Why Your Kids Need to be Alone

Recently I read a book by Sherry Turkle  entitled Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. Dr. Turkle said several things that made me think about the beauties and perils of technology. One of my favorite quotes by her is “If you don’t teach your kids to alone they will only know how to be lonely.”

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Turkle in expanding on the idea of loneliness she said something so profound about the difference between loneliness and solitude.

Paul Tillich has a beautiful formulation: “Language . . . has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” Loneliness is painful, emotionally and even physically, born from a “want of intimacy” when we need it most, in early childhood. Solitude— the capacity to be contentedly and constructively alone— is built from successful human connection at just that time. But if we don’t have experience with solitude— and this is often the case today— we start to equate loneliness and solitude. This reflects the impoverishment of our experience. If we don’t know the satisfactions of solitude, we only know the panic of loneliness.

Indeed, research shows that adolescents experience solitude as downtime that can feel bad in the short run. But in the long run it facilitates healthy development. Without solitude, in days and nights of continual connection, we may experience those “moments of more” but lives of less.

Sherry Turkle

As parents, we fear things our kids don’t even know about yet. We are afraid our kids will be alone. That they will be “left out.” They won’t “fit it” sometimes these fears are well founded but most often we rob from our kids the ability to learn to be alone. We give them gadgets and screens help feed them intellectually and connect them socially. We have to model healthy solitude looks like to our kids. We must fight the urge to give them more and more devices that distract them so they never need to feel the pain of being alone. Dr. Turkle is right being alone can be painful but if we don’t help our kids fight through loneliness they will never experience the joy of solitude.

Kids need to experience the glory of solitude. Kids that know how to be alone generally have a stronger self-image, they are typically more decisive and more driven. They know who they are and what they want. In our world kids are given too many choices for everything. On road trips, they bring 4 coloring books, iPad, iPhone, headphones and a Nintendo DS. What did you and I have growing up? Nothing. Road trips were not an immersive entertaining adventure. Road trips were boring. You would stare out the window for hours and eventually stare into your soul for hours more. What they did was force you to learn the beauty of solitude. As an adult, I now crave solitude. If I go longer than a few days without having a few hours where I am completely alone I slowly start to wear out and break down. I don’t enjoy solitude I need it. It is in those moments of solitude that I get my best ideas and recharge my batteries. I gain perspective on the world and think about what I need to do for the next day.

Training our kids to be alone is not as easy as it was for our parents but it is as important if not more important for us. So how do you help kids learn to embrace solitude?

  1. Don’t photograph everything like your life is a reality show or Lifetime Documentary. – Be present and don’t take photos of everything so you have something to talk about later. How often do we not discuss our vacations and excursions because we photograph them to death? We don’t create gaps that conversation and memories were meant to fill. Instead, we fill Youtube and iPhoto with memories that were ment to be shared rather than documented. Things that you have to have a photo of to remember probably wasn’t important enough to be remembered.
  2. Give them structured alone time to play with toys and create their own world from a young age.
  3. Unplug them from screens and tell them to do something but don’t tell them what to do. *Warning they will say they are bored. To which you will reply “Good”.  Life can be and often is boring. It’s in the boring bits that we learn to create. Kids need to be bored because they need to learn to be ok with boredom it is through boredom that kids learn to innovate and create.
  4.  Teach them to journal – Not every kid is a writer but the combination of being alone with their thoughts and then putting that down on paper is invaluable.

It is through solitude that your kids will gain the confidence in themselves and in their ideas to succeed in life. It is in solitude that your kids will only know that even though the are alone they are never completely alone. That Christ on the cross was separated from His Father so we never have to be truly alone. It is only through the beauty of solitude that you discover the reality that you are never alone because of the finished work of Christ.

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