There are lots of inspiring TED Talks out there for adults — but if we’re not sharing some of them with our kids, they’re missing out on all the entertainment, context, knowledge, and motivation so many of them can provide. Some TED Talks are given by kids or specifically for kids, and that’s great. However, that isn’t necessary for making a particular talk a good choice to share with kids, so I’ve compiled a list of TED Talks meant mostly for adults that you can also share and enjoy with your children.
We’re going to go on a journey of boredom, frustration, social justice, deception, and bodily functions. But I think the best place to start is…with a kid giving a talk about why adults should listen to them more.
What adults can learn from kids
Then 12-year-old Adora Svitak makes a compelling case for why “learning between grown-ups and kids should be reciprocal.” Here’s the description for this Ted Talk from 2010 with a message that still holds up today:
Child prodigy Adora Svitak says the world needs “childish” thinking: bold ideas, wild creativity and especially optimism. Kids’ big dreams deserve high expectations, she says, starting with grownups’ willingness to learn from children as much as to teach.
If your tween or teen is an introvert, this next talk is for them.
The power of introverts
As an introvert myself, I am here to say that every word of this TED Talk from Susan Cain in 2012 is validating for introverts who are typically living, learning, and working in a world that values extroversion. It’s important for introverted kids, too, to know they’re not just “shy.” Here’s the official description:
In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.
The next time your introvert (or extrovert) complains that they’re bored, cue up this next TED Talk.
How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas
We know it’s good for kids to be bored sometimes, for their minds to get a break from the constant entertainment they get from toys, screens, siblings, and friends. But Manoush Zomorodi gives us — and our kids — the actual scientific explanation behind why boredom is so good for us, and why we should actively be seeking it out. Here’s the description of her 2017 TED Talk:
Do you sometimes have your most creative ideas while folding laundry, washing dishes or doing nothing in particular? It’s because when your body goes on autopilot, your brain gets busy forming new neural connections that connect ideas and solve problems. Learn to love being bored as Manoush Zomorodi explains the connection between spacing out and creativity.
You know what else is surprisingly good for creativity — and is something our kids have boatloads of? Frustration.
How frustration can make us more creative
If our kids can become more creative by experiencing a little boredom, imagine what a little frustration mixed in can do for them, too. Tim Harford tells us a story about how a frustration turned into musical genius, and it’s a good lesson for our kids about the power of perseverance. Here’s the description:
Challenges and problems can derail your creative process … or they can make you more creative than ever. In the surprising story behind the best-selling solo piano album of all time, Tim Harford may just convince you of the advantages of having to work with a little mess.
OK, I think we’re ready for George Takei.
Why I love a country that once betrayed me
This TED Talk by Star Trek actor George Takei, which was recorded in 2014 about his imprisonment in an Japanese-American internment camp several decades years earlier, is a must-watch for any young person who is interested in history and social justice (and kids who aren’t, too).
As he reflected on his experience years later, he says spoke with his father, who imparted this wisdom: “Our democracy is a people’s democracy, and it can be as great as a people can be, but it is also as fallible as people are. He told me that American democracy is vitally dependent on good people who cherish the ideals of our system and actively engage in the process of making our democracy work.”
Yep, that feels as relevant today as it has ever been. Here’s the description:
When he was a child, George Takei and his family were forced into an internment camp for Japanese-Americans, as a “security” measure during World War II. 70 years later, Takei looks back at how the camp shaped his surprising, personal definition of patriotism and democracy.
While we’re talking about topics recorded years ago that are still Very Important today…
The danger of a single story
Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells us about her childhood in Eastern Nigeria and lessons she has learned over her lifetime about the way a “single story” of a group of people can be pervasive and harmful to our perception of them. She says, “show a people as one thing — as only one thing — over and over again, and that is what they become.” Here’s the description:
Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.
And if a single story is dangerous, total silence is, too…
The danger of silence
Poet and teacher Clint Smith tells his students — and now his audience — to “read critically, write consciously, speak clearly, tell your truth.” And then he speaks his truth in a beautiful and powerful way. Here’s the description:
“We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don’t,” says slam poet and teacher Clint Smith. A short, powerful piece from the heart, about finding the courage to speak up against ignorance and injustice.
Next up — some personal truth from a beautiful model.
Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model.
You might not think a message about how looks aren’t everything is best delivered by a tall, slender, arguably incredibly beautiful fashion model with the fullest, shiniest head of hair — but maybe it is. Her insight into the appearance of models and fashion images and the reality behind them is a good lesson for any teenager to hear. Here’s the description:
Cameron Russell admits she won “a genetic lottery”: she’s tall, pretty and an underwear model. But don’t judge her by her looks. In this fearless talk, she takes a wry look at the industry that had her looking highly seductive at barely 16 years old.
In the next talk, kids will be able to reflect on whether Cameron was lying to them (I’m sure she wasn’t).
How to spot a liar
Our kids might be happy to watch this one so Pamela Meyer can help them learn how to be better liars, but what they’ll really end up getting is a sharper eye for the deception of others, which will come in handy as they’re getting ready to enter the real world without you by their side every day. Here’s the description:
On any given day we’re lied to from 10 to 200 times, and the clues to detect those lies can be subtle and counter-intuitive. Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, shows the manners and “hotspots” used by those trained to recognise deception — and she argues honesty is a value worth preserving.
There’s no good way to transition to this last one, so I’ll just say it: Shall we end with farts? Yes, yes we shall.
The world’s most dangerous fart
We’re ending here because all kids (and many adults) find farts funny. But did you know that out in the wilderness, farts can also be dangerous? This illuminating TED-Ed animation from Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti is worth a watch for its fun factor. Official description:
For most humans, farts are a welcome relief, an embarrassing incident, or an opportunity for a gas-based gag. But for many other creatures, farts are no laughing matter. Deep in the bowels of the animal kingdom, farts can serve as tools of intimidation, acts of self-defence, and weapons of malodorous murder. Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti dig into the funky and foul world of animal flatulence.
And if that’s not enough, check out this playlist of TED Talks given by several brilliant and talented folks, all under the age of 20.