On our way out to do some local errands, my nine-year-old son stopped abruptly at the front door and said he wanted to run back in the house to grab his hand-held electronic video game. I reminded him that we only had short trips in the car and that this wouldn’t be a long road trip. “Besides,” I offered, “Wouldn’t it be more fun to play 20 Questions together?”
Sam reluctantly agreed to leave his electronics behind. After he quickly guessed what I was thinking — in only 4 questions — I decided to try a small experiment. I decided we would drive in the car without any distractions or activities; and I allowed Sam to be alone with his thoughts for a bit.
Admittedly, he was antsy at first. “Can we play another round?” he asked.
I responded, “We’ll play more games when we get home. For now, I’d love for you to look out the window and enjoy the view.” After some mild pre-adolescent eye-rolling, Sam turned his attention outside.
The rest of the drive was pretty quiet. The radio was off. So was my cell phone. I noticed Sam watching the cars next to us. He turned his head to get a good view of the truck carrying large building materials down the road. He even glanced up at the sky.
I don’t know what he was thinking during that ride, but I do know that Sam had a brief opportunity to enjoy a few, uninterrupted, un-plugged, (and hopefully) introspective moments in an otherwise busy day.
According to researchers at the University of Southern California, I should be giving my son this opportunity more often — and not just when we’re on a brief car ride.
In an article published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Professor Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and colleagues reviewed existing scientific literature regarding the implications of allowing our brains to be at rest.
Studies suggest that our brains have a ‘default mode’ network that’s activated when we are turning inward and resting. This brain activity is correlated with all kinds of positive experiences including self-awareness, moral judgment, learning and memory.
The potential benefits of taking time to be alone with our thoughts, look inward, and even daydream, can apply to adults and children alike. In fact, the researchers of this study hope that mindful introspection will become an integral part of the classroom curriculum. In an applied setting, research has shown that when children are given the time and skills needed for reflecting, they frequently become less anxious, more motivated, and even perform better on tests.
Outside of the classroom, mindful reflection and daydreaming help us better understand ourselves and the world. What’s more, this simple, cost-free, accessible activity is linked with overall well-being.
As toddlers are increasingly occupying themselves with electronic gadgets, and teens and adults regularly “plug in” to a dizzying array of social media options, it stands to reason that incorporating a healthy dose of down time can only be a good thing. Taking breaks from our fast-paced lives to breathe, reflect, wonder, and simply “be” isn’t wasted time. Instead, it’s truly time well-spent.