By, Katherine Lycke, M.Ed/Ed.S, Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
“Mom, I’m bored,” must be in the top five phrases we hear our children say, on repeat, throughout their childhood. Sometimes, it’s expressed in a whining manner; Other times in a demanding screech that makes our hearts race in desperation to make it stop. In some way or another, boredom has become an anxiety-producing sensation and conditioned to be something children feel a passionate need to avoid at all costs.
Think back a few years or decades and consider what your experience of boredom was as a child. It can come in many shapes and sizes, however boiled down, it is the experience of “nothing”, “pause”, or a void of commitment. When we expressed discomfort in this experience, our parents would glance over at us, pat us on the head, and move on with their day. Somehow, it was communicated that boredom was a normal part of life and it was ok to explore it. However, fast forward to today, and the message is completely different.
The Pressure On Kids To Stay Busy
A few factors come into play in regard to what has transformed the experience of boredom into something that is feared by our children. First, the world has advanced in multiple ways including technology, media, and education. There are iPads, iPhones, game consoles, apps, and Youtube channels at our children’s fingertips. Peer relationships depend on one’s ability to play Fort Nite, have SnapChat, and multiple modalities of communication. Schools offer a plethora of structured activities, clubs, expectations, and projects that exude pressure on our children to engage in to meet a “standard” of participation. The ways our children are building upon their self-esteem and internal dialogue are influenced by an ever-increasing amount of outside influence. What does this all equate to? Pressure. Pressure to fill their time with as much structured activity as possible.
As parents, we feel that pressure too because we are exposed to the technology and media as well. However, we have been equipped with the tools to combat boredom whenever it occurs (a rarity as a parent, really). Can you imagine a world where adults who felt bored sat in the corner crying or followed their own parents around while whining incessantly “I’m SO bored”?
The Benefits of Boredom
So, what can we do? Is it ok for my child to experience boredom without me, the parent, feeling responsible for it? How can I help them develop these tools to not unravel at the sensation of twiddling their thumbs?
Firstly, it is a completely normal, natural, and vital experience of childhood, and of being a human for that matter. Boredom is uncomfortable for a reason, however not for the reason that children and society have recently defined it as. Currently, boredom is defined as a sensation one experiences when they are wasting time, and not living life to the utmost fullest. Where as in reality, boredom is the drive to create, imagine, and move forward. It’s quite the hypocrite.
Boredom is what has propelled people through time, technological advancements, and monumental discoveries. This particular feeling is a major ingredient in fostering natural motivation, problem solving, and coping skills. So, normalizing and validating your child’s bored feeling is the first vital step, while normalizing it for yourself as well. One of the worst sensations for parents is when our child is distressed. However, this type of distress is vital to your child’s development into a healthy, functioning adult! So, please let yourselves off the hook for this one Moms and Dads. You deserve a sticker for allowing your children to be bored. You can validate and normalize these feelings by stating something like “it’s really uncomfortable feeling bored, you wish you could think of something to do”.
What To Do When Your Kid Is Bored
Now what? Next is challenging your child to sit with this boredom and take responsibility for it. By doing this, we are giving our children permission to exercise their imagination, and to practice spending time and becoming comfortable with their own company. Here’s a fun analogy: everyone’s imagination needs food to nurture it and let it grow. While parents can help supply food to a child’s imagination, they will need to develop skills to find food independently. Technology currently serves as an IV, and poses a threat to become dependent upon. It’s our duty as parents to disconnect the IV and let our children figure out how they can thrive all on their own, too.
A fun way to nurture their ability to sit with their boredom is to sit down and brainstorm a list of activities (minus video games and Netflix) they can have on hand whenever the feeling of being bored creeps in. Whenever a child complains about this feeling, merely point them in the direction of the list, and let that lingering feeling of guilt pass through you. Validate yourselves parents my telling yourself, (and each other) “I’m doing my job if they feel bored.”