Silence for Children in a Fast-Paced,Nature-Deprived, and Digital World
Thesis & Creative Project by Erin Sheehan
With each new generation there are important conversations about the unique factors that play a role in influencing this group towards adulthood. As advances are made in technology and culture at great speed, no childhood is essentially the same as the ancestors before them. Today’s youth are facing their own inimitable childhood complete with ever-changing technological advancements and factors that will inevitably effect the adulthood that they journey towards. Parents have new considerations as they work to make skillful decisions in guiding their youth toward physical and emotional health and well being.
This thesis explores three main topics for today’s parents and caretakers: the changing nature of childhood, the growing mindfulness momentum for adults and children, and silence in mindfulness practice. These topics are meant to assist in pointing parents towards bringing mindfulness into their lives as well as their children. Four digital booklets, referred to as field guides, were created as a creative addendum to this paper to provide parents with instruction and inspiration in this journey of mindfulness for the family.
The Changing Nature of Childhood
In my personal and direct experience as a parent, I have been aware of the changing nature of modern childhood as I work to navigate raising well-adjusted and emotionally balanced children. Watching this arena speed up with increased pressure in activities and achievement started when my first child was still an infant. I noticed that screens became consistent in the hands of toddlers as onlookers questioned why my little one wasn’t engaging in the educational games that iPads had to offer. I also noticed that time spent outdoors, just exploring was limited, even for my own children.
Where childhood was once seen as a time of freedom and play, it is now usually much more scheduled with young people being overbooked and stressed. As our culture speeds up, the effects of a fast-paced and stressed out culture can be seen in childhood as well. Childhood schedules are packed and pressure filled, mirroring the adults in their lives. This leaves little time for important unsupervised time with friends or even just daydreaming.
Children spend less time playing and interacting with their natural world. As children connect more with images and activity on screens, they are more disconnected from their natural surroundings. A growing group of researchers believe that this disconnection has massive implications for human health and child development including and increase in mental afflictions, obesity, and sleep deprivation.
The constant stream of information and communication channels that are readily available throughout the day on a variety of devices are having an effect on the way in which we and our children interact with others, our world, and ourselves. It has become important for parents, professionals, and educators to consider the possible connection between being “plugged-in” and how this affects mental and physical health.
SILENCE in MINDFULNESS
While the breath might be considered the most simple and direct pathway to mindfulness, silence is equally as basic and inherent. Silence, like the breath, is free, natural, and something we can all have access to. Whether we are sitting in formal meditation practice or taking a walk in nature, we can choose to eliminate not only the distractions of external noise – phones, talking, television – but also that of our internal worlds – worries, desires, and ruminations to name a few. We can silence our verbal interactions with other, silence our digital devices, and silence our quick habit of judging ourselves and others, Tuning into our silence connects us to a more mindful presence of being, not doing. With intentional silence, we can connection back into our present moment.
One of the basic components of a mindfulness practice is this creation of space for silence. Meditation practice is sitting in silence, spending time focusing on the breath, and allowing our thoughts to stream along without our constant interaction, interpretation, and judgment. Silence is an important aspect that allows an individual to find time to pause. The pause is there between the in and out breath of silent meditation, the pause is there when we choose to respond to situations and not just react, and the pause is there when we acknowledge that our society moves at an extreme pace and we can choose a slower, more intentional version.
Silence for Children "field guides"
These four field volumes each have their own subject theme and are arranged as follows: Mindfulness, Childhood Mindfulness, Family Mindfulness, and Digital Mindfulness. Each one of these guides are organized with the help of the four directions: North will provide a direct look at the main idea of the topic; East will explore the topic in reference to mindfulness origin, theory and practice; West will explore what modern science and research is showing; South shares examples in society and culture; and Center offers instruction on how the reader can add elements to family life.
These field guides have the intended audience of parents who might be looking for an easy but thorough place to get all the information in one place. Parents are busy and might not be ready to commit their time to a new class on mindfulness or even recently published scholarship. These mini-books serve as field guides to lay the groundwork for further study, practice, and inquiry.
These field guides are visually appealing, inspiring, and academically supported. They explore silence and specific instruction on how to begin a mindfulness meditation practice with multi-media component. Information, resources, and specific mindfulness practices revolving around the issue of digital technology and communication, especially as it affects the younger generation are included. A key component of one guide will be including parents in the recent conversation regarding the developing adolescent brain. Using recent research connecting mindfulness practice and brain activity will be of great importance to these guides. Parents will hopefully gain a confidence in the material and be interested in further offerings that will be planned for distribution of future guides that will delve into themes even more thoroughly.
These four books on bringing mindfulness into the family will serve as a starting point in bringing a certain awareness to some of the aspects of the changing nature of childhood. Mindfulness practice will assist parents in bringing greater intentionality to the decisions that they make for themselves and their children. This might better influence behaviors and patterns that bring balance to modern childhood. These guides will hopefully serve as a resource in fusing knowledge, research and practice surrounding mindfulness and childhood in ways that will resonate with busy parents. They might not have access or interest in most recent neuroscience findings, but when presented to them in these familiar and appealing field guide formats, the information might get to parents in a substantial way. There might be avenues of getting the information currently, like the news, but because it is unorganized and plentiful, it might not have cohesive strength. These field guides can be seen as a conversation bridge and building block for parents to be empowered and informed about brining intentional silence and other mindful practices to themselves, their growing children of various ages, and the family unit as a whole.
Click on the cover image below for a preview of the digital Field Guides
#1 - MINDFULNESS
#2 - CHILDHOOD
#3 - FAMILY
#4 - DIGITAL MINDFULNESS
Based on some of the experts and research presented in this paper, it is reasonable to suggest that parents and caretakers can bring mindfulness practice to their children to assist in managing some of the negative effects of the stress, lack of nature time, and digital distraction in childhood. Modern society provides children with unique obstacles in forming and maintaining strong mental and social health and well being. Mindfulness practice, in particular the addition of good and intentional silence, can provide the needed space and time for children to be able to enjoy healthy development as they navigate important growth, learning, communication, and interpersonal relationships. It seems reasonable to assume that research investigating effective mindfulness implementations in different family structures with varying needs will be necessary and continue to grow. With the growing attention and popularity that mindfulness continues to enjoy, with specific interest on components such as kindness and compassion, it is also reasonable to assume that research and conversations on silence in particular will gain attraction and scholarship.