"The truth is that everyone is bored," so writes Albert Camus in his novel The Plague, adding "…and devotes himself to cultivating habits." Much to consider there. But in our life and times there is barely room for daydreaming let along enough time to be bored. And what if we never learn to be bored? How do we create habits? And what if we just create habits before we even know what boredom is? Recently an article in the New York Times argued that children (be it toddlers or teenagers) need to learn how to be bored because it is a skill, and because "the ability to handle boredom, not surprisingly, is correlated with the ability to focus and self-regulate."
Self-regulation is a skill every parent wants their child to have, and every teacher wants the students in their class to have. We want to be able to intrinsically manage our emotions and responses to events. Without this ability we are subject only to that which surrounds us, and depend on extrinsic cues to shape our behaviour.
Another reason boredom is important is that it fosters creativity. It can be easy to fall for the axiom 'boredom is for the bored' but in fact, and somewhat surprisingly, boredom is for creative people. Creativity doesn't grow in the over-occupied, it grows in those who have time to let ideas develop in their own brains. So don't feel guilty if there's an afternoon where you have no plans, because having no plans can be the very thing you need to start having the best ideas. Take, for instance, Lin Manuel Miranda, the creative genius behind the hit musical Hamilton who has talked about his childhood as one where he had a lot of alone time. He wrote "There is nothing better to spur creativity than a blank page or an empty bedroom." But Miranda grew up in a generation before iPhones and screens in every room so boredom was more readily accessible, there were less obstacles to boredom.
So what can we do? How can we promote opportunities for boredom? Well that is the easy part. Don't overbook schedules, let your kids spend more time in their rooms (without screens), give them unstructured time where you are not rushing around. And now for the good bit… at the same time boredom needs to be role-modelled. If you are always busy, always doing things, then children don't see that 'downtime' is valued. The difficult part is this sneaky downtime strategy can go against the tsunami that is the over-orchestrated parenting trend that seems so unavoidable these days.
So next time, when you have your feet up, and your child says "I'm bored" don't give them something to do, give them time to sit with it and come up with their own solution. And maybe a blank piece of paper…
Daisy Turnbull BrownDirector of Positive Psychology | History TeacherB Arts B Com Grad Dip Ed MA (Theology )Follow our dedicated Positive Psychology Twitter account: @StCathsPosPsy
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