The Fourth of July has come and gone are we are now in the middle of the doldrums of summer. This time can be especially trying on parents of younger kids, or any kids still living at home for that matter, as camps are winding down, vacations have been taken, and the natives are getting restless. And bored. But guess what parents, boredom is good and you need to encourage it! In fact, you need to schedule it! What? Yep, stop planning every second of your child’s summer and let them experience boredom. End of story but not end of blog.
The Importance of Doing Nothing
Boredom is very important in a child’s life but parents tend to think cooking classes, art camps, tennis lessons, and other scheduled activities are summer “must dos.” Wrong. Yes, it’s beneficial for a child to learn some new things but it’s also good for them to learn how to be bored.
According to Dr. Teresa Bolton and hundreds of other child development experts, boredom is crucial for developing a child’s internal stimulus, which ultimately results in creativity and motivational skills that will help them later in life. Child Psychologist Lyn Fry adds, “There’s no problem with being bored. Children need to learn how to be bored in order to motivate themselves. Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant.”
That’s all well and good, but enter parents. Parents who try waaaaaay too hard to make their kids’ lives perfect and who decide for them what they will be doing in their spare time. Mom and dad choose soccer camp, play movies in the car, schedule relentless play dates, and stock up on video games. These do very little to motivate kids and make them resourceful. Stop it, and stop it now.
Our role as parents is to raise honorable children and prepare them for their future places in society. But, providing endless sources of entertainment actually does more harm than good. Yes family time is important but so is alone time. Kids who are signed up for everything don’t experience autonomy, may not seek challenges, or have difficulty self-motivating. If a parent spends all his or her time filling up a child’s time, that child will never learn to do so for themselves, but a child whose life is not filled with programmed activities will have no choice but to increase their creativity and develop motivational skills. It is those type of skills that will satisfy our roles of preparing them for life…life that is not all about them and life that if full of challenges whether we like to admit it or not.
I’ll admit it. I was THAT mom for a short time. I had Kristen enrolled in this camp and that class. She’s an only child and I never wanted her to feel alone or left out, but I quickly discovered that my girl enjoys her down time. She still does to this day. As much as she is a “people person” and easily makes friends, she also needs and likes her alone time. It’s one of her biggest strengths.
“I am passionately curious.” Albert Einstein
So if boredom begets curiosity and curiosity was good enough for Einstein then boredom should be good enough for the rest of us, right? To be sure, I’m not saying don’t enroll your child in anything, but at the same time, don’t over-schedule them and, hear this, let them decide what they might want to take a class or lesson in. Maybe Johnny doesn’t really like soccer or wants a break from it during the summer. Maybe Sally would like to learn how to sew not dance. In the same vein, just because brother likes swim team doesn’t mean sister does. All siblings should not be required to do the same activities. Every child is different and should be allowed to have their own interests.
Sit down with your children and ask them what really interests them. Then, plan for them to participate in that activity, not an activity you think they should do. (The only lesson I firmly believe every child should be “forced” to do is swimming. I’m not saying swim team; I’m saying every child should take swim lessons and learn how to survive in water.) It’s in our nature to control things, but as Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips warns, “It is one of the most oppressive demands of adults that the child should be interested, rather than take time to find what interests him,” Phillips also adds that boredom is integral to the process of taking one’s time.
The good thing is, boredom is a temporary state. It never lasts forever and in most cases someone who is bored will be inspired to find something to do. When your child tells you, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do,” that’s your sign that he or she needs some inner reflection and self-motivation. Remember that list you made with them about their interests? Have them look at it and figure out what they can come up with to tackle that interest. Put it on them. A motivated child is a child who will seek opportunities and experiences and will be able to protect themself from boredom.
Rest assured however, that allowing your child to experience boredom does not remove responsibility from their life and does not mean permitting so much down time that they find trouble. I think that’s what many parents think they are avoiding, which is a good thing, but like anything it’s all about timing and balance.
You can always go old school on them and warn them that if they can’t find something productive to do, you’ll find something for them. Worked for me and will work for you little darlings. Guarantee it. In addition, older kids should be required to hold a job and youngsters should be encouraged to fill their boredom with chores. From a very young age, all kids need to be accountable for their actions and be provided with an environment that encourages them to work on their own, go beyond their comfort zones, and solve their own problems. This requires no structured programming and unplugging the TV, video games, cell phones, and computers…unless they use them to create something. Just say no parents!
So many kids today are never told “no” even when a parent is tired and needs some down time of their own. We rush around giving in to our children’s every whim, we coddle them and their feelings, and we allow too many choices. This is not what the bestselling “Parenting with Love and Logic” meant to suggest but like anything, today’s “I want them to like me and I want their life free of adversity” parents have taken the book’s very wise lessons too far.
So schedule boredom mom and say no to video games dad. Actually stay home for a change and let your kids chill. You may just be surprised at what they discover.