That universal whine of childhood: “I’m bored.”
As parents, we’ve all heard it countless times, and have all struggled with how to respond. Handing your kid some kind of screen is so tempting, with its almost magical ability to quiet them down instantly and keep them entertained for long periods of time. But we know that too much screen time isn’t healthy, and that ever-present technology is creating kids who are constantly engaged and lacking in creative imagination. What will be the implications of this in another decade or two?
When I think back to my own childhood, my favorite activities to do at home were both born out of boredom. As the youngest child of five, I was lucky enough to experience quite a bit of “benign neglect.” T.V. hours were limited, and I’d search the house for items like buttons, scraps of fabric, beads, and magazine ads. With paper, scissors and glue always available, I’d create textured landscapes and houses and animals with my finds, in addition to spending hours building intricate towns out of colored, wooden blocks. My love of crafting and design is still strong today, and I wonder if either would exist had iPads and smartphones been around back in the day.
Psychologists know that there are benefits of boredom: it helps kids become creative, fosters problem solving, and encourages independent thought, along with developing decision-making skills. Learning to battle boredom and discovering ways to occupy unstructured time is a vital life skill. The reality is that feeling bored is a fact of life, and we need to help our kids learn to deal with that fact.
How can we do that? One way is to remind your kids that it’s OK to feel uncomfortable emotions, and to be bored now and then. The next time they complain about feeling bored, share with them that it’s an opportunity to turn their attention to their own thoughts and feelings.
Encourage them to just get comfortable and to do some brain activities, like quietly counting, making lists or singing songs in their head. Offer some jumping-off ideas for them to try out, like writing a letter to a relative, starting a gratitude list, organizing their drawers or closet by colors, having a dance party, playing with a pet, or learning how to do a new chore.
Sometimes just simply saying, “I know your imagination will help you come up with something” is all they need to hear to realize that they do have the ability to deal with boredom.
Parents, we need this reminder that our job is not to constantly ensure that our kids are having fun or are engaged in a structured activity. Creativity and original thought blossom out of boredom. Consider gifting your kids with a little more benign neglect from here on out.