This electronic world we live in may be depriving us of a much-needed pastime: daydreaming.
Psychologists say daydreaming helps us formulate goals and understand our deepest hopes, wishes and fears. It also contributes to creativity, social-emotional well-being and school performance.
But researchers say distractions such as social media and video games may keep children from spending the time needed to store meaningful memories, contemplate their future and think about the moral implications of their (and others’) actions. The concern is that, as we reduce our use of this daydreaming part of our brain, we may diminish its capacity.
Researcher Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, assistant professor of psychology at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California, says the brain is divided into two major segments.
One section is what we use for thinking related to “working memory” – things we need to do to function and be present in our everyday world. The second is this inward, reflective section, which is where we do our abstract thinking. Abstract thinking helps us process the meaning of an experience, develop a sense of morality and justice, and contemplate our own roles in our future, among other things.
But when we are constantly plugged in to electronic devices and tuned in to the potential of receiving a text at any moment, we have less time for the abstract thinking that comes with daydreaming.
“We’re sort of potentially growing a generation of children who aren’t as capable neurologically speaking of daydreaming as is normal for the human brain,” said Immordino-Yang in a radio interview aired on WHYY, a Philadelphia-based public radio station. (Read Immordino-Yang’s research paper here.)
Writer and educator Jessica Lahey writes about the subject in The Atlantic, in a story entitled, Teach Kids to Daydream. “How should parents and teachers respond to all this research about the benefits of mental downtime?” writes Lahey. “For one thing, we should stop snapping our children out of their daydreams. Instead, we should protect this time much as we protect bedtime.”
Scott Barry Kaufman, cognitive psychologist and author of “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined,” says children are doing work in this daydream state. In “Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming,” Kaufman suggests, with coauthor Rebecca McMillan, that daydreaming offers both short-term and long-term rewards.
“These rewards include self-awareness, creative incubation, improvisation and evaluation, memory consolidation, autobiographical planning, goal-driven thought, future planning, retrieval of deeply personal memories, reflective consideration of the meaning of events and experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, evaluating the implications of self and others’ emotional reactions, moral reasoning, and reflective compassion.”
Lahey suggests that daydreaming is also useful in reducing anxiety for stressed-out test-takers.
Rather than view daydreamers as slackers, we should encourage the behavior. Some other ideas to encourage daydreaming:
- Consider the time your child spends playing video games, responding to texts, messaging, watching television, or trolling around on the Internet and carve out some of that time for daydreaming.
- Model daydreaming behavior for your children.
- Ditch the electronics and have a conversation about dreams and aspirations.
- Teach your children that it’s OK to just be. Silence really can be golden.
As John Lubbock, a 19th-century British banker, wrote, “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
- From Psychology Today: How daydreaming helps children process information and explore ideas
- From The Atlantic: Teach kids to daydream
- Mind wandering and creativity
- Read Immordino-Yang’s paper Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education