Summer is here and parents everywhere live in fear of hearing the two most dreaded words in the English language: “I’m bored.”
My daughter, Vivi, has 73 days between the last day of first grade and the start of the new school year. That doesn’t sound like much time to fill…until you break it down to 105,120 minutes of free time. If you’re lucky, there’s a weeklong family vacation in there to break up the monotony. A day camp here, vacation bible school there. That still leaves you with 95,000 minutes.
The temptation is certainly there to schedule every moment for your children to keep them physically active, mentally stimulated, and perhaps most importantly, out of your hair. However, there is a growing movement advocating for a blank calendar.
Ask any grandparent and they will quickly tell you that their parents did not view their entertainment as a requirement of being a good parent. Instead, with a twinkle in their eyes they will tell you stories of summers spent making mud pies, catching caterpillars, and building forts. If your parents grew up in south Georgia like my mom, you might even hear about the strange practice of strawing June bugs. Don’t ask.
If you don’t believe the old timers, maybe listen to some of the great creative minds on the subject of boredom.
Famed writer Dorothy Parker said, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”
Philosopher and author Robert Pirsig of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance fame wrote, “Boredom always precedes a period of great creativity.”
And Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell said, “A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow process of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers as though they were cut flowers in a vase.”
I know, pretty heady stuff when you’re just trying to get your kids to leave you alone long enough to do a load of laundry and pay the bills. But you have to admit they have a point. If your child doesn’t learn now how to be alone with his or her thoughts and feelings, what happens years from now when they leave the nest as young adults? Learning to be alone and to work things out for themselves is an important step in their development into fully grown, functional humans. Imagine what your relationship would be like if your spouse or partner constantly looked to you for entertainment. Yikes!
Psychologists have been studying boredom for decades, and there is a growing body of work that agrees with the grandparents and great minds. Boredom is good for kids.
A Canadian study in the 1980s revealed that children in a town without television showed greater creativity than children who watched television regularly. I would love to see a similar study today with our exponential increase in available screens and time spent starting at them. A more recent study out of Texas A&M University endorses letting children be bored. Psychologists Shane Bench and Heather Lench concluded, “[Boredom} serves to encourage people to seek new goals and experiences. Boredom provides a valuable adaptive function by signaling it is time to pursue a new goal… we propose that boredom will motivate the pursuit of new goals as the intensity of the current experience fades.” In other words, kids who are given the wonderful opportunity to be bored will find a way to fill their time on their own.
Some of the benefits of boredom are increased creativity, developing problem solving skills, becoming comfortable with being alone, exploring varied interests, and making new friends, possibly even with their siblings!
I need to wrap this up now because I have to pick Vivi up from music camp and drop her off at a golf lesson then go shopping for new shoes for next week’s dance camp. If y’all see us at Big Kahuna’s, be sure to come over and say hi. We’ll be there approximately 2,036 minutes this summer.