Feeling alone sometimes seems like a problem that needs to be solved. Young people and children are growing up in a world where solitude is a rarity and connection is key. Though being alone is often not fun, and loneliness is a tragic emotional burden, researchers, educators and parents are realizing the need for solitude in children’s lives.
If we don’t teach our children how to be alone, they will only know how to be lonely.
Dr. Evangelina Galanaki, a developmental psychologist at the University of Athens, has come to find in her research that when children are young they are unable to differentiate between loneliness and solitude. Loneliness is defined as the negative emotion that may or may not be the result of being alone, whereas solitude is defined as voluntary aloneness. Teaching children thedifference between being alone and feeling lonely will empower them to have emotional maturity and take advantage of their moments of solitude.
It is no wonder why children today often dislike and even fear solitude. With technology, instant gratification, and a connected world, children feel isolated, under-stimulated and unheard as soon as they are unplugged and alone. As a punishment, parents often send children to their rooms to be alone with the command to, “think about about what you did until you are ready to behave,” which subconsciously teaches children that solitude is an undesirable, terrible fate.
Ironically, it is solitude and a lack of external stimulation that actually fuels emotionally healthy things like imagination, creativity and self-reflection. Dr. Bruce Duncan Perry writes how when children are allowed to be bored or under-stimulated, often through quiet time or isolation, that “their internal world can come alive.”
“When a child cannot watch television, play video games, and is not participating in a scheduled "externally focused" activity, she will become more internally focused. Her imagination and creativity takes over,” says Perry. It is through solitude that children create aspirations, hopes, desires, and wishes.
Another aspect of solitude that tends to have a bad rep is the belief that solitude leads to immaturity, social ineptness and an inability to connect with others. Homeschoolers and online school students sometimes hear things like, “how are they going to learn to be social, have relationships, and be normal?” Cultural analyst Serry Turkle argues the opposite — that solitude creates the grounds for healthy, intimate relationships.
“Solitude is where you find yourself, so that you can reach out to other people and form real attachments,” says Turkle. “When we don’t have the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people in order to feel less anxious or in order to feel alive. When this happens we are not able to appreciate them for who they are. It’s as if we are using them for spare parts to support our fragile sense of self.”
So in order for young people to develop their sense of self, nurture their creativity, and foster human connections, solitude becomes a necessary, welcomed, and meaningful gift. Teaching children to value and cultivate solitude in their lives is something every educator and parent should engage in.
The schedule and lifestyle of online school allows students to create times and spaces of solitude for themselves. Throughout the school day, week and year meaningful moments of quiet and reflection can be found.
Online school students can practice an appreciation for solitude in a number of ways:
- starting the day off with a morning of relaxation and meditation
- a daily exercise routine
- specific times of each day or week to spend outside in nature
- reading, writing or creating a unique multimedia journal
- taking breaks in between classes to pause and rest
- simply listening to music and resting the brain
- setting aside time for meaningful conversation, outside of technology
Whether an introvert, an extrovert, a technology geek, a book worm, a sports team fanatic, or an independent artist, each unique individual can benefit from a version of solitude.
Let us together reflect on our lives of connectedness and relationship, and allow ourselves to find spaces of solitude that will enrich and deepen our lives.