she has shared her talents with millions of millions of people and her name is written on the pages of international newspapers versus the tattered pages of exercise books as a noisemaker or troublemaker.

I often wonder about the concept of writing names of noisemakers, what it achieves or aims to achieve. I often look around at people in my class or in society that are making a difference today and it is hard to imagine them not on the noisemakers list. They are vocal, they often speak up while others are quiet, they are social revolutionaries, but they are lucky because their ability to effect change were not robbed from them in primary or secondary school by ostracizing them as noisemakers or outcasts that need to seat still and be quiet while their environment screamed to be touched.

The truth is that there are many Gillian Lynne’s, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs out there, but for every one of them there are many others who would never be given the opportunity to shine. They are the funny looking ones, the ones that get on the noise makers lists, the ones get bored with school just like you probably were, the ones whose imagination runs so wild that they need to speak to express it. They are the outcasts, the outliers, the drop outs. If we are able to see the magic in them, see their potential and spare the rod just for a little bit we might see their talent.

Now I am not an expert in raising children, but I do have some experience being a child. And I do know that if you are constantly told to shut-up or sit-down as a child you would tend to grow up to conform to society, but if you are encouraged to express yourself as a child, you can grow up to revolutionize society.

We should encourage our children and other children in general to express themselves, to run around, to sing out loud to scream and shout. You never know several years later you and other adults might be running around and screaming as they unleash their talent on the world.

Ofili is an award winning dancer motivational speaker, author, success coach and karate kid entrepreneur who blogs about life, success and entrepreneurial excellence. Follow him on twitter , facebook or subscribe to his blog for more success TIPS!” To bring Ofili to your school or organization as a speaker simply go here. He has written two books, How Laziness Saved My Life and the best-selling How Stupidity Saved My Life, to find out how they both saved his life visit

Wishing You Extreme Success,



Words by Okechukwu Ofili of
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52 comments on “Are We Beating Creativity Out Of Our Kids?

  1. You should have a facebook share button and not just the like for your stories.
    This is great and I think lots of people need to read this.

  2. Speciall on said:


    This is a truly a deep and insightful post.I felt your words as I reminisce about my life as a child.Just like you,my computer teacher never allowed us touch the computers!

    It was crazy! I just stared in awe at those periods in class,wondering as if the computer were from Mars.

    As I write to you,my boss fired me on 2nd July 2012 and then I fired him.What I meant by that is that he thought I would come back to apologise(the sack was due to some alleged grievances) but I chose to do my thing.

    Now,am working on starting my own business in interior decoration. You never can tell where out of the box creative thinking will land you.

    Again,fantastic post!

  3. Kimama on said:

    Absolutely true… Great piece… Well done. I choose to pursue the things i have a flair for. Better late than never.

  4. jennifer on said:

    I’m using my phone to read this article and gosh the font is so freaking tiny! I can barely see a thing even if I squint. I can’t even zoom! The article seems interesting but its sad I can’t read a thing. Please do somethning about this!

  5. Wow!! I couldn’t help reading everything, word for word. This is something that has been on my mind for a long time. I actually loved the arts, dancing, singing, drama. But then in Secondary school, art students were the unserious ones. If you were smart or thought you were, you had to be a science student!
    After studying Microbiology in the University, where I spent my spare time dancing, acting and attending shows, I rediscovered myself and I’m enrolling in a performing art school.
    I really think we should give our children the freedom to explore and not conform to what the society expects of them.

  6. Dike Chukwumerije on said:

    Beautiful piece. And very true. But, sometimes, men, these children can drive you crazy. I’ve got two of my own. And, trust me, I’m not trying to kill their creativity when I tell them to shut up and sit down; I’m just trying to save my sanity! But I totally agree with you. Keep it up.

  7. queenie on said:

    This is quite sad. I was at ice cream factory the other day and some kids with their parents couldn’t even express their delight at the rich taste.

  8. loretta on said:

    Thanks a lot for this piece. At least now I know I’m not dumb. I’m just not where I’m supposed to be. But the thing is I have to stick with it so I can hand over the certificate to daddy. He can keep it, I don’t think I want it.☺ and then I can go be myself or something. I haven’t quite decided. 😀

  9. happyhausabunny on said:

    So tru! Parents hold deir kids bak 4rm pursuing wat dey av passion for! My younga bro is goin 2 sch in sept 2 do a course he totally has no interest in! He rilly wants 2 b a pilot bt cuz sum ppl told my mum pilots dnt av 2nd hand value he shld do sumthn else. Now he’s bin forced 2 go study a course he does nt like. Nice write as usual.

  10. NatPatBen on said:

    Fantastic article. Loved the concept, examples given, & stories shared. I also would share this on Facebook if there were such a button.

  11. lilian on said:

    thanks 4 d great write, your words are true but wat do u expect mothers to do when ur 5yr old son think he’s Tarzan nd crawls, ur 9 year old thinks he’s ben10 nd flies, while ur 7 year old gal thinks she’s d next miss world nd wouldn’t let ur make up rest. we love our kids but to maintain a little sanity, we still need to use d ‘s’ words from time to time. Thanks 4 ur write up, it was really eye opening

    • Ofili

      Lilian…you definitely have to use the s-word from time to time. It is almost impossible not to…what I am saying is that people should not abuse it. In the Steve Jobs story, his parents disciplined him but still supported his talented. We can discipline our children but should still catch the talent they posses and harness it.

  12. Hi Ofili,
    Beautiful article!!! Most times the idea is not to kill their creativity. In our bid to parent the kids and save our sanity we end up not paying attention to what the kids are actually manifesting. I ve got two energetic boys whom i have discover to be talkatives and quite observant and notices everything they see or hear.

    Sometimes when they are almost wearing me out with their talk, i tend to remind myself not to shut them down.
    we must all be careful how you percieve things. Our kids are diamonds in the rough.

    • Ofili

      Awww…that is so dope to hear that from a Parent. Keep rocking! I am sure your children and Nigeria will benefit greatly from your actions.

  13. Very interesting article (from Uncle ie. a person who can give back the kids when they are naughty…wink,wink). Jokes apart, more parents need to let their kids be kids and nurture their passions rather than bending them to conform. I am a privileged mother of two unique and amazing kids (yes, of course I am biased. At six and three, they are a handful but I make a daily effort not to stifle them. Mazeltov (Okare) Uncle Ofili.

  14. BRAVO!!! I can totally relate to this. I teach a 13 year old cousin of a friend of mine. My friend told me many times that the boy was a complete dunce, he wasn’t doing well in school and all that stuff.

    But on talking to him, I found out he had an intelligent, curious mind. He loved English—-in fact—-he read Purple Hibiscus when he was 8 or 9.

    I’m not done with him yet, but I must say that seeing him i such a light made me wonder how many intelligent children, who were told over and over again that they were dunces, could have turned out a little different if they were given encouragement and freedom.
    Uchendu latest post is The Day I Saw a Bus Driver BurningMy Profile

    • Uchendu man! your comment is so encouraging. I totally believe that everyone has a unique talent but yet parents and teachers (especially in Nigeria) find a way to shout, scream and scare that talent out of them. I am so excited we have someone like you that is going out of their way to help people. Keep on rocking.

      PS: Nice blog…checking out your latest article on the bus driver.
      Okechukwu Ofili latest post is Ofilispeaks Magically Appears in THISDAY NewspaperMy Profile

  15. I totally agree with this write up. Growing up, my younger brother (he’s about 8 years younger) used to doodle a lot in his class and homework books. It got really terrible; he would draw on his assignments, class notes…. Now the average Nigerian parent would whoop his ass and ban him from ever drawing again. But this is what my parents did; they told him that while they wouldn’t be against him drawing, the didn’t like the idea of him drawing in his class books. So they bought him a separate book where he could doodle as much as he wanted; but only after he had done his homework. My brother was excited! He would spend hours upon hours buried into his drawing book, drawing all sort of silly things. Honestly they were really silly but as the years went by, I began to observe more and more realism to his drawings. The day he drew a real-life potrait of my mother and I didn’t have to guess who he was drawing (like was the case so many times), I knew he had truly found his part. He’s in the university now studying creative arts. Of course some family members found this strange, considering that i studied Engineering and my sister is studying Pharmacy. Especially as he had always said he wanted to be an architect. But I can assure you he had no tough time making this decision; neither did my parents. I see a very bright future for him.

    • Ofili

      Wow! This is really dope…I am even having a light bulb moment. I could add this comments to my actual books cause they are all so on point to the point…thanks for commenting =)

  16. Beautiful article. This issue is such an issue in this country, each time I see a hollywood movie promoting creativity, say singing, dancing or even drawing and I just imagine that scene replayed in a nollywood movie, well let’s just say u know the feeling.
    Some kids are quite fortunate to even exhibit these talents (to be shouted at sef), my own case was something else….CONFUSION. I was a really timid kid, had no dreams whatsoever. Whenever I was asked the all famous “what would u like to be when u grow up” the responses were always different…, doctor, actress, artist etc. Up until I got admission into the university to study civil engineering (which frankly is something that was decided for me), I still wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to be but I had to make up some “I want to be the world’s greatest engineer story” to back up that decision. It was in the course of pursuing my civil engineering career that I realized I had a passion for something else …..FASHION, I found myself making some beautiful sketches behind my lecture notes and handouts, I was excited whenever I had to try on new clothes, or anytime I had a new fashion item and so I decided to nurse that little passion. I graduated just last year and decided to purchase a machine to teach myself how to sew, been doing a pretty good job at that, people love my designs and are amazed when I tell them “I made it myself and my engineering helped me with the cutting” lol. I’m also holding on to my civil engineering career (I’m 22 incase u’r wondering) which is something I’ve grown to love, buh I’m grateful to God I discovered a talent, something I can do without the “books”.
    Parents and guardians really need to pay attention to the kids in their care and be extra observant, not every kid can discover their talent on their own.

  17. Ikechukwu Iycent on said:

    Wow, having a boring time this morning, its wrong; just thinking things are not working. U gave me a pause, to re-think, thanks.

    Just feeling angry with while on d computer accessing my mails thought i should start deleting and unsubscribing from lots of news letters and delete their folders.

    On getting to your folder let me see a reason to leave yours, i chose to read ARE WE BEATING CREATIVITY OUT FROM OUR KIDS, was drown in it, I then decide to come to the original source to read other hidden part of the story, though very, long but I was still very inspired.

    You are such a punch of inspiration. Thanks cos while I was busy reading I was able to have a glance on pass days; the hard times, difficult, n unbearable times. I understand something kept me still on, and it is inside ready to come out, that is why I’m uncomfortable.

  18. Ah Ofili! Thanks for this. Will need to really ask for God’s wisdom so that I can take a balanced approach to disciplining my children and allowing them to express themselves. It can be hard when you see them breaking stuff, making a mess and wasting hard-earned dough doing so (lol), but it is good to become creative ourselves in creating spaces and opportunities for them to channel their creativity while keeping our sanity!!

  19. Lady S on said:

    Great article! Even though it’s happening slowly, parents are beginning to open up to letting their children into unconventional occupations…I think we’d need an overhaul of the educational system for this should happen on a larger scale…

  20. This brought tears to my eyes. Brilliant write up.True words.I can totally relate to this. I have a similar story. I trained as a lawyer (by force) but today I’m an artist & musician.

  21. Master piece OS! Reading this makes me feel guilty, at the way I keep screaming at my son who is less than 3 but I feel he has a mechanical mind . The first thing he does with anything is to turn it upside down or sometimes break open and I will scream and whoop………talking about shuting up when he starts making drum beats with his mouth and I struggle to make him quite. Now I know better, pray the harm has not been done and one will try to adjust. Hoping to know where to draw the line…….

  22. I’ll be wrong if I don’t share this piece. It’s an inspiring read. Awesome too!….This truth sure resonates with me. The piece of advice I’d gladly give to my younger self is: ditch your parents’ constant yell about ‘you-don’t-know-how-to’ and live your dream. And you won’t be scrapping bottom now. Now I, like most others, have to double the effort to really live my dream. Thanks bro, for this!

  23. Ijogah on said:

    I am currently researching on this JSSCE. Can any one give the statistics of JSSCE RESULT. WITHIN 2010/2017.
    the only good JSCCE does is that it makes the students to prepare for more academic task thus making then to be more conscious of there attendance to school for 3- years

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