How Unstructured Time Alone Fosters Communication Skills

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Photo courtesy: SergeBertasius/

Whether you want to become a stronger, more intuitive communicator or you’re trying to raise one, time spent alone and unplugged from the rest of the world can make a big difference. Here’s why:

  • Time spent in solitude helps you develop more self-awareness. When you feel a strong sense of self-reliance and independence, that confidence comes through in how you interact with others. People sense it and adjust accordingly with how they interact with you. You’re better able to advocate for your needs and others because you clearly understand those needs.
  • Taking breaks from your hyperconnected online community can help you manage stress and anxiety. Don’t sleep with your electronic devices by your side or feel compelled to answer every text or email as it arrives. Technology may work 24-7, but it’s meant to work for you on your terms. Don’t let it become a distraction to the relationships that matter most or your personal priorities.
  • Kids who receive regular, unstructured time to play on their own develop creativity, self-confidence and independence. With these skills, they rely on a core belief that they’re good enough without having to constantly seek external approval, which is rampant in a “like me” culture. Every strong communicator needs these skills. These are skills that will only continue to grow in demand as our children enter the workforce.    
  • More and more college graduates leave school so accustomed to being directed in all of their activities that they’re nervous about showing initiative. They aren’t used to taking risks–trying something and seeing if it works. Make room in your daily schedule for quiet, non-electronic play that gives kids a chance to put their imagination to work and try new ideas. Instead of telling them something won’t work or supplying answers to their questions, let them play, research ideas and experiment with materials on their own. 
  • Time alone gives us a chance to consider questions like: What am I curious about? How can I solve a problem I’m dealing with? What brings me joy? Who could I talk to about this? How can I learn more? Kids and adults need time to play with these questions. 
  • In unplugged space, spontaneous side-by-side conversation can happen. Parent-child relationships grow stronger. For many young adults, spontaneous conversation, where they can’t control the message in a text or email, is risky. According to Sherry Turkle in her book Reclaiming Conversation, some employers are now vetting job candidates based on their ability to converse face-to-face and over the phone. Engage in idle chit-chat with your kids. Use conversation prompts to practice conversation and to make impromptu talk more fun.

To learn more about raising skilled communicators, check out my book Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World. 


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2 thoughts on “How Unstructured Time Alone Fosters Communication Skills”

  1. Interesting about employers vetting how candidates converse over the phone. When I returned to the workforce I was amazed at how rarely the phone rang- it’s often much more effective than digital, but the skills have been lost. Great reminder to teach children these skills.

    1. I was wondering about that, Sue. I haven’t worked in a corporate environment in awhile, but I remember constantly being on the phone. Often a phone call is much simpler than sending an email for solving problems and sometimes it’s more appropriate given the nature of the situation. Definitely a skill kids still need to have.

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