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9/6/15blog post

why boredom is not a problem to be solved

“I’m bored,” whether uttered by a four or fourteen year-old, usually prompts parents to become entertainers and event planners.

I guess someone wrote that our job description included being responsible for making sure that our kids never experience boredom. This somehow became our problem to solve, not our kids’ opportunity to be creative or curious.

Parents of younger kids enthusiastically name all kinds of activities and toys, trying desperately to make their children feel happy and engaged.

Parents of teens may take a somewhat different approach, but still assume responsibility for dealing with their teens’ complaints. They may advise their teen to study more, clean their room, or call a friend.

If all else fails, parents (and kids) now have an instant fix to eliminate life’s tedium. Just power up a screen.

I was at a restaurant with my family a few weeks ago, encircled by large screen monitors around the entire eating area. As we were being seated, the waitress offered us hand-held tablets with video games, trivia contests, and dessert items.

Most of the patrons accepted the tablets. They alternated between glancing at the large screen monitors, and interacting with their handheld devices. I was surrounded by technologically-addicted zombies whose electronic dependencies relieved them of interacting with each other.

There’s something terribly wrong with all of this. It starts with the mistaken notion that boredom is a problem to be solved. There are times when boredom is a way for our body and mind to turn off, tune out, and drop in. Rather than something to be avoided, doing nothing may actually be doing something very valuable for bodies and spirits.

Your child’s boredom is a gift that can spur creativity and problem solving. When you take responsibility for eliminating your child’s complaints, you discourage your child’s initiative in solving their own issues.

Here are the two most frequently asked questions I get about this topic.

  1. How should I respond to my child’s comment that she’s bored? Younger kids may need some coaching. However, by around age eight you should simply say “OK. I’d be interested in how you figure that out.”
  2. Should I limit technology time in my family? Yes. Over the past few years, I’ve learned from parents that while the benefits of technology are overwhelmingly positive, it also represents one of the greatest threats in fostering relationships within our families.

The impact is amazing and immediate when you set and enforce limits on screen time for everyone, including adults. Decreasing interaction with screens increases the likelihood of conversations, creativity, and curiosity.