A few weeks ago my 15 year old son, my husband and I watched an Alfred Hitchcock film together ( Shadow of a Doubt) Not a great film but something really made me sit up and take notice. There was a scene when the teenage daughter (of about 16 years of age) went up to her room to think about a moral dilemma. What struck me was that in this 1930's film, when the girl went to her room to think - she lay down on her bed and thought! She did not turn on music. She did not turn on a computer. She did not consult her Blackberry or check in with Facebook. She lay on her bed, in the silence of her room and was able to turn inward and think through what was troubling her.
OK - it was a fairly hokey film, but this scene with this young girl really made me think. What are our young people missing out on now that they are almost constantly surrounded by music, chatter and noise? They walk down the street plugged into their ipods - at most schools (certainly not at Waldorf schools) they have close circuit tv, videos or music on most of the day.... they come home and they've got more music and possibly the computer as well!
Are we raising a generation of people who cannot face the silence within? Can one really study, think and dream when one is bombarded by noise - even peaceful music? In the hustle bustle of our everyday lives are we ensuring that our children and our teens have time every day when they can listen inwardly and face the silence? Does mechanical music and noise take the place of human encounters as well?
I thought of this again during our Christmas lay service. A family attended with a very wriggly little girl of about 8. She kicked the back of her seat, she squirmed, she fussed. Although she was silent and paying attention, she was not inwardly quiet. Her mother, without looking at her, simply put out her hand and rested it on her daughter's knee. Immediately, the child was centered, was in herself, was able to be still. She could now open herself more fully to what was happening during the service - and perhaps better access her own inner voice.
I think that it is critical that we provide daily experiences of silence and for inner listening for our children. Artistic work is best done in silence - a child can learn how to listen into her inner experiences as she paints, models or draws. Reading MUST be done in silence! No radio or tapes or music to fill up the space that a child needs to learn to fill with his own inner picturing and thinking. Silence in nature - this should be a no-brainer, but I am amazed at how many people let their children use ipods and such things when at the beach or during a hike. How can our children develop sensitivity to nuances of sound - how can they develop their senses in healthy way when they are not allowed to use them to their full and subtle extent?
Group experiences are also times when children need to learn to listen. In restaurants it might be best to let them have paper and crayons to draw - but children should also learn how to listen to the adults speak and to contribute appropriately to meaningful adult conversation. Even young children can - if adults know how to hold the space - participate passively but meaningfully - in adult conversation. How else will they learn to listen to others, to learn that conversation is not just about blurting out one's own news, but carefully listening into and behind what another says? We don't have to be Victorians and enforce "children should be seen and not heard" - but this does not mean that we let gatherings or meal times be a free- for-all. Children do not come to earth knowing how to be social beings. They have the potential to be social - and the potential to be anti social. It is our job, as parents, in those first precious years of childhood, to help them become social.
And in cars? What a loss that people buy cars with drop down video players! What a loss that children are equipped like members of space exploration teams, technology to the hilt - instead of talking, playing family games and singing in the car! What a loss to have meaningful social times in the closed space of a car - which, of course, can be sheer hell if our children have not learned to be social but which can also be enormously rewarding for all, adults and children alike. Yes - children can be rude, can scream,can be horrible in cars! But they can also learn how to be social beings. And to truly be a social being, one has to be able to listen to oneself, to the voice within.
Consciously creating times for silence, for listening within, and for not being distracted away from possibly difficult human encounters (ie choosing to not plug a child into a machine during a meal at a restaurant but rather taking the bull by the horn and making sure ones children can be sociable enough to eat out) takes courage, perseverance and time. But the rewards are worth it. Surely as parents we want our children to be able to face the silence and listen within - and be fully social beings who can deal with the pain and joy of human encounters. Our society encourages filling the silence with noise - whether when meeting another person or when being alone. Perhaps an important step toward making our society more humane is consciously seeking silence in our daily lives.