Remember when you wished the weekend would last forever? As weeks of the “shelter in place” order have passed, the eagerness for some “time off” has lost its spark. Children’s boredom is growing day by day and will continue, especially as many schools will be ending the school year earlier than normal. The rising monotony of each day brings about an increase in technology use to keep children occupied. What they should be doing, however, is embracing the boredom and allowing their creative juices to flow.
When we are bored, we are more likely to engage in “sensation seeking.” A study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology states that boredom causes us to look for activities to stimulate the reward centers of the brain. Since using devices increases dopamine, the neural connections for this increase, and our brains crave it more and more. The ability to let our minds wander is diminished and any moment that lacks stimulation makes us uncomfortable. And, unfortunately, our children are learning to satisfy these unpleasant feelings with technology.
As Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, said “We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom.” However, when we try to rid ourselves of every moment of boredom, we close off our ability to think on a deeper level. Boredom breeds creativity and when children can fulfill the stimulation they are seeking by allowing themselves to “space out,” associative thinking is engaged. Sooner or later, they will create a new game, find different uses for items, or be inspired to find a new skill.
By enforcing an amount of boredom daily, children not only tap into creativity, but they also give their brains an opportunity to rest and reset. When the brain is relaxed, mental clutter diminishes, and new possibilities are abounding. A sense of curiosity presents itself and children learn problem solving skills by a need to fulfill idle time. Their confidence is then built because they are taking chances with new experiences and goals. By allowing children the time to explore new things, parents help them learn life skills that will stick with them when things adjust back and reopen.
To support children even more, parents can be role models by resisting the urge to pick up a device during every moment of down time. Parents can also take the opportunity to implement Parent Skills techniques and information. By putting down devices, parents can be more attuned to their child’s curiosities and prompt them to try new things. Doing so in a way that is fun and fosters new interests can also enhance the parent and child connection.
With our current situation, the summer slump and ensuing boredom will surely hit harder this year. Creating a plan for children that allows space in their routine for “boredom” will promote curiosity. Remember, as Robert M. Pirsig said, “Boredom always precedes a period of great creativity.” Learning to “space out” again and avoiding the constant use of technology will create a more relaxed mind and cultivate a more inquisitive approach to life.
For example, our daughter created a "Boredom Book" unprompted and independently that includes pages of projects such as braiding, doodling, designing a t-shirt and sneakers, and making origami. Allowing them time to create and build their own projects will nurture this skill and build their creativity instead of always having a prescribed project to work on. Those have their place and time, but make sure they are balanced with some time to wonder and dream. You will be amazed at what they create when you give them this space!