Let your mind meander back in time to when you were a child. Remember how you always found something to do either alone, or with your friends, siblings and cousins that didn’t involve technology?
Games like ‘police and thief’, ‘chaptek’,’ goli’ and ‘zeropoint’ were not just loads of fun, but provided plenty of physical and mental stimulation too.
And what this also meant was that the words “I’m bored” were almost never mentioned by kids back then, because kids always found something creative and fun to do.
Now, things are different.
Most kids these days demand constant stimulation, usually in the form of an electronic gadget. They can’t bear to be bored, even for five minutes. They want insta-gratification — and we provide it.
But is being bored really that bad for kids?
Benefit of boredom for kids
Boredom is not bad
Dr Teresa Belton is a senior researcher senior researcher at the University of East Anglia’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning, and through her work on the effects of boredom on kids, suggests that it actually may be good for them.
In an interview with the BBC, Dr Belton said that “children should be allowed to get bored so they can develop their innate ability to be creative.”
Dr Belton’s work involved speaking to artists about how boredom had helped with nurturing their creativity as children. Author Meera Syal said it was boredom that pushed her to write, while artist Grayson Perry called it a “creative state”.
Syal grew up in a small mining village with very few distractions.
According to Dr Belton, “Lack of things to do spurred her [Syal] to talk to people she would not otherwise have engaged with and to try activities she would not, under other circumstances, have experienced, such as talking to elderly neighbours and learning to bake cakes.
“Boredom is often associated with solitude and Syal spent hours of her early life staring out of the window across fields and woods, watching the changing weather and seasons.
“But importantly boredom made her write. She kept a diary from a young age, filling it with observations, short stories, poems, and diatribe. And she attributes these early beginnings to becoming a writer late in life.”
Meanwhile, neuroscientist and expert on brain deterioration Professor Susan Greenfield also spoke to Dr Belton, remembering a childhood with few material possessions and no siblings until she was a teenager.
So, “she happily entertained herself with making up stories, drawing pictures of her stories and going to the library.”
“Time to stop and stare”
As a society, we have come to accept boredom as an unacceptable and uncomfortable feeling. Dr Belton explains that we have “developed an expectation of being constantly occupied and constantly stimulated”.
The academic, who has also studied the impact of TV and videos on kids’ writing, says that now when children are bored, their first point of call is usually the TV or another electronic device.
She adds that it’s so important for little ones to have “stand-and-stare” time, which is “time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.”
It is this that has the ability to stimulate their imagination, while the screen “tends to short circuit that process and the development of creative capacity”.
“For the sake of creativity perhaps we need to slow down and stay offline from time to time.”
Perhaps as parents, we should all take these words to heart, giving our children the space to imagine and create beautiful ideas and thoughts.
How do your kids spend their free time? Are they encouraged to keep themselves occupied in ways other than watching TV or playing a game on the iPad? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic presented in this article — do share them in a comment below.