Parenting

Should We Let Our Kids Be Bored?

The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

These days—with social media, endless music, and games right at our fingertips—it’s easy to find yourself constantly entertained (and distracted and overstimulated). So, should we let boredom be a thing of the past for our kids?

According to child psychology experts, we shouldn’t let our kids turn on their screens every time they’re bored. Read this article to see why boredom might be a good thing for your child’s mental health and cognitive development.

Why don’t we want to be bored?

Boredom is a sign that the brain is not being stimulated as much as we’d like. It’s an uncomfortable emotion, but it’s normal and healthy to experience uncomfortable emotions from time to time.

Boredom, like other emotions, communicates information with us. Oftentimes, if you’re feeling bored, it means that the task you’re working on is too difficult, or too easy. For example, if your child is always bored in math class, it might mean that the class is too repetitive for them.

Smartphones and other electronics are often used as a short-term relief for the discomfort of boredom. However, though it’s easy to spend a significant amount of time on social media, people rarely find that it feels refreshing or rejuvenating. And, unfortunately, using electronics in this way can reduce the brain’s capacity to handle boredom.

The benefits of boredom

Parents often fill their children’s schedules with an endless list of activities, sports, and classes to try to use their time productively. In part, they do this so that their children are always stimulated, always learning, and never bored. But there are, perhaps surprisingly, many benefits of boredom. Here’s just a few of them:

● Problem-solving and creativity

When kids have a schedule that’s highly structured and constantly managed, they may not know what to do with themselves when left to their own devices. Boredom can teach kids to look for opportunities, create their own ideas, make up stories, and fill their time with things that teach them skills like brainstorming, planning, and a willingness to trying new things.

● Being present

Boredom can help children become more aware of the present. Instead of playing a video game, they can learn by observing earth worms wiggle across damp soil, noticing the shape of clouds floating by, or seeing what type of leaves make the best leaf pile.

● Build self-esteem

When children are given chock-full schedules, they may develop a sense of dependence on their parents. This can make it difficult to grow into young adults who successfully manage time and responsibilities without assistance. Boredom gives children a chance to work through challenges on their own.   

● Manage uncomfortable feelings

Being bored is not a fun or enjoyable experience. By allowing your child to be bored, they can learn valuable skills, like emotional regulation and managing frustration.

● Opportunities to discover interests

When your child is bored, they will start to gravitate towards things that interest them. For example, if you go to the beach all summer, your child might discover new things they enjoy, like swimming, volleyball, sandcastle art, or collecting seashells.

However, make sure to provide them with the tools to explore their positive outlets. For example, Dr. Katie Hurley calls these “boredom busters,” and says in a New York Times interview that “It’s the difference between leaving the child in a room with absolutely nothing to do,” as opposed to “bringing them into a room that you know has books and puzzles — things that would be meaningful to your kid — and that would be a good fit for them.”

If you have a teenager, you probably know that constant boredom isn’t a good thing. It can lead to harmful behaviors, fights, and frustration. If you’re navigating these challenges, you might want to read more about teenagers at BetterHelp.

How to guide your child’s boredom

If you’re a parent, you’ll certainly be familiar with your child’s ability to complain about being bored with an exasperated sigh or a drawn out, “I’m boooooooored.” But maybe, instead of trying to guard them from the feeling of boredom, you could give them the tools to manage their down time.

For example, consider having them write out a list of activities they might want to try, like:

  • Puzzles or board games
  • Art projects
  • Reading a book
  • Building a fort
  • Calling a friend
  • Bird watching
  • Building an obstacle course
  • Creating a treasure map with a friend
  • Gardening
  • Raking a leaf pile to jump in
  • Biking with friends

Note that, oftentimes, kids are looking for attention when they say they don’t want to do any of the activities you’ve suggested. They might try to continue talking to you to avoid having to deal with boredom, and engaging with them in these moments can reinforce that behavior.

Takeaway

Boredom is an emotion that most kids and adults alike avoid—oftentimes by using Smartphones. However, boredom can be a helpful emotion for children as they grow up, teaching them skills like problem-solving, planning, creative thinking, mindfulness, and independence.

When you’re planning your child’s schedule, consider for a moment if you can squeeze in some unstructured time. 

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