Giving Your Children the Gift of Silence

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?

Saying Goodbye to Your Adult Child

There once was a single mom whose son joined the military. She missed him terribly, and greatly enjoyed his brief, rare visits home whenever he could get a weekend pass. He was stationed in Florida, so driving home to Chicago and back took up much of the weekend, giving this mom only a few precious hours with her son.

Then one weekend he came home just long enough to say that he was going out with a girl he’d been writing to. Leaving his bag of dirty laundry in the foyer, he shaved and changed into a new suit, then flew out the door.

Late that night, after dropping his date off at her house, he arrived home to see his dirty laundry scattered across the front yard. Some of it was hanging from the trees. He had just enough time to gather up his clothes and head back to Florida, leaving one very angry mom in his wake.

That’s a true story. I often heard both sides of it, because the mom was my grandmother, the son was my dad, and his date was my mom. Whenever my dad told the story, he always laughed about it. But when my grandma told it, anyone could see that she hadn’t completely gotten over her anger.

It wasn’t just the dirty laundry that he expected her to wash, of course. It was the idea that she was no longer his priority when he came home. The many sacrifices she’d made for him and his siblings no longer seemed to matter. All he cared about was some girl he’d met, at least as far as my grandma was concerned.

Another true story that happened to a friend of mine, who is a mom of many children: one of her middle children was the first to go away to college. He was the family clown whose sunny disposition was a bright spot in her life. But whenever he came home for the weekend, he was so busy with his friends that she hardly got to see him. Needless to say, she was very excited that he would be home for the summer, working a summer job to earn money for the coming school year.

Imagine her disappointment when he called to say that he was able to borrow a lot more than he expected in student loans, so he would be spending the summer touring Europe with friends. She barely saw him at all that summer; by the time he came home from Europe, he had to pack up and leave for the fall semester of college.

I felt sorry for my friend when that happened, just as I felt sorry for my grandma when she talked about throwing my dad’s dirty laundry out of the window in anger. But it wasn’t until I had to let go of my own kids that I truly understood how my friend and my grandma felt. It hurts, a lot, and the kids don’t notice because they’re too busy taking on their future.

That said, what’s the alternative? Do you really want to lock up that adult child and keep them close, preventing them from leaving home, finding work, finding love? A common Internet meme is the 30-year-old living in Mom’s basement playing video games and trolling forums. Is that how you hoped your child would turn out? I doubt it.

No, we have to let our kids go. It’s OK to acknowledge the hurt, and to move on (which can be even more difficult than the original letting go). But it has to be done, so that your child can become the person God intends them to become. It also frees you to embrace the next stage of your own life (which is a whole ‘nother topic.)

Are Introverted Children Being Drugged?

In light of my recent (see archives for March and April 2014) series on introverts, I’d like to add this article, which speculates that introverted children are being misdiagnosed as having special needs or even being mentally ill, when in reality there’s nothing wrong with them. Worse, parents are most often the ones pushing for medication for their children who don’t fit the prescribed mold.

How awful for these children! As one commenter put it:

I’m shy and bookish I’m not mentally ill I’m introvert living in a extroverts world.

Pre-Teens, Internet Access and Attempted Murder

A tragedy just occurred in a town not far from here. Two 12-year-old girls played out a terrible fantasy based on a website they often visited that resulted in them luring their 12-year-old friend into the woods and stabbing her: she survived but is clinging to life.

The owner of the website denies that it’s anything but a literature site. But according to the two girls, it propelled them to do something very evil.

Some people are going to say that the website should be shut down. Others will say that it was never meant for children in the first place.

But the bottom line is that these girls had access to the site. Their parents may not have even known about the site, because thanks to today’s technology, anyone can have easy and private access to anything on the Web.

It seems so long ago that we had a computer set up in our dining room, where we could supervise Internet surfing and thus allowed our children limited access to the Internet. As they grew older, they could afford their own computers in their own rooms. At that point, we could no longer see what they were accessing, but they were nearly adults by then and we had to trust them.

Now, young children have total access to the Internet, and to the many good and bad things available on it. Kids are being bullied on Facebook and other social sites. Some have committed suicide because of that.

Once, it was considered entirely reasonable for parents to strictly limit their children’s intake of all forms of media, and even of books they considered inappropriate. But since the ascent of the Internet, it seems that most kids are allowed free access to anything they can find. And now we’re seeing the sad results of that policy.

The Exception to the Rule

In my recent posts (see left) about the book Quiet by Susan Cain, which include my thoughts on what we can do for our introverted kids, I have yet to include the exception to the rule of introversion.

Ms. Cain points out that some introverted people who love quiet and prefer not to be in the spotlight are excellent public speakers. How can this be? And how can we help our introverted children gain such a valuable skill?

Citing a much-loved professor who gives wildly popular lectures to large groups of people, Ms. Cain explains that this man is so introverted that when he’s scheduled to give multiple speeches, he spends the intervening moments off by himself so he can regroup. Sometimes this has required that he hide in a washroom stall because there’s nowhere else he can be alone.

How can a man this introverted be able to give such wonderful lectures? Ms. Cain explains that it’s extremely important to him that he share knowledge with his students. His passion for his work helps him override his natural introversion, at least when it comes to teaching.

How can we help our introverted kids learn to do this? After all, being able to speak to a group (of a few people or many) is a useful skill in this world. Even college admission or job interviews sometimes require speaking in front of several people. This might sound easy to the extrovert, but not to the introvert.

Having read this book, I would suggest that, instead of trying to bring your introverted child out of their shell by putting them into lots of group activities, make sure they have access to things that interest them and watch them bloom. Show interest whenever they tell you about something that fascinates them. Give them opportunities to share their discoveries and interests with Grandma and Grandpa when they see them. Every child is fascinated by something; extroverts just make it more obvious.

Ms. Cain’s general recommendations for helping your introverted child include:

  • Letting them be who they are instead of forcing them into an extrovert’s mold.
  • Help them strategize how to handle upcoming social interactions if they need it.
  • Give them time to absorb new situations instead of trying to force acclimation right away.

These are just a few; you’ll learn much more in Ms. Cain’s book, which I highly recommend: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking