For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, most of us are home with our kids ALL. THE. TIME. And they are bored. They love to tell us just how bored they are. Unlike the 1700s, however, we now have unlimited ways to cheaply entertain the kids, along with a self-imposed responsibility to do so.
I am here to say this needs to end.
I am a parent and a teacher, so I have seen both sides of this nasty coin. As a mom, I understand the pressure we put on ourselves to be the best parents we can. We want our kids to have the most exciting experiences, to give them meaningful and memorable childhoods. When our kids say they are bored, we jump up and solve the problem for them. Let’s paint! Let’s have a dance party! Let’s go to the park!
It feels like the right thing to do, and anything else would be laziness on our part.
As a teacher, I am seeing an alarming decrease in children’s ability to sit and listen to a story, to imagine worlds that don’t already exist in the media, to think or draw in abstract form, and to put themselves in another’s shoes. Childhood is when creative thinking and empathy should come naturally—and I am scared by how fast they are disappearing.
In our quest to win at parenting, we are keeping our children from winning in childhood.
So what happens when you let your kids be bored? They become insanely creative. The creative brain loves mundane, boring activities. It is when the body is doing something monotonous that the brain is free to play.
Some of the most creative people our world has known credit their genius to boredom.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of the Broadway musical Hamilton, is famously quoted by GQ as saying, “There is nothing better to spur creativity than a blank page or an empty bedroom.”
Steve Jobs echoes the sentiment, “I’m a big believer in boredom. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity, and out of curiosity comes everything.”
Perhaps my favorite quote, however, comes from Albert Einstein himself: “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.” Isn’t that beautiful?
What else happens when you let your kids be bored? They develop patience and empathy.
With each passing decade, the ability to delay gratification has become more and more difficult. On a very basic level, children don’t even have to wait for their favorite television shows anymore. Remember when we were kids? We had to wait until Tuesday night for our favorite program, and if we missed it, we missed it. We also had to sit through the commercials. Children now have instant and expansive access to pretty much whatever entertainment their heart desires at that given moment. It is very cool that technology has come this far, but it is also quite dangerous.
Without the ability to delay gratification, children develop two scary character flaws: a lack of patience, and a lack of empathy.
Children with patience show less frustration and aggression in the face of adversity and are able to overcome life’s challenges with greater ease. This is a key indicator of future scholastic and career success.
Delaying gratification teaches children empathy by first making them aware of the needs of those around them, and then emphasizing that others’ needs are just as important as their own. When you tell your child, “I need to relax for a while, we can play after I take a hot bath,” you are really telling him, “Yes, your needs are important, but mine are as well.” A child who grows up respecting the needs of others will develop meaningful and lasting relationships.
So how do we encourage boredom in our children? Should we stop doing all of the fun Pinterest crafts we find, or kick them out of the kitchen when they want to help us cook? No! If you have a great idea for a project or activity you genuinely want to share with your child, this is quality parenting. But if you stop what you are doing to solve their boredom because you feel guilty, or like it’s your job, this is a mistake.
The key is to listen to your own inner voice and ignore outside influences.
There will always be parents who have fabulously curated Instagram pages filled with their children doing unique things and this can affect our perception as parents. But unless it was that kid’s idea to make the spaceship out of the box, the value really isn’t there.
Let your kids be bored—and as a result, watch them grow into self-reliant, creative, and compassionate young adults. Step aside parents, they’ve got this.
Originally published on Mabel and Moxie