What Kids Need

The following thoughts examine the idea of meeting our kids‘ educational needs.  These ideas, however, apply to everyone of all ages.)

I have to warn you.  This article is going to ask you to change and work harder.  There’s just no other way.  Teaching and parenting and mentoring is work.  Often, that work is thankless in the moment.  Always, though, it is gratifying work in the long run.  Identifying needs and leading your kids to filling these needs is one of the most important jobs we do as parents and teachers.  


We live in a time of instant gratification.  Tap a screen, boredom gone.  

That’s all kids think they want - to be instantly entertained.  There are positive sides to this, to be sure.  My own kids have learned much from video instruction through YouTube.  

But these are small instants in an otherwise endless stream of wasted hours.  

Instant gratification through digital consumption fills a want - our kids’ desires to be entertained.  But what about their needs?


It’s easy to figure out, superficially, what your kid wants.  Just ask them and/or examine their actions.  A kid loitering in the light of an open refrigerator probably wants food or drink.  A kid mindlessly surfing digital media likely wants to be entertained.  A kid tapping your shoulder surely wants to get your attention.

These wants are likely NOT the same as their actual needs.  

Wants exist at the level of surface emotions.  Needs go much deeper and are of greater consequence.  

Meeting a want equals satisfying an urge.  Meeting a need equals filling a void.

Failing to meet a want can create an emotion.  Failing to fill a need can create a serious, lasting problem.

The kid at the fridge may satisfy their urge with a slice of cake.  But did they fill the void that drove them to the fridge in the first place?


People with high self-awareness can identify and fill their needs.  They know that they are actually standing in the refrigerator door because they are restless, not hungry.  They grab some water (instead of cake), and they turn to an activity to meet their need - maybe art or music or writing; maybe physical exercise or meditation; maybe a hike or bike ride with a friend.

Kids are not highly self-aware.  (Heck, most of us parents are not self-aware, either.)  Kids all too often run on auto pilot (habits) and fail to look past the surface desires (wants) to even contemplate what they need. 

Kids need help.  And helping sometimes means ignoring wants to arrive at the level of need. 

Expect resistance.  Even tears.  This isn’t easy work.  Like all of us, kids often follow well worn paths (habits) to satisfy their wants.  Even worse, these paths  often involve addictive digital activities.   They will experience withdrawal when you pull them off the path.

The good news is that, unlike chemical addictions, these withdrawal periods are brief and even instructive.   My own kids often nod in agreement when I point out just how addictive their YouTube habits can become.

So ask the kid at the fridge to stop wasting electricity.  Recommend they grab some water, and invite them to sit and talk.  Let’s find out what they really need.


Kids need to communicate and create.  I have found this to be true in all cases.

They also need leadership.  (That’s you.)

So when your kids are on their seventh hour online, or have been grazing while watching endless hours of NetFlix, remember this:  help them communicate and create.

I’m not talking about spending money or becoming what my wife calls “Crusty the Clown”.  

Here are just a few ideas.

  • Cook a meal together and add an ingredient of your own
  • Write a review of a YouTube channel they like
  • Play a game and change some rules
  • Go for a walk, take pictures, come back and create a Spark Video

 The bottom line - create something new.  Watch them become engaged and communicative.  Do this often enough and you can build a new habit for solving their urge for entertainment when they are restless.  

It’s not easy.  We are not 100% successful in our home at this.  But when we do it, the results are beautiful.  Our kids are happier.  And we are filling their needs, not just their wants.


Lauren McClure