Matthew Crawford had a wonderful piece in the New York Times last week, where he discussed the lack of silence in our lives and how much we suffer for it.
His focus was on the pervasive advertising that surrounds us, but that’s just one facet of our loss of silence. We live in an increasingly noisy world, and that’s bad because we need silence to think.
It’s especially important for children to have periods of silence in their lives. How can they think if they’re being bombarded by sound all the time? How can they develop a rich thought life, and learn who they are?
Parents who are blessed to be home with their children most of the time can and should control the amount of sound (and silence) their children are exposed to. I was one of those parents, and I tried to include silence in my children’s lives.
When they were babies, I didn’t always pick them up the moment they awoke. I still remember standing in the hall listening to them coo, and babble, and later on, chatter, as they woke up on their own; those are great memories. By the time they were toddlers, they liked being alone in their beds in the quiet, so they rarely fussed about having a daily nap time. As they got older, they still had naptime, but they didn’t have to sleep. Instead, they could lay quietly on their beds and read or daydream.
I often sat with them in the backyard and watched them play, or took them to the park where they could hear the birds. Fortunately there were no cell phones then to chirp or play music incessantly, even in public parks, as there are now.
In the house, quiet times were common. The children had limited television time, so the rest of the day, the television was off. Sometimes I’d have music playing on a radio or tape player, but most of the time the only noise was our chatter amongst ourselves, and the children’s laughter.
I’ve written before about how parents need to be careful not to spend all their valuable time with their children chatting on the phone; that came from my childhood experience of having a mother who was on the phone for hours at a time. The background noise of hours’ long adult phone conversations isn’t really good for children, especially if they hear things they’re too young to hear.
Today, there are blaring television screens in children’s restaurants like Chuck E. Cheese’s (as if there weren’t enough to do there already) and stationed at public swimming pools. Even the silence of the public library is polluted by people chatting on their cell phones. There are few places children can go to be in silence so they can think about their world.
If parents don’t purposely give their children chances to experience silence, where else will they find it?