Mounting scientific evidence shows kids need boredom to function at their highest levels. How fascinating is that?
You want your child to be engaged and stimulated. So it’s no wonder you take their boredom seriously. That you look for ways of “fixing it” with activities or playdates or (easiest of all) technology. That you develop a fear of your children’s boredom, and strive to prevent it at almost any cost.
Before you know it, you are the Minister for Entertainment – and engaging your child’s imagination has become your portfolio.
Yet studies of “bored” brains reveal high levels of subliminal activity – so much so that researchers increasingly believe that boredom is to the mind what sleep is to the body: a complex, restorative state in which information is synthesized and new connections wired.
Allowing your kids to experience “the presence of an absence” – whether that means staring out the window in the backseat of the car, making shadow puppets on the wall of a sun-filled bedroom, or idly watching a line of ants on drill parade – is a parental duty you may never have thought about before.
What does your child really mean when she moans that she is “bored” – or flings the judgment “BORE-ing!” at any life experience that does not involve a wifi signal and an on-off button?
It’s a tough one, because the term “boredom” has become a catch-all for a bewildering array of emotional states, ranging from confusion to fear to hostility. Here a few fun facts ithat will help you get under the hood of this most common of kid complaints.
Cricketing legend Sir Don Bradman credited an under-stimulating bush childhood with his astounding skill as a batsman. Hitting a ball with a stick was literally all he did for fun for tens of thousands of hours. Deprivation? Maybe. But just think how a Nintendo Wii might have changed the course of sporting history.
“The capacity to be bored can be a developmental achievement for the child,” says acclaimed British psychotherapist and author Adam Phillips. “In the muffled, sometimes irritable confusion of boredom the child is reaching to a recurrent sense of emptiness out of which his real desire can crystallize.” Depriving a child of this space – which we dishonor with the off-hand designation “downtime” – is a serious (though understandable) mistake.
Boredom and Transformation
Is it true, as some parents glibly insist, that “there is no such thing as boredom – only boring people?” Admittedly, it’s a good line. But the science suggests otherwise. Boredom is real. And not only real but potentially really important to our capacity to think and create and achieve mastery.
Like a fallow field, the mind of a “bored” child may seem unproductive – but deep transformations are taking place just below the surface.
Today, our always-connected offspring process more information in a day than previous generations did in a lifetime. In some ways, boredom has never been less of a problem – and more of an opportunity.
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