Bring on the Boredom
The phrase, “I’m bored,” is considered taboo in modern households. Most parents cringe when they hear children and teens groan that they are bored. We feel like it is our responsibility to constantly entertain our kids and have made it our missions to fill their schedules with so many enriching activities from music classes to art to karate to every sport possible. These activities are not the problem, but in our busy culture we rush from one scheduled event to the next so that children are perplexed when faced with how to spend free time. Phones, TVs, tablets, and other devices have overwhelmingly become a substitute for outdoor exploration, reading, writing, and time for creativity. When children are allowed, and even encouraged, to be bored, they are forced to arrive at their own solutions for entertainment. This challenge is more for the parents than it is the kids because they are the ones who set the standard for how to respond to boredom and to not view it as a failure but an opportunity.
Positive Effects of Boredom
Boredom is a gift we can give ourchildren. It is a time to allow their minds to rest and to avoid over-stimulation. Boredom gives way to creativity and imagination. Children and adults too can increase their problem solving skills and reflection. When competing against more exciting activities, reading and writing are often neglected, but time can be etched out for these calmer and more creative activities. Also, boredom is a great motivator. The act of being bored means that someone wants to do something stimulating but that longing is not being fulfilled. In short, boredom equals opportunity.
In the last few years there have been many studies about the positive effects of boredom for both kids and adults. Social Worker and writer Amy Hertzberg explores the challenges today’s parents face with their kids boredom in her article “The ‘I’m Bored’ Generation: Here’s Why Our Kids NEED To Be Unplugged AND Restarted” from community.today.com. She explains, “We are raising the first “all-technology” generation.Entertainment is at our kids fingertips 24/7. And herein lies the danger.” There is not a time when our kids are not bombarded with technology whether at home, riding in a vehicle, or even sitting in a restaurant. Hertberg continues, “Today, screen time has replaced “downtime” and we are raising “double-screeners.” With even young children having access to smartphones, they are becoming more dependent on technology to fill every free moment. Hertzberg says, “Few kids have the attention span to sit and read a book, play a board game or even watch a TV show or movie on the big screen, without ANOTHER screen in their hands.”
The freedom to be bored allows children to have time to discover their own personal interests without constant direction. When we were children we did not have cell phones. Although a lot of our generation watched TV and later waited on the dial tone Internet or talked on cordless phones while listening to music, we also rode bikes outside and played in the woods.
How Parents and Grandparents Respond to Boredom
After a poll from parents and grandparents about how they handle their children’s complaints of boredom, I discovered that the most popular response was to suggest doing a chore.or reading. Beth Hollings, who homeschools her youngest daughter Morgan, says that she responds with the same suggestion her own mother would offer her when she would complain of boredom: chores. She said Morgan quickly learned not to tell her she is bored and instead find a way to entertain herself. Tupelo native Charlotte Renee Stanford says that whenever her ten-year-old daughter complains of boredom she also suggests that she clean. If she has already cleaned her room, then they go for a walk together or her daughter will read.
LeeAnn Raffensperger, mother of three adult children, says, “When one entertains their child far too much it does not allow children to learn to entertain themselves. So children who complain of boredom need to learn for themselves how to keep by not always through electronic devices either.”
Mary Nickels says that she has found ways to decrease her children’s boredom and follows a “less is more” philosophy. They have decluttered their home of too many toys in order “to allow for lots of unstructured play to encourage the use of imagination.”
Grandmother Donna Johnson says that if her grandson complains of boredom, they go outside to ride a bike, play baseball, or basketball. But if the weather is not suitable for outdoors they watch a movie or read a new book together.
Crystal Sharpe Wish agrees that electronics are a problem with the younger generation: “They are so dependent on electronics to entertain them they don’t use their imagination much.” She says that after they are outside for as little as 30 minutes they often are already bored again.
Northeast MS Medical Center supervisor Misty Martin has a plan in place when her children tell her they are bored. She explains, “I read one time that having to ‘survive boredom’ sparks their creativity. That being said, I don’t find activities to jam pack the day. My kids are older now, but they know when they complain about being bored they are told to do a chore or to find something they enjoy doing on their own.”
These parents and grandparents do not see boredom as a problem but as an opportunity to do something constructive. Parents need to let go of their own attachment to technology and need for a packed calendar and give themselves time to be bored. If nothing else, both parents and kids can be bored together, and eventually that boredom can blossom into much more creative and exciting pursuits.
What Parents Can Do to Access the Positive Effects of Boredom
• Resist the urge to spout off a list of activities every time a child announces he/she is bored.
• Ask open ended questions such as, “If you could make anything right now, what would it be?”
• Assign a chore. (This is constructive on many levels.)
• Set limits for electronics.
• Get outside into nature.
• Schedule time for “boredom” or non-structured play.
• Do not allow potential boredom be an excuse for children or themselves to get out of obligations.
• Set the example and balance trying new things, relaxing, and limiting electronics.
• I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black (a children’s book for ages 3-8 about a little girl who discovers old-school remedies for boredom)
• “Let Kids be Bored” (Occasionally) by Michael Ungar https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/nurturing-resilience/201206/let-kids-bebored-occasionally
• “Children Should Be Allowed to Get Bored, Expert Says” by Hannah Richardson http://www.bbc.com/news/education-21895704
Heather Gausline Tate is an English adjunct instructor, freelance writer, private tutor, and travel agent. She lives in Guntown with her husband Logan and their sons London (age 4) and Christian (age 4 months). She is trying to resist the urge to over-schedule and is looking for ways to dial back on technology and embrace the positive effects of boredom.