As summer rapidly approaches, the likelihood of hearing that ominous word—boredom—grows increasingly probable. I learned to carefully avoid this word around my parents in my youth, as it typically meant being given a long list of chores. Our summers involved mostly outdoor activities: riding bikes, woodland exploration, and swimming—with a bit of reading thrown in on rainy days. Our family often had one vacation in the summer, with destinations chosen by my parents based on their interests and tastes, not mine. This was the norm, and it worked.
Modern Parents and the Boredom Principle
It’s safe to say that modern parents appear more obliged to provide the bored child with incessant vacations, camps, and activities to assuage their boredom than previous generations, which begs the question: is boredom a bad thing?
When I was pregnant with my first child, I read a book on childhood brain development for a continuing education credit for my social work licensure. I wish I could recall the text now, but I do remember that the author was emphatic that denying children of downtime—time to be bored—affects them in two significant ways. The first is less creativity, which was no surprise, but the second point was a bit of an epiphany for me. They also struggle to develop clear values and a subsequent moral structure.
Recently I was reminded of that book while listening to a TED Talk on boredom. Experts agree that free time and daydreaming are essential parts of childhood brain development. Over-scheduled children denied the time to reflect and be creative are not only starving their brains but wrestle with issues of moral ambiguity and difficulty solving problems. Sound familiar? Not to mention that modern children now possess devices that continually entertain and occupy their thoughts—regardless of what the calendar says. Modern science concurs on the subject of boredom with that 20-year-old textbook.
Building Quiet Time Into Your Day
Consequently, as soon as my children were old enough, I built mandatory quiet time into our daily schedule. Each day, my children were required to spend one hour alone in their rooms, where they did not talk, watch TV, or engage with any technology. Total silence. They were allowed to exercise, read, do crafts, build Legos, or anything creative, but they were not to do schoolwork. This was their time to pray, ponder, meditate, be mindful, daydream, analyze, stargaze, imagine, and think deeply.
We had a few more fun things on the schedule when summer approached than when I was a kid. We had a pool, so we had friends over quite a bit. The kids were allowed to pick one day-camp activity, such as horse or robotics camp, and sometimes we would go camping. Otherwise, we expected our kids to ride their bikes, explore the woods, and swim—with reading thrown in on rainy days. If they made the mistake of telling me they were bored, I always had a list of chores or projects handy, and I resisted the urge to fill in the blank spaces on our family calendar.
The Biggest Benefit of Boredom
What happened most was they built tree forts and mud pies and dammed our creek. They went berry picking. They colored pictures at the picnic table. They played with the dog and cat. They played kickball. They pitched a tent in the backyard. They helped me dig weeds in the garden or lay on blankets watching clouds, trying to find cartoon characters in the shapes.
They deliberated internally on their actions, observations, and experiences. They had an epiphany or two, which we would sometimes discuss over their bedtime prayers, and which helped solidify their values. They also had some of the most creative ideas! Through the power of boredom, they nurtured their brain development and pondered what was essential and what kind of people they hoped to be.
Parents, don’t waste the boredom! Instead, recognize it for the opportunity that it is and watch the great things your children will accomplish.
If you would like to watch that TED Talk on boredom, here is a link:
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Mrs. Ferrell lives in southwestern Ohio with her husband of 23 years, her youngest child, and several pets. Mrs. Ferrell has many hobbies, including gardening, bicycling, quilting, photography, writing, and curriculum development. She is an avid reader and in constant pursuit of new challenges.