At some point, all parents will hear the same complaint from their kids: “I’m bored.”
Sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter how much you do for your kids, they always end up complaining about being bored. You could take them on a trip to the beach, followed by a weekend full of sporting activities, sandwiched between birthday parties for friends and spending time with family, and yet your kids might still find a way to complain about being bored.
Although you may dread hearing your child complain about boredom, the feeling itself is not something that parents should help their children avoid. Let’s look at the benefits of boredom for children.
It seems like since the beginning of time, children have probably been complaining about being bored. I feel like if Cain had been in the Garden of Eden he would have asked Adam, “Do we really have to name all the animals?”
It does seem that the drastic advances in access to technology over the past several decades have changed how we handle our boredom. Even just 20 years ago children didn’t have access to the internet 24/7. Dial-up internet access meant that for every second a teen spent on AOL chat, their parents lost access to their home phone line, preventing most adolescents from spending too much time online.
Today, however, youth have access to nearly whatever they want, whenever they want it.
For example, when I was a kid, you had Saturday morning cartoons that started at 8 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and went until noon. I knew as a youngster that was the only time I would get to watch cartoons the entire weekend.
Kids today have access to cartoons whenever they want on YouTube, Netflix, Disney+ or any of the many other streaming services. Because of this, current kids seem to have less patience for being bored because there is always something else they could be doing that can hold their attention.
When your children do complain about being bored, don’t immediately try to offer them solutions for things to do. Boredom is a natural thing that they will experience their entire life, and we don’t want our children to feel dependent upon an adult for helping them “fix” their boredom. Instead, allow them to sit in their boredom.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, a psychologist who specializes in parenting, claims that it is when children are bored that they begin to discover themselves: “Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves.”
Boredom is the beginning of creativity. If we allow our children to be bored and do not offer fixes for it, we will begin to see our children’s imaginations take over. This is especially important now, as many children are so busy that they don’t have the opportunity to get bored.
Lapointe believes that some children’s lack of motivation as teens points back to their limited time to develop their own sense of self through being allowed to be bored as children: “The sad truth in many of these cases is that this was never allowed to come out of their children. The child’s sense of self and the child’s sense of being was never allowed to awaken. There was simply not enough stillness.”
It is during boredom that children begin to discover what they like and allow their creativity and imagination to grow.
Boredom also helps children develop grit and problem-solving skills — characteristics that are tough to build. When children are allowed to be bored, it makes them think of ways to occupy their minds on their own. They learn to rely on themselves for ways to spend their own time, rather than their parents, and they are often more motivated to persevere at something when their play is self-directed.
Finally, boredom promotes our children learning how to form and navigate relationships. Often times when people are bored, their first response is to see what others are doing. Having time to be bored forces our kids to interact in a natural way with peers, rather than allowing them to get lost in the infinite technology that surrounds them.
So, the next time your child complains about being bored, I encourage you to smile and do nothing. Allow children to use their own minds, and see where they take it!
• Mischa McCray is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. Send questions or topics you’d like him to discuss to firstname.lastname@example.org.