My husband and I were out for dinner a few weeks ago. Just like old times. Except it wasn’t like old times. When Tim excused himself to go to the bathroom, my first instinct was to reach into my purse and check my iPhone. As I was scrolling through my inbox, I stopped myself. "Why am I checking email?" I thought. I had absolutely no good reason, so I put the phone down. Looking around, most people who weren’t engrossed in conversation, (and some who were still having a conversation) were on their smartphones. Heads down.
One of the things I have always loved about dining out is people watching. Or simply sitting with my thoughts as the buzz of the restaurant swirls around me. I cherish time at restaurants or cafes alone. Every year on my birthday I go out for lunch. By myself. It’s a tradition I started in my twenties, and it’s one I thoroughly enjoy. It’s a chance to reflect on the year I’ve just experienced, and contemplate my hopes and goals for the year ahead. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with myself, and what’s important to me.
But this idea of connecting with myself, and being comfortable being alone (without my smartphone as a companion) isn’t just reserved for restaurants. It’s an important part of who I am. I carve out precious time in my daily schedule for walking outdoors, meditation, yoga, running, or any number of solitary pursuits that make me happy. And this brings me to the larger issue at hand – why I feel it’s so important to teach our kids the value of solitude.
I want my kids to know the joy of being alone. The kind of solitude that: encourages a wandering mind and the ability to daydream; leads to made-up games, or deep imaginings; allows our children to sit and feel comfortable in their own company; gives them the opportunity to know their own thoughts, and be confident in the decisions they make (even if they end up being the wrong ones.) I want my kids to know the kind of solitude that teaches them being alone isn’t the same as being lonely.
I worry that the glut of technology and games and devices and on-demand tv shows has the ability to drown out their inside voices, the voices they need to understand in order to know and be comfortable with who they are. I worry that their first instinct when there is a pause in the daily schedule will be to turn to some sort of device.
In the article "No Time To Think" from The New York Times Review, the author suggests that we busy ourselves because we don’t want to face the negativities of our lives. And studies further suggest that not giving yourself time to reflect impairs your ability to empathize with others. I do not want this for my children.
Self-reflection cannot truly happen if it is replaced by the constant distraction or feedback of things outside of ourselves. What happens to the teenager who finds it difficult to make any decision without messaging her friends? What happens to the child who can’t sit in the car or bus or train and simply look outside the window, be curious about his environment, or sit in awe of her surroundings? What happens if we're cultivating a generation of kids who can’t appreciate solitude because they've never learned how to just “be,” and sit with all the good and bad that comes with it? What would this look like? It scares me.
I feel strongly that it is my job to model for my kids: that it’s okay to sit in front of the fire in comfortable silence; that sitting with negativity is in fact part of how we deal with difficulties in our life; that the moment lunch or dinner is over, I don’t have to check my iPhone for messages; that every memory in the making doesn’t have to be uploaded to Facebook or Instagram; that lying in the hammock in the backyard looking up at the clouds can be more fulfilling than playing the latest video game; that I don’t constantly need to fill my time with distractions outside of myself.
It’s hard to be alone or still sometimes. It can be challenging to look inside and get to know one’s self, embrace the good stuff, and accept (or look to change) the things we don’t like. But it is an essential part of becoming who we are. Whether it’s through journaling, meditation, exercise, or unplugging and getting out into nature, I want my children to learn to be comfortable in solitude.
Meditation is a great tool for self-reflection. If you're new to meditation, check out this post on How to Meditate. You might also like The Power of Daydreams, or yoga tips to start your day off in a positive way.