Thinking back to my childhood, television shows for kids were only available about 30 minutes a day; and the 4 stations our television received were the only options to explore.
Recording shows was not an option (until the VHS tape came out), nor a phone or tablet to fall back on when bored. Video games were just coming out with the Atari, but even that was limited and moved at a much slower pace than today’s gaming systems. I did have a computer, the legendary Commodore 64; but if I wanted to play a game, I needed to program it myself. My brothers filled their days creating Lego towns, my sister by reading books and playing with her dog. I spent my time baking or playing with my siblings outside. Life was boring according to today’s standards, but we didn’t know any different – and we all survived!
Unfortunately, our fast paced society and electronic devices have created a fear of boredom for both parents and kids. Many parents go into immediate panic just thinking their child might be bored. Gasp! Hurry! Grab some electronic device to entertain them, or call everyone you know to find a friend to solve this crisis! It is unfortunate that boredom has become so feared, since downtime provides many wonderful benefits:
Creativity – When a child isn’t being entertained, the brain has to come up with something to fill the empty space. By providing constant entertainment and ensuring your child is not bored, your child is being robbed of the ability to be creative. As a result, kids today often become anxious or irritable when given the opportunity to think. This is especially during moments when problem solving is required. It was always during the times that I was most bored as a kid that my siblings and I would build a fort or engage in some pretend play, such as playing school or house.
Awareness of surroundings – When a child is bored, the opportunity arises to look around and notice what is going on in the world. When I bought a van with a DVD player in it, the immediate rule was that it would only be used on long trips. I allowed my kids to watch something on a short trip when we first got it to help the novelty wear off. During this trip, I kept talking about the helicopter flying overhead, the animals we drove by, and the funny things happening in the car next to us. The children however were checked out, gone, completely unaware of the world going by or anything that I was trying to engage them in.
Time to process – Downtime provides time to think about life. I find myself doing some of my best thinking when I am sitting on my lawn mower, and am left with only my brain to entertain me. Pulling weeds, or other important but menial work, provides great time to process anything in life. Chores are an important thing for kids to do in general, but may also provide great time for them to slow down and think.
Appreciation for activities – By slowing down the number of life’s activities, much needed family time can also become more available. Spending time on electronics and going places will become something to look forward to and anticipate, and not an expectation. Kids are much more grateful for extra curricular activities when their lives aren’t filled with them.
Pulling out old toys/activities – All those toys and games you purchased for birthdays and Christmas may seem more exciting to kids who are not provided with constant entertainment of electronics or extracurricular activities. Games and toys are great for developing critical skills such as turn taking, creativity, collaboration, thinking outside the box, and problem solving. An extra bonus is that family time may increase as well.
Keep in mind that the a child saying “I’m bored” or “That’s boring” can also mean, “I don’t like what we are doing,” “It’s too hard for me,” or “I’m concerned that I won’t do it well.” Kids have learned that using the word “boring” or “bored” during times of discomfort will get them out of doing things. They’ve learned that “being bored,” is not good and parents want to make sure their children enjoy everything they do. Embrace and encourage your child through boredom, it may be one of the best gifts you give your child!
Article written by Michelle VanderHeide, MSW, social worker at Horizons Developmental Resource Center.