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Cultivating creativity in teenagers

BEING involved in something creative, such as performing arts or writing, is beneficial to teenagers in lots of ways, from simply building their confidence to helping them in later life making presentations or going for interviews. One of the most important aspects of a creative activity is how it helps to develop a teenager's sense of personal identity.

Author Claire Hennessy has written nine novels for teenagers, the first of which was Dear Diary… published when she was only 13. She now regularly undertakes author visits and writing workshops for schools, libraries and festivals.

"A creative activity such as writing is particularly important for teenagers as an outlet and a way of having something of your own – your own voice. Teenagers are at the point where they're developing their identities and it's easy to get sucked into what everybody else is doing," she says.

"Creative writing or drama workshops help young people to come out of their shells because they meet people with common interests that they wouldn't necessarily meet at school."

Rob Murphy, founder of Dramatic Action Stage School in Dublin, agrees. He teaches around 500 young people dance and drama each week.

"Doing drama helps teenagers to learn to speak for themselves and express how they feel about things. This will help them later, for example, with assignments in college or presentations at work. Going into rooms full of people to compete is less frightening for them. Dance helps a person's posture and overall confidence, which can be very helpful at job interviews," he says.

"School has become prohibitive; teenagers feel they have to act how other people act. A creative activity like drama means they meet more people with similar traits to themselves and they feel a lot more comfortable about who they are."

Murphy has noticed big differences in children and teenagers in relatively short time frames once they've joined a class.

"If you monitor a teenager's six-week development in a dance or drama class the difference is often huge. They may have started off not talkative, but in drama, children have to work together. They're thrown in at the deep end with improvisation and this is great for team work. I have rarely seen a child join and leave a drama or dance class."

Hennessy points out that one of the good things about activities such as writing is it's hard to assess what success means when it comes to creativity.

"It's useful for young people to get away from the notion that you're either good at something or you're not, but rather get a sense early on that a creative activity is more of a process. Natural aptitude is not the be all and end all – it's just the starting point," she says.

"A lot of people in life struggle with the process of failing and things not working out first time round. Being aware and experiencing the two aspects of a creative activity – the journey and what you end up with – is a good life lesson. It's useful for people to know it's okay to try things; see that effort is required and then decide whether they want to make that effort."

As a certain amount of effort is needed, both Murphy and Hennessy agree that it's important to maintain a balance during exam years between study and extracurricular activity.

"A creative activity is useful to have during exam year as an outlet, but I would advise caution in terms of taking on big projects as you could be putting pressure on yourself. Setting a target of finishing a book by your Junior Cert could be too stressful. But saying you'll continue writing songs or drawing means you're focused on the process, which is useful," says Hennessy.

Murphy says the performing arts give students' brains a break if they're doing it once a week during exam year, for example.

"Performing arts require concentration and using your brain in different ways than you would at school. You have to think of your next quick change; where you've to be on the stage; keeping in sync with other dancers," he says.

"I always say there is no such word as 'can't'. This can be applied to anything from a dance step to delivering a line. Parents shouldn't box children off into either being good at sports or creative activities."

Mother & Babies