Parents should butt out of their children’s lives, says Australian author Andy Griffiths. Best-known for his Treehouse series, his latest,The 65-Storey Treehouse, was the best-selling book in the country last year. He and his collaborator, illustrator Terry Denton, meet about 20,000 children each book tour.
The writer has strong beliefs about raising children that he believes would help kids and adults alike. “I think parents are way too much in their kids’ business. I would rather parents concentrate on making themselves happier and fulfilled people and lead by example there,” Griffiths says.
Beloved kids author only writes books for his 10-year-old self.
When he was a secondary teacher, he saw in some colleagues a fear, an assumption that an unoccupied child is somehow dangerous. He advocates quite the opposite, encouraging parents to let their kids get bored regularly. “Anything that requires the adults to put in a lot of work, I’m a little suspicious of.”
Of course, boundaries need to be set and parents need to help children achieve a balance in how they spend their time. But jumping in to solve problems or relieve boredom is counter-productive. “I think the adult sets the kid up so they can draw on their own resources.”
Children’s book author Andy Griffiths lets his mind wander on the train. He says allowing children downtime encourages …
Children’s book author Andy Griffiths lets his mind wander on the train. He says allowing children downtime encourages them to use their imaginations. Photo: Simon Schluter
The present-day tendency to fill every night with an activity is far from ideal. Griffiths says he sees a lot of over-scheduled children. “Just because there are all these options for your child now, whether it’s sporting or artistic or educational, it doesn’t mean they are all appropriate for your child, or that most of them have to be pursued.” He advocates free time, downtime “in which you simply dream and imagine and maybe read a book, which in a way is the ultimate immersion and non-doing”.
He is very concerned about the current obsession with marks and ATAR scores. “People are locking down the process of education to a number of points we have to get to. That is not the way that I learn effectively … I guess that’s the message … allow plenty of time and don’t be so obsessed with outcomes. The emphasis on outcomes is misguided because you can’t know what the outcome is until you set out on the path. I feel if you do try to prematurely limit that outcome, you’re going to end up with an inferior result, whether that’s a kids’ education, or [in writing] a book.”
As a society, we undervalue the importance of play, according to Griffiths. “Now from someone like Edward de Bono, we’re learning that there is a very powerful, serious component to play. It’s how we solve problems more creatively, more happily, it’s how we get along with people.
“So when I have my kids playing in the Treehouse, they’re involved in life and death matters in that play. Play requires time.”
Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton have no trouble tapping into their inner 10-year-olds.
Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton have no trouble tapping into their inner 10-year-olds. Photo: James Penlidis Photography
See Spectrum for a piece by Andy Griffiths about growing up free-range in the 1970s.
Top Treehouse Parenting Tips
1. Relax. Childhood is not a competition or a race. Slow down and smell the Play-Doh.
2. Try to help your child (and yourself) find a balance between screen time, reading time and outside play time.
3. Read with your child and let them observe you reading by yourself (your actions speak louder than words).
4. Be mindful of how much you are trying to fit into your – and your child’s – life. Have regular periods of free time with nothing scheduled.
5. Allow your child to become bored and trust in their ability to find ways to create their own fun. Resist the temptation to step in and “save” them.
6. Build your child a multi-storey treehouse (just kidding! See Tip 5).
– Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton