Estoy aburrido. Wǒ hěn wúliáo. Mne skuchno. It doesn’t matter which language is used, mamas and papas around the world dread hearing the words “I’m bored” being uttered from their children’s mouths. A natural response might be to jump in and provide entertainment, turn on the iPad, fill schedules with play dates and extra-mural activities, or head off to an overpriced play area. But the best thing to do for a bored child is to just let that child be, well, bored. This is not us trying us to be lazy parents, by the way. Actual scientific research now proves that boredom has benefits.
According to Wijnand van Tilburg, the co-author of the paper Bored George Helps Others: A Pragmatic Meaning-Regulation Hypothesis on Boredom and Prosocial Behaviour, (which, we have to say, is quite a boring name) says, “Bored people feel that their actions are meaningless and so they are motivated to engage in meaningful behavior”. Basically, this means that because people perceive their boredom as useless, they’re far more likely to be kind to others to make up for it, which is a good thing. Other studies show that the bored mind is also more likely to wander, giving it a chance to come up with creative ideas and solutions. Another plus. With this in mind, research is stacking up to show that it’s actually just as good for children to be bored and not growing up with the expectation that they should be constantly on the go or entertained all the time.
Unfortunately, in many Western countries people still value busyness and pressure over low-intensity emotions like calmness and mindfulness. Living in cities, where we’re usually constantly plugged in, doesn’t help either. Sadly, and probably due in part to all of the above, children have become increasingly anxious since the 1950s. That’s according to a 2000 study by the American Psychological Association that says that by giving little ones more free time to just cloud watch, for example, you could actually be helping them learn how to manage stress better. If you’re still not convinced about all of this, we’ve got four reasons why boredom could actually benefit your children.
Boredom makes kids creative
Think about when you grew up. If you got bored, you were probably told to go and play outside, where – weather permitting – you climbed a tree, made a mud pie, slid down a dune, or played tag. Trying to make sure children are constantly entertained is actually a very modern parenting style, and one that could actually contribute to increased stress levels in young people. When the mind is not constantly plugged in and is left to wander a bit, it gets active and starts to daydream. The result? Imagination. When our kids get bored, they flex their creative muscles, which – in this innovative and ever-changing world – is probably the most important thing they can learn to do.
Boredom helps kids find meaning in life
The American Psychological Association has done research that proves that when people are bored they look back on their lives and feel like what they’ve done is more meaningful. They also try to make their futures more meaningful. Why do humans do this? Our brains are actually terrified of being inactive, so to stop us from just sitting and staring into space, our minds try to make our lives more interesting. When we think about life and all its intricacies when we’re bored, things tend to feel more meaningful. As a result, when we have a new experience, it seems more significant too. The same experience applies to our little ones.
Boredom breeds motivation
It’s tough to hear it, but the truth is we can’t always be there for our kids. We won’t always be able to hold their hands and pack their work lunches and fill their schedules with Friday-night parties and squash sessions when they’re in their thirties – which, you might agree – would be a little creepy, right? At some point we have to let go and hope we’ve given our children a good enough foundation from which they can leap into life. With this in mind, kids must learn how to feel motivated without our help. By giving them a chance to do nothing – to be bored, essentially – they’ll be more equipped to find ways to be interested in what’s going on around them, and they’ll be able to figure out how to incorporate those things into their own lives.
Boredom shapes kids
When we hover over our kids (aka helicopter parent them) we’re not giving them a chance to figure out what they like, or what they want to do. In essence, they never really learn how to handle anything. Giving too much attention to our little ones is also unhealthy because it can teach them that they’re the focus of the entire universe and that everyone is here to do their bidding. It may also cause them to take on an identity formed by their parents or grandparents, with no opportunity to create their own. So, this is the perfect excuse to put down that planner, sit back, and – when your little ones come and tell you they’re bored – simply do nothing but let them be.