Self-Awareness in a World of Constant Chatter, by Marilyn Price-Mitchell PhD

Technology and self-awareness can seem incompatible. In fact, mobile devices often prevent us from seeing what’s right before our eyes. YouTube is filled with hilarious and sometimes scary videos of people unexpectedly falling into water fountains, walking into walls, or tripping off curbs.

On a recent trip to the shopping mall, I watched as a group of eight teenage friends walked together, each silently looking downward at their cell phones.

Suddenly, one of the boys fell embarrassingly into a girl as he tripped getting off the escalator. The mishap occurred because he was texting while walking, sometimes as hazardous as texting while driving! The teens laughed and then quickly returned to their private conversations.

It’s mind boggling to imagine how many conversations were happening while those eight teens walked through the shopping mall. But what’s more important is to ask the question, “When do young people find time to develop self-awareness, to silently reflect on who they are in a world of constant chatter?”

Why Silence Can be Golden

The reason we should ask the question, and encourage children to explore silent spaces is because we know that self-awareness is vital to human development and learning. John Dewey, a renowned psychologist and education reformer, claimed that experiences alone were not enough. What is critical is an ability to perceive and then weave meaning from the threads of our experiences.

Self-awareness is the capacity to see ourselves as uniquely different from other people. It involves self-care —  knowing our own minds, feelings, bodies, and sensations enough to promote and sustain our physical, social, and emotional health.  Through reflection, we gain self-awareness and make meaning from our experiences. The creation of meaning is at the heart of what it means to be human.

Adolescence is a time when young people discover their unique identities. They need moments of silence to reflect on their experiences — to discover who they are as individuals, what kind of relationships they desire, and what they value and believe about life. Tuning out the noisy world helps young people develop the ability to reflect and grow.

4 Ways to Foster Self-Awareness in Childhood and Adolescence

The act of sharing our experiences with others is the first part of developing reflective practices that lead to greater self-awareness and learning. When adults invite children and teens to share thoughts and feelings, they affirm the value of a young person’s experiences, help them see things through other eyes, and support the development of self-awareness. Taken from Dewey’s work on learning, here are four ways to encourage a child’s ability to make meaning from their experiences:

  1. Rather than talking only about the surface of experiences, invite conversations that ask kids to go deeper. How did that experience make you feel? What were you feeling in your body? Anxiety? Fear? Exhilaration? What does that say to you?
  2. Explore a child’s attitudes and self-awareness that resulted from a particular experience. Dewey recognized the tendency in all human beings to see what we wish was true rather than to accept evidence of what really is. When adults challenge young people’s assumptions, it encourages them to think more deeply about their choices.
  3. Honor the validity of young people’s thoughts and feelings rather than judging them. Adults should accept ideas with open-mindedness — a term Dewey says is not blind acceptance of another person’s way of experiencing the world, but a willingness to listen to different perspectives. When an adult accepts and listens to a child’s feelings, it gives the child permission to explore meaning in greater depth. (And it increases the adult’s self-awareness!)
  4. Talk about self-responsibility. What are the real-life implications of my thinking and feeling? Dewey examined the link between how we think, feel, and act. Being responsible implies that we are acting on meaning that is fully our own, not someone else’s.

When we engage children and teens in conversations that encompass the above suggestions, young people become curious and desire growth. When this occurs, they will likely find their own ways and times for silence and introspection. They will ignore the noise of text messages, social media, and nonstop activity. They will appreciate the importance of silence and the golden beauty of the learning that emerges from within. Self-awareness will become an internal strength that will help them navigate through life.


Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: MacMillan

Dewey, J. (1933). How we think. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books. (Original work published 1910)

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Kappa Delta Pi.

Photo Credit: Antonio Guillem

Published: November 9, 2014

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