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Back in the Dark Ages (pre-cellphones and computers), kids did, at least, have that opportunity in abundance.
After school, they came home, maybe did a little homework. If they wanted to go out later with friends, they had to do something called planning ahead. They ate dinner with their parents. There was, in that 20th century routine, what Gearity calls “necessary regulation,” not too much time alone or with family or friends.
Predictable and healthy tensions with parents were alive and well, of course, but kids escaped to their rooms “to incubate for a while.”
Without that breather, kids are more likely to go to college with the same groupthink mentality, she said. “College for them is about living in the dorm and being with people. I ask ‘What’s your major?’ and they don’t know.
“That’s a problem.”
So, how do we help our kids incubate in healthy ways?
First, we need to resist calling or texting them all the time. How can they develop respect for alone-time if we panic every moment they’re away from us?
We need to learn to embrace “pleasurable quiet” in the car instead of trying to get them to talk. (Gearity says teenage sons are the best teachers here).
We might take them out to dinner on occasion and ask them about what matters to them. Then we need to resist jumping in. Another way to say this: Stop talking.
Make them leave the cellphone at home once in a while to show them that they can, in fact, survive.
And remember that it is important for us to work on being happily alone ourselves on occasion, to model to them how it’s done.
Gearity sees adults who never mastered this skill struggle to please partners, “or need to do everything together. You see people in friendships where friends are so much more important than themselves.”
The good news is that many older teens start regulating on their own by their junior or senior year in high school, she said.
“They say, ‘I never keep my cellphone on because I can’t stand the noise.’ It’s a natural adaptation that some kids get to, but not all.”
What we want all of our kids to get to, she said, is healthy autonomy.
“It’s a sense that I can be with myself because the people I need feel internal to me,” she said. “I can enjoy my own company because I have what I need.
“If I need the relationships, I can go get them.”