How full are your days? Not just when it comes to activities, but how full are your days when it comes to noise — both auditory and visual?
Given how crowded modern life can feel, it might be easier to answer the inverse question: How much time do you and your kids get each day for silence, stillness, and contemplation?
If it feels difficult to catch a break, or if your kids reach for a device the moment they get bored, you’re not alone. It’s hard to find stillness in a world that’s constantly making demands for our attention, whether via digital ads and apps, to-do lists, work, homework, and more. We all could use some silence.
Here’s why kids need time for stillness and contemplation:
- Silence is the ground for creativity.
- Having time for quiet makes us happier.
- Stillness helps us see what actually matters.
- It helps us be more attentive in our relationships.
- Contemplation can center us in a sense of love and purpose.
Silence is the ground for creativity.
“To the quiet mind all things are possible,” wrote Christian mystic Meister Eckhart. And emerging science backs him up. For instance, one study found that ambient classroom noise makes kids less likely to answer questions and answer less creatively. This is especially true for young kids and kids with low selective attention skills, as they struggle to process what they should focus on and what they should ignore. Another study found that noisy classrooms resulted in lower math test scores. In addition, the practice of quiet journaling has been shown to help reduce a child’s inner critic, opening the way to take creative risks they might not otherwise take.
Quiet time can make us all happier.
“Practicing silence significantly increased the oxytocin levels,” a group of researchers discovered after inviting students to spend 15 minutes in silence for two months. Ryan Holiday, author of Stillness Is the Key, says that he was motivated to write that particular book after noticing the effect that stillness had on his life. “I noticed that all my favorite moments in my life,” he says, “were rooted in stillness. I was not frantic, my mind was not elsewhere, I was not trying to do a million things at one time. I was totally present; I was totally locked in. And that’s why I was able to feel gratitude, or that’s why I was able to access a creative part of my brain, or come up with an idea that under ordinary circumstances I wouldn’t have been able to come up with.” In other words, if our kids are struggling with sadness, it might be a sign they need to unplug.
Stillness helps us see what actually matters.
Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Ask yourself at every moment: ‘Is this necessary?’”
It’s a simple question — and one that requires at least a second of silence to ask. It’s difficult for kids to pause and decide if watching another episode is necessary when the app they’re using automatically uploads the next video. The algorithms that shape their lives are designed to prevent them from seeing what really matters. As such, integrating moments of silence throughout the day is essential — especially before and after meals, between TV episodes, after a set time of playing a video game, etc. If kids don’t ask themselves if what they’re doing is necessary, they might wake up one day and find that it wasn’t.
Presence helps us be more attentive in our relationships.
The noise and distraction in life is often most corrosive when it comes to relationships. The more we live in a state of continuous partial attention, the less we’re fully present when we’re with others. Given that loneliness is terrible for our wellbeing and an ever-present scourge for young people, neglecting relationships via fragmented attention carries a severe cost. By carving out space for stillness, whether it’s via meditation, prayer, journaling, or something else entirely, kids can remind themselves that their relationships are among the most important things in their lives and work to treat them as such.
Contemplation centers us in a sense of love and purpose.
Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.” This is true of the tradition of contemplation, which has been defined as “the practice of being fully present—in heart, mind, and body—to what is” as well as “a daily practice of deep listening to better connect with ourselves.” This mirrors the insight of Maria Montessori, who wrote, “When the children have become acquainted with silence… [they] go on to perfect themselves; they walk lightly, take care not to knock against the furniture, move their chairs without noise, and place things upon the table with great care.”
Fortunately, contemplation isn’t impossibly difficult for kids. In fact, they may be better attuned to finding their inner compass than many grownups are. As professor of psychology at the University of West Georgia Tobin Hart writes, “Today we often discount the direct knowing that emerges as an inner sense or voice in favor of the measurable observation or logical that the science and reason value. Essentially, adult society has grown a cataract on the eye of contemplation — we have made it cloudy with mistrust. But the direct sight of contemplation is alive and well in most children; they are natural contemplatives.”
As kids nurture their natural sense of spirituality via timeless practices such as meditation, stillness, and contemplation — practices shared across a variety of wisdom traditions — they can tune into their true selves and develop the resilience they need to live with purpose and wonder. Today’s media often pulls us from one thing to the next without a pause to think about whether it’s actually best. Streaming services automatically load the next video, TV shows present cliffhangers, etc. If we take a moment of stillness, we can ask if the activity we’re doing is what we actually want to do.