The Benefits of Boredom


Our grandchildren are probably more over-programmed than any generation of children before them. Technologically, they’re a savvy generation with devices embedded into their ears almost from birth and fingers adeptly glued to keypads and remote controls from an equally early age. It’s a rare household where children engage in conversation at the dinner table, but instead bring their iPods and iPhones to the table where they continue to text and play games. Who can blame them? Most parents are doing the same. In fact, a recent news item suggested the dining room is an obsolete room in the house. Most people sadly eat in front of their computer screens.

In addition, parents feel pressure to make sure their children are proficient in as many skills as possible as soon as possible. Babies and toddlers are enrolled in scheduled activities to give them a head start in music, drama, sports and language. The scheduling continues as they grow,with activities booked for after school, after dinner and weekends. With television and electronic games for entertainment to fill the remaining gaps, there is little down time, except to sleep.

And when there is down time, a child, accustomed to being scheduled, often says “I’m bored.” My oldest grandson said those exact words less than a week after school closed last summer. I reminded him that he had “no schedule, no homework and the opportunity to do anything he wanted, even just sit and enjoy the freedom of making pictures out of the clouds.” He looked at me as if I’d suggested making his own rocket and flying to the moon.
Parents tend to panic when a child announces she is bored and they frantically come up with another schedule. They fix the boredom with more technology or an activity to fill the child’s head with more reactive ‘stuff.’ Throwing in some form of entertainment or external stimulation is easier than letting a child find a way of entertaining himself.

In fact, boredom is essential for creativity to flourish. We all have creativity. It just needs to be unlocked and nurtured. The brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised and often, the best kind of exercise is initiated by the child himself. Kids tend to dig deep and find their imaginations when they’re bored. It’s really a matter of waiting out the boredom and letting them discover their own creativity. Creative thinking can’t be jammed into a schedule.

Giving them the opportunity to let their minds run free can be the job of grandparents. What generation knows better the pleasure of having nothing to do? We grew up in an age where technology was not part of everyday life, but finding our own ways of having fun was expected of us. Somehow, we managed to create something out of nothing with our imaginations. Wasn’t it our generation who developed a lot of today’s technology in the first place? Probably when we were “bored.”

Letting children work through their own boredom and finding their own entertainment will help them develop life skills that set them apart. Their problem solving skills come from proactivity, not the reactivity that comes from being programmed into an activity run by someone else.  Children given the opportunity to develop their own ability to think outside the box will thrive and learn to develop their own individuality and vision.
Who knows? Giving them time to be bored, to exercise their imaginations may be the seeds for entrepreneurship or science discoveries. Encouraging them to use their minds creatively will inspire innovation. Not only that, but they will develop life skills to help them think independently and expand their own confidence and self esteem.