Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Case for Quiet Time

There's enough built-in responsibility in being a parent that it's a wonder we find the motivation to look for more. But, God knows, we do.

Case and point: keeping your child occupied. Toddlers, we are so often reminded, need to be stimulated at all times. 

The malleable minds of our children must, must, must be consistently challenged and prodded. Toy chests should be overflowing with educational toys. Mentally stimulating pictures must fill educational books. Exchanges with mom and dad need to be fruitful in some long term, enduring fashion. In short, no moment shall ever be devoid of a clearly defined, developmentally oriented objective. 

In pursuing this impossible goal, we parents have attached gravity to every waking second of a baby's life.

And what should happen if we fail to conform with this new ideology? We can only imagine our child's future filled with bongs, lava lamps and a career that requires him or her to wear a hat made of tissue.

In speaking with my wife and some other parents it's painfully apparent to me that my feelings are shared by many. Now, we could take some time in this space to determine where this compulsion to keep our child occupied comes from but we know it's a predatory, morally bankrupt effort led by those demons at Fisher Price that's a separate conversation.

The fact is, we new parents are under the impression that we've got to keep our juniors and our little princesses occupied — lest they end up dim, uninterested drains on society. 

But, as it turns out, this "fact" might just be 100 percent wrong. 

A special thanks here to Mrs. Blackwell for forwarding the following article to me on my Facebook page and then nagging me to read it. 

In it, author Ashley Merryman, who co-wrote NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children makes the case for kids figuring it out and the value of alone time free from stimulation. 

The opposite of "quiet time."
Merryman suggests we let go of the pressure that "all kids must be occupied at all times with wall-to-wall distractions and interactions. In fact, the opposite is true: Imagination flourishes during those dull moments when you can't rush over to entertain your child. She cites research from the University of Oregon Imagination Lab, in Eugene, which shows that having imaginary friends when you're little predicts verbal skills in college. Besides, "a young brain literally can't handle a constant barrage of information, lights, and video," she adds. "It requires time for quiet. The reason babies sleep so much is because they need to process what they've learned."

(Did you read that? Even imaginary friends are a good thing! Take that, high school gym teacher.)

Of course there are lines here. You can't just leave you kid alone at all times. My son is barely talking, never mind ready for imaginary friends so he still needs his dad and mom to occasionally make silly noises and dance like idiots for him. 

But it's reassuring to be reminded that, for now, it's not just the adults who need to unplug, sit back and make the most of quiet time. 

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