The Benefits of Boredom

July 3, 2019

Over the last few weeks students and staff alike have been looking forward to the summer break. Conversations in the hallways and at recess revolve around the question, “What are you doing this summer?” The answers are varied, with some folks anticipating travel or vacations or summer camps for the kids etc., and others with less defined plans. Some parents joke (at least I think they are joking , lol) about year-round schooling, perhaps so they can avoid  hearing, “There is nothing to do!” or “I’m bored!”  Those dreaded phrases  touch the parental guilt nerve, making us feel that we aren’t doing enough for our  kids . This feeling is reinforced when social media feeds seem to indicate that everyone else’s kids are having a much better, more stimulating summer.

There is a nostalgic song that gets a fair bit of airplay on CBC radio  that begins with the line, “Another summer wasted here in the Battlefords, on a banana seat bike with hockey cards in the spokes… “. It goes on to talk about children’s meanderings, and its a wistful  look back on the ways in which summer days were spent before life became so structured and activity driven. It reminded me of many aimless summer days spent thinking about what to do. What do we do about boredom?

With our fast paced lives, having downtime can be disorienting for both adults and children.  Our brains are definitely wired to seek stimulation, so much so that any idle time can feel uncomfortable and is viewed as a void that should be filled.  Studies show, though, that for many children, natural play is becoming a  lost art. They are used to having adults  structure their activity, which leaves them really uncertain what to do with boredom and how to engage in play. The ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Canada’s youth points to concerns with children’s  reduced capacity for interacting with each other and the natural environment.  In structuring  children’s time to avoid boredom, we are missing some of its benefits.

If we allow for some idle time,  minds are freer to wander and engage one’s imagination and creativity. Most researchers agree that having some unplugged,  free time increases children’s ability to problem solve, and makes them more resilient.  Boredom also causes us to seek out connections with each other, developing  social skills and relationships. Without  constant stimulation and endless entertainment, there is time to be more mindful of inner thoughts and to contemplate what we really like to do. Learning more about ourselves, whether we are 8 or 58, can allow our choices to become more authentically re-creational.

I think in the end it comes down to striking a balance. I hope that your family’s summer is filled with  that just right mix of adventures and idle moments.  It can be very hard to allow our children to sit in the discomfort of boredom, as our instinct is to help them and make them happy. In the end,  if your children complain about being bored, you can feel comfort  in knowing that you are doing your job and allowing them to grow in the ways that boredom allows.

Peace,

Christine McInnis