These days, kids are used to being entertained every waking moment with the help of a range of modern technology, from in-car DVD players and iPads to video games.
Boredom is nothing new but with today’s increasingly digital and fast-paced world, young people lack the capacity to cope with being bored.
As a parent, you can often feel like the family’s chief activities officer, responsible for the children’s entertainment and distraction all day long. We’ve been conditioned to believe our kids shouldn’t feel the pangs of boredom and that depriving a child of in-car DVD entertainment – on even the shortest of road trips – can be a sign of neglect!
But, amid all this entertainment, are we doing our kids a disservice?
I have spoken with more than 80,000 young people in the past decade who are growing up in a media-saturated and multi-channel world and I believe we are. By over-entertaining our kids, they are coming to learn that downtime is an enemy that should be managed out of their daily lives – a very dangerous proposition.
Boredom is actually a gift and essential for developing a child’s:
There is something really empowering about being left to your own devices and realising it won’t kill you.
2. Mental wellbeing
Recent research at the University of California in San Diego indicates that our brains actually need downtime and solitude in order to function properly. This is because our brains only process experiences and memories when we allow them the space and time to do so – and by bombarding our minds with stimulus, we are actually impairing them.
The old saying is true: great ideas rarely interrupt us. Creativity and inventiveness often only develop when we have to come up with our own entertainment.
3 things parents can do to help their kids to embrace boredom and downtime
1. Don’t give in to nagging
Necessity is the mother of invention and your kids may need to experience the negative emotions of boredom in order to move past them and grow through the process. Giving in to their nagging and providing a solution or distraction will rob them of the lessons they could learn.
2. Show them by example
Actions speak louder than words and your kids will learn from your examples, so make sure you have your own downtime, where you put away your phone, switch off the TV and simply ‘sit’.
3. Take it slow
Going cold turkey isn’t fun for anyone, so set boundaries that can grow over time. Child psychologists are emphatic that screen time should be avoided entirely by children under the age of 2, but from the ages of 2-5, perhaps allow them an hour per day. By the time kids get to the age of 8, expand this to a maximum of 2 hours social media and TV time each evening.
Implementing some boundaries and restricting access to digital devices will be difficult at first – and there is likely to be tears and tantrums – but over a week or two, your children will adjust to the new status quo and may even come to enjoy being unplugged!