Auto-focus

I love my digital camera.  Honestly, it takes better pictures than I deserve to be taking with my limited photographic skill.

The thing I can’t stand about it is that it’s designed to decide by itself what to focus on.  It’s supposed to be smart this way.  Even if something’s not in the middle of the frame, if the camera thinks it’s the most important thing, it’ll choose it.

Our relationship to children and childhood is a little like this at the moment.  We’re looking at kids through an auto-focus mechanism in which a preexisting force determines what we should look at, and thus not only what we’re able to see clearly but what we decide to put our attention on and pour our resources into. The things we know to look for and look at include reading or not reading, remembering multiplication facts or not, paying attention during the school day or not, getting in fights or not, doing homework and chores cheerfully or not.

The things we don’t tend to look for or see are the things about kids that are already beginning to determine and predict what they actually have to offer and what might make them thrive.  We might notice in passing, but we don’t give our attention to these things, because we’re busy with what the camera wants us to look at.  We don’t see the hints as to what activities and tasks kids are best-suited to, what kind of social situations are most comfortable for them and thus bring out their most pro-social behavior, what kinds of work they’ll likely be able to thrive at and sustain as adults.  Even though it’s right there in the frame.

What might change if you made the switch to manual focus?  What would you see?  Who is your child already, beyond the ways in which she doesn’t excel in school or other activities?  What does she do for hours at a time (exclusive of those things she does out of exhaustion or resistance)?  When is she full of vitality?  Who are the people who bring out the best in her?

You’ve seen your child’s brilliance and capacity, but you may also have been encouraged in this way to think of it as peripheral.  What if you moved it to the center of the frame, and let the rest get fuzzy as you go to work on honoring, validating, developing the brilliance and capacity that’s already there?

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