When our kids declare their boredom, it’s easy to try to fix the problem by handing them something to do. But is that the best solution?
Did you know that boredom can actually be a healthy condition because it often spurs creativity? Maybe it’s time to rethink our response to the world’s most annoying statement!
Children, like all humans, are made in the image of God. That means they are creative, just like their Heavenly Father is, and are fulfilled when they use that creativity.
American parents tend to over-structure their children’s days. When was the last time you refused to rescue your child who complained of being bored? Children who learn to amuse themselves will develop creativity far beyond those who must be entertained by video games, organized sports, and scheduled play dates.
Charlotte Mason was known for allowing children to explore and create in their own ways. She wrote, “The part of the mother or teacher in the early years (indeed, all through life) is to sow opportunities, and then to keep in the background, ready with a guiding or restraining hand only when these are badly wanted.” 1
Mark Early of Breakpoint noted that in a 2010 Kaiser study of over two thousand Americans between the ages of eight and eighteen, the average participants spent seven and one-half hours a day tethered to electronic media of some sort—smartphones, computers, or television. And this didn’t include time actually sending or receiving messages; communicating with these devices added another one and one-half hours each day, for a total of nine hours daily looking at a screen. The reason most often given: these kids were terrified of being bored.
“This ‘boredom’ is ‘in most cases...the state of mind of those who lack imagination and therefore require all kinds of stimuli to prevent them from losing interest in things, and even in life.’ That’s why people, adults as well as kids, are ‘constantly fiddling with their cell phone.’ The alternative to all this fiddling is being alone with your own thoughts, which terrifies people used to the constant stimulation provided by our media-saturated culture...Neuroscientists tell us that many, if not most, of our most creative and productive moments come when we step back from all the stimulation and let our minds be free. In other words, what many people call ‘boredom’ is good for us in ways that the constantly-stimulated can’t begin to imagine.” 2
Boredom is not a disease to be cured. Boredom often leads to our most creative ideas if you allow it to linger. Don’t shortcut the process by becoming your children’s personal Walt Disney.
Someone has said, “Boredom is the breeding ground of genius.” When a child is told to amuse himself for an hour without using electronics or toys, he learns many skills. He develops self-determination, decision-making skills, and problem-solving skills. He learns to create his own happiness and develop self-reliance. Unstructured play lets the child dream up his own ideas with his own set of rules. One author suggests that children need twice as much unstructured time as structured play experiences. 3
Your job as a parent is to provide the time, materials, and (mostly) permission for creativity to blossom. A ball or a pet will amuse a child for hours. Keep a stash of basic supplies: blankets, dress-up clothes, tools, old boards, craft supplies, and other items for them to forage through. Encourage him to learn a new skill; I taught myself to touch type one summer.
Our five sons played a board game with friends and then came home and created their own game board, money, and playing pieces. They spent many happy hours making countless paper airplanes for tournaments in the loft of our barn. The cost? A ream of paper, some markers, and unstructured time.
One year, the boys spent several months digging a hole in our backyard that was ultimately large enough to hold a Volkswagen. My husband helped them build a safe ceiling, and they had a wonderful hideaway, complete with a stovepipe to ventilate smoke from their candles. A couple of them slept in it for a few nights one cold January to better understand what men living in the Hoovervilles of the Depression experienced.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 teaches that everything has a season and a purpose. A child’s purpose is learning to serve others and God with his gifts. Those gifts are best developed when the child is given ample unstructured time to develop them.
We are reminded in I Peter 4:10 that “as every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
Ephesians 5:15-16 instructs us to live wisely, making the most of our time. The Greek word kairos is used here; it is better translated opportunity. Teach your children to use every opportunity to develop their gifts and creativity instead of whining that they are bored.
As adults, we need unstructured time, too. Do you ever wonder why your brain sometimes won’t shut down and allow you to sleep, even though you are tired? Perhaps you have filled the day with so much busyness that you have been unable to hear God’s still, quiet voice earlier in the day. He has to wait for you to settle down to be heard.
It is not sinful to relax. You are a human being, not a human doing, after all. Schedule time for you and your spouse to “get bored” so you can demonstrate to your children how you deal with it. Allow time to be creative, whether in the kitchen, the garden, with crafts, or by learning a new skill such as sketching or playing a musical instrument. I believe that God smiles when His children reflect His creativity instead of manifesting the ungrateful spirit that whines, “I’m bored.”
1. Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, pp. 192, 193.
2. Mark Early, Breakpoint, Feb. 3, 2010 (http://www.breakpoint.org/2010/02/breakpoint-courage-bored-2/)
3. Michael Patte, Ph.D., The Decline of Unstructured Play. http://www.thegeniusofplay.org/genius/expert-advice/articles/the-decline-of-unstructured-play.aspx