It’s the phrase that makes nearly every mom cringe, and with summer approaching, it’s one most of us will hear a lot of soon:
In our fast-paced, action-packed, activity-centered world where kids as young as seven are given cell phones and spend hours a day watching television, we can easily keep our children entertained from the moment they wake to when they go to bed.
But is that healthy? Could all this entertainment cause their stress levels to rise, their creativity to wane, and their self-confidence to falter?
Could boredom, in fact, benefit our children, and if so, why do we, the parents, often feel the need to become our children’s entertainer?
I think maybe we’ve been conditioned to believe we, and therefore our children, must always be doing something, achieving something, progressing toward something. Sometimes it seems as if boredom has become synonymous with torture.
But what if this mindset is actually hurting our children? That’s not to say we shouldn’t encourage hard work, goal setting, and social involvement, within reason.
Because sometimes, the best thing we can do for our children is to slow things down to allow them time to experience boredom.
Boredom allows our children to decompress.
A few weeks ago, an article circulated Facebook about how even a few minutes of silence benefits our brains and helps to reduce stress. More than that, studies have found constant noise actually harms our children and delays their development (2011, Novotney). Is it any wonder, then, that today’s children show such increased levels of anxiety (2000, Dr. Twenge)?
I find this interesting, especially considering many of us use the television to help “calm” our children when they appear rambunctious or agitated when, according to research, our efforts could in fact be exacerbating the issue.
Boredom encourages creativity.
When our daughter was young, I intentionally limited television and electronics to not more than a few hours a week. I’d read a study that showed how a child’s brain is more active staring at a blank wall than watching television and I decided I wanted more for her. So, I turned the tv off, sat her in a room with access to toys, books, and art supplies and watched her creative side blossom. The result? She created elaborate, three-dimensional, multi-story structures using nothing but paper, scissors, and tape.
I find it interesting that she is now pursuing an engineering degree.
Not only did her boredom spark her creativity, it allowed her time to develop her problem solving skills, skills she leaned on heavily to get through tough classes in high school and now in college.
The thing is, if given the opportunity, children will entertain themselves, and in the process, will learn how to care for themselves.
Boredom increases self-confidence.
Everything we do sends a message to our children. When we’re quick to rescue them when things get difficult rather than encouraging them to persevere toward a solution, we’re in essence saying, “I don’t think you can manage this one.” When we rush to entertain them upon first sign of boredom, we risk conveying the message, “Your incomplete on your own. You can’t entertain yourself, and solitude is bad.”
Fast forward ten years, how do you think such a child will handle sitting by themselves in the lunch room, or walking away from a group of friends venturing into trouble?
Boredom encourages self-discovery.
Our children are vastly different than us, and they’ve been created to embrace and fulfill a unique kingdom role. Childhood is meant to be the time when they begin to discover who they are, what they enjoy, and what they’re passionate about. And they will, if we allow them to do so. But when pack their day with activities and distractions, we hinder their ability to get to know themselves. Boredom gives our children time to think, which in turn allows them to be introspective.
Let’s talk about this! Did any of these points resonate with you? What are some ways you help encourage your children to entertain themselves? How have you incorporated times of silence into your children’s day, and how do you believe that helps them emotionally and cognitively? Can you see evidence of increased stress when your children become busier, and if so, how have you handled this?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or on Facebook, because we can all learn from each other!
Novotney, Amy. “Silence Please.” American Psychological Association, 2011, Vol 42, No 7
Dr. Twenge, Jean M. “Studies Show Normal Children Today Report More Anxiety Than Child Psychiatric Patients in the 1950s.” American Psychological Association, December 14, 2000.