Can Today’s Kids Hear Their Inner Voices?

Filed in Finding & Following Your Voice by on April 22, 2011 • views: 364

A friend commented today on a recent trip she took with her son. Typically, on long drives, she and her husband take the vehicle with the DVD player in it so the boy can watch movies or play video games. Recently, however, the player malfunctioned, and so far they haven’t taken the time or money to fix it. It wasn’t really a problem until it came time for a long trip over the past weekend, and the boy realized he would be facing three-to-four hours in the car with no movies, no video games, and no familiar way to entertain himself.

“He panicked!” my friend said. According to her, this ten-year-old didn’t know how he was ever going to pass the time just sitting in the car. “You can take a few toys,” she told him, “read a book, look out the window, or make up a game.” Still, the boy couldn’t get his head around it. Three-to-four hours with nothing to entertain him but his own imagination! It was just too much to contemplate.

Kids today have a lot more outside forces vying for their attention than we adults ever did. Where we enjoyed coloring with crayons and markers, making our own puppets, playing army soldiers or taking adventures hikes into the hills, today’s kids spend hours on the computer with various social media outlets or on the internet, playing video games, watching movies on big-screen televisions, texting on cell phones or video chatting with their friends on their iPads. On top of that, they are pushed even harder to achieve through additional homework (studies show it’s increased dramatically over the last few decades even for young children), advanced classes, and after-school activities. Every spare moment is filled with something from the outside world, from school to friends to sports activities to technology. It’s no wonder our kids aren’t sleeping as well these days! (Read my post on that.)

All this makes me wonder—how do today’s kids hear their own inner voices? After all, if they rarely if ever get time to slow down, reflect, and use their imaginations, how can they tap into that part of themselves that’s uniquely theirs? If a boy, like my friend’s son, is nearly frightened at the prospect of not having something outside himself to entertain himself, what does that mean for his future? How will he figure out who he really is, what his strengths are, and what he wants to do with his life?

“Children and teenagers are so tightly scheduled,” reports parentingreport.com, “that many never figure out how to spend free time. When they are not running from activity to activity, they have no idea of what to do and are bored; they have never invented a backyard game or had much time to just lollygag with friends.”

All this focus on the outside world and on achievement may even do harm to the next generation. “Actually, rearing kids in this way…” the article continues, “may be diminishing our children’s ability to reflect, introspect, and become thoughtful adults who feel that they are the authors of their own lives rather than frauds living a role in someone else’s script….Kids today need free time, to think, to create a meaningful internal life of symbols, ideas, and beliefs, and to hear the soft murmurings of their inner voice, the one that makes them write that unusual story or draw this unique picture.”

I don’t know how my friend’s son made out on that trip, but I know he experienced something new that day—uninterrupted, quiet, solitary time. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for him, as it wouldn’t be for many of today’s kids, but that fact alone is a little concerning. If our children can’t entertain themselves for even a short while without some technological gadget, friend, or television screen, where are the inventors, writers, artists, spiritual leaders, and entrepreneurs going to come from in the next generation? More importantly, how will these children learn to celebrate their own uniqueness if they never have time to discover it?

Photo courtesy Photographic State via Flickr.com.

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