The Importance of learning to be alone, switching off and reflecting

Chris Ivey / Academic

This week I read an article by Nikki Gemmell

15 October 2021

From our Principal Chris Ivey: The Importance of learning to be alone, switching off and reflecting

Dear St Andrew's Community,

This week I read an article by Nikki Gemmell in the Weekend Australian where she recounted the story of a British MP who was filmed dancing on his own.  Long story short, while he is a highly public politician, he was simply taking a moment on his own, and enjoying it, not realising he was being filmed, the post went viral and he was resoundly mocked by others.

Nikki’s article went on to talk about what each of us will do when we have the chance to explore more freedoms, but it did get me thinking, why do we mock someone for being on their own?  This man is a somewhat polarising politician, but mocking someone for being on their own, for being ‘a loner’ is disappointing.  How sad it is that we don’t allow people the chance to enjoy time on their own.  As someone who is not a massive fan of social media, one of the great dangers we face with devices and their entertainment is never truly understanding and learning to be completely on our own.

I appreciate this is a somewhat sensitive topic for many people who are struggling through lockdowns in Victoria and NSW, who are now craving for and finally enjoying social interaction, but my point is simple.  It is so important that as parents and educators we teach, encourage and actively provide opportunities where our children both learn and re-learn what it means to be alone. To enjoy their own company for periods of time, to completely disconnect from others. Sadly, with devices, people can be on their own but never know what it means to alone with their own thoughts. It is a skill we are fast losing and yet is it one that research has proven is essential to deep thinking, good mental health, increasing productivity, developing empathy and more importantly to begin to know ourselves a little more deeply.

As a College, when we talk about opportunities to develop Personal Capacity, many of these learnings are around students taking the time to stop and reflect on experiences and opportunities. However, what we sometimes find is that this is quite a challenge for many students who never seem to have the opportunity to switch off or reflect. It is both the reflection and the experiences that are important. As our students returned from their Year 10 camps at the end of last term, I loved hearing about their experiences and for many of them, they spent four or five days without technology and experienced both connections with others but also connection with nature and moments of quiet and solitude.

As a Christian, I know that prayer and reflection are important for me. I build it into my daily routine. However, whatever our beliefs, the chance to be alone in our own thoughts is an important life skill. But it is one that needs to be more explicit in nurturing in our children. As a College, we can play our part; however, as parents, it’s so important to talk openly about this with our children, to encourage chunks of screen free time, but not always to fill it with activity, but also simply to practice being alone.

Best Wishes,

Author Profile

Chris Ivey

In his own words, Chris “enables things to happen” at St Andrew’s. As Principal of the College, he leads the development and progression of St Andrew’s by enabling staff and students to achieve their personal best. Chris is a Reverend and has been the Principal of St Andrew’s for more that 15 years. He also represents and advocates for Independent schools across Australia as the National Chair of AHISA (Association of Heads of Independent Schools, Australia).

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