Let Your Child Be Bored!

It’s scary to think that the lifestyle I lived through my youth will simply not exist for future generations.

Gone are the days of walking to your friend’s house and inviting yourself over to play or suffering through a busy dial tone and accepting you may not hear from that person at all that day. I remember when we first got internet and how remarkable I found it to be able to converse on my computer with my next door neighbour on ICQ. I truly did live through the internet boom and I’m thankful for that, but it does make me think, how has this shaped who I am today, and are future generations really doomed? Before the internet there was television, and it too played a heavy role in my upbringing. In the 1990s Dr. Teresa Belton, a visiting fellow at the University of East Anglia, studied the effects that television has on the imagination of 10-12 year old children, ultimately concluding that television negatively impacts their development: “The ubiquity and ease of access to television and videos perhaps robs today’s children of the need to pursue their own thoughts and devise their own occupations, distracting them from inner processes and constantly demanding responses to external agendas, and suggests that this may have implications for the development of imaginative capacity.” Another study examined the effects that television has on a child’s ability to imagine. Researchers found that children in a community with no television scored significantly higher on divergent thinking skills, a measure of imaginativeness, compared to two other communities, one of which had one TV channel and the other, four.

The scary part? Once the community gained access to television, their skills dropped to the same level as the other participants.

The obvious and alarming next question is, if regular children’s programming hinders their ability to imagine, what then is the internet doing to their young minds? And what did children do before television and the internet? They were bored. But since when is being bored a bad thing? Neuroscientists have discovered that “when the brain is supposedly resting it’s actually more active. This suggests that daydreaming, or mind wandering as psychologists call it, must have a purpose” (source). Belton interviewed certain creative professionals to gain more insight into their childhood and found that being ‘bored’ played a vital role in their creativity as a child, and even now. One professional was writer and actress Meera Syal. She remembers the days of gazing out her window at the rural landscape, and how ‘doing nothing’ prompted her to try new things like learning to bake cakes with the elderly woman next door. One habit she thanks her younger self for is writing in her diary, which she believes boredom inspired her to do and has helped manifest her writing career. “It’s very freeing, being creative for no other reason than that you freewheel and fill time,” she said. According to the Wikipedia definition, imagination is considered to be the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses, such as seeing or hearing. Would it be safe to say that imagination can inspire the pursuit of knowledge? While we learn best through experience, it’s still important to allow our minds to wander, to be bored. It’s from this place we can learn empathy. Our world has become so fast-paced and our lives so busy, and we often feel we need to engage with it in order to feel useful, productive, even validated — the Glorification of Busy, if you will. But allowing our brains time to process and imagine is still ‘doing something,’ even if it doesn’t feel that way. According to Belton, it is helping to shape a strong and resilient mind: But to get the most benefit from times of potential boredom, indeed from life in general, children also need inner resources as well as material ones. Qualities such as curiosity, perseverance, playfulness, interest and confidence allow them to explore, create and develop powers of inventiveness, observation and concentration.

These also help them to learn not to be deterred if something doesn’t work the first time, and try again. By encouraging the development of such capacities, parents offer children something of lifelong value. So for parents, the next time your child needs something to do, allow them to create and play without the use of technology. I encourage you to remember the child you used to be, the one who found fun and joy out of things like playing with sticks in the field outside your home or imagining the ground was lava as you jumped from couch to couch. This information is more than applicable to adults, too. Spend a day without your phone, computer, or TV and see where your mind takes you. .

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