Why our kids need boredom

Recently we were on vacation in the mountains and the girls kept bugging me about being bored. So, I sent them outside to play by themselves. About 30 minutes later, they excitedly came to find us and showed us a restaurant they’d created (with the rocks and leaves) and they wanted us to be their first customers. Imagination in action. All spurred on by boredom.

Have you ever heard this phrase from your kid?

I’m bored! What are we going to do today?

It’s the number one reason why parents hate summer. Our kids, because of expectations we created for them by the way, are now constantly looking to us to entertain them or at least provide access to entertainment in the form of a device. It’s our fault and we know it. It’s a lot easier to buy ourselves time, when we’re busy or in a hurry, by simply solving this boredom problem. But here’s the thing, there’s a growing body of research that suggests that being bored might actually be good for you.

Case in point. When I was a kid (and this may resonate with many other parents), I was responsible for most of my own entertainment. That means, when I got bored, I had to rely on my imagination to get me out of a jam. We didn’t do camps or scheduled activities during the summer (except a week of vacation bible school), because who could afford that? Besides, my mom’s response to, “I’m bored” was, “go outside and play.” Sound familiar? So that’s what I did. Everyday, I would wake up, figure out what I wanted to do, and then get outside and go do it. I didn’t have device to keep me company or constantly entertained. I had to rely on my imagination. And boy did it ever take me places. My friends and I created all kinds of clubs, we built structures in the woods, went on misdaventures.

Still to this day, I get my best ideas when I’m bored. Unfortunately this doesn’t happen often. Usually, I’m too busy to be bored and all I have time to do is execute. It’s one of the reasons why I attempt to be so playful and carefree with my work. I remember the days when I worked in an office, I would roam the space doing crazy things like hiding in boxes or creating a hug flash mob with my co-workers. I was looking for ways to spark my imagination so that I could go create something new.

But for my kids, this is a habit that I fear is dying sooner. A key part of the problem is school and how the accountability driven culture of testing has permeated even family lifestyles. Most families I know spend their time worrying about putting their kids in the right summer camps, preparing them for the next step. We’re so over-scheduled as families that our kids no longer have time to be bored. This could produce a generation of kids who don’t know how to creatively solve their own problems or use their imaginations.

There’s this great quote:

Silence is the think tank of the soul. Boredom, like silence, is not just the absence of noise — it invites the presence of focus. Noise keeps you busy. Remove distractions and start listening. What is boredom trying to tell you?

Gustavo Razzetti

So, I say let them be bored. Take those devices away for a while. Better yet, encourage them to let their mind wander and see where it takes them. I bet it’ll be somewhere great. Remind them there’s an actual real world out there. It’s good for them. I’m finding myself repeating my mother’s directive to the girls more often when they come to me with the classic line of, I’m bored, what should I do? Go outside. Figure it out. I did. I’m sure they will as well.


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