Why Boredom is Essential, Now More Than Ever

“Mom! I’m bored!”

We’ve all heard it before. My first reaction is always, how?! How can you be bored when you have tons of toys, your very own crew (I have three boys), and you can do almost anything you want?

It’s a lot like when kids love the cardboard box more than the toy that came in it — children can have every kind of entertainment (toys! art supplies! books!) at their disposal and still act like deer in headlights, unable to make a decision to move forward.

I have often witnessed it with my kids, and I have tried many methods to unstick them in that moment of boredom. Whether it was taking them out to an activity, prepping the kitchen table with a craft project, or setting up the living room for a family board game… all of these ideas were great, but not always what they needed.

I’ve realized that, while these moments of family time were beneficial for their emotional growth, they were not the answer to their boredom. For that, something very different was needed…

And it didn’t involve me at all. 

Ditch the Helicopter Parenting

It was when my helicopter parenting had to take a backseat that I saw the answer emerge. Stepping out of the way, insisting on limiting their go-to favourites (tv, tech, etc.) and making them fend for themselves was all they needed to shine.

Suddenly, they were composing songs, creating their own board games from scratch, having drawing competitions, making marble mazes, planning a garden for the spring, and more. Their creations were new, fresh and all their own. And of course, they were prouder of these creations than anything they did in a structured environment.

I’m not the only parent who has taken notice of the correlation between boredom and creativity. My curiosity led me to research the topic and, in TED Talks alone, I found many devoted fans of the boredom movement. While it may seem hard to believe – with all the entertainment choices and technology at our disposal – that we should need to be bored, I’ve learned that without boredom, we are slowly and consistently losing our creativity.

Boredom and Creativity are Pals

So how are boredom and creativity connected? It comes down to this – when you are “busy” with classes, homework, sport activities and, yes, the ever-loving technology, you are not thinking of your own free will. You are listening to leaders, applying rules, studying facts, and exercising in teams. And even though these are all good, what children are not doing is discovering. Their curiosity is not the focus of any of these moments, so their curiosity is not evolving on a daily basis. It is only when children are left with nothing to do, that they start to have that spark of curiosity which leads to creativity!

In order to ignite the creative spark in kids, it is very important to give them space and unstructured time. If you look around, it might seem completely impossible. Some schools, like the one my twins go to, have adopted the new technique of less homework, with in-school study periods so children can get help from their teachers. But then, as homework is decreased, many families are jacking up the extracurricular activities and sports. It has come to the point that birthday parties are missed and weekends are too busy for playdates (and that’s just the children’s schedules!).

Think of it – when was the last time you, as a parent, were not busy? If you aren’t participating in all the things; not trying to hustle harder in your work; and not checking your phone for emails, texts and social media notifications – are you really part of this 2020 civilization?

Boredom Is Courageous

There was a time when it was practically considered dangerous to let your kids be bored. Staying busy keeps kids out of trouble, right? If they are busy, they can’t try bad things. Sure, I get that. But I also know bad things are available everywhere and, in the end, if they want to get into trouble, they will – whether they’re busy or not. What’s more important is having a dialogue about what is good and bad for them, so they can make better decisions when they are faced with difficult choices (and we aren’t beside them).

Nikon D850.

With that in mind – and trusting that we are building strong relationships with our children – we need to give them more freedom to get out there and explore, be curious, take chances, make mistakes (thanks, Ms. Frizzle!). Is it hard? Yes! Remember, I am innately a helicopter parent. This is really hard for me, and my boys are still little. Lack of structure and their independent choices will be much harder for me to watch as they grow.

But, just like we as parents need to be courageous and put our phones down (“didn’t you get my text?”), we also need to help our children be courageous in being bored. It is easier to stay on the ‘busy path’, but as studies have shown, there is a decline in creative thinking, and that is the very thing we need to solve many of the world problems that our children will face in the future. Helping our children develop that muscle will help them increase their enjoyment of boredom.

Doing Nothing Leads to Something Great

Unstructured time is vital in order to learn who you are and what is truly enjoyable to you. Remember that being bored is not a bad thing; it’s going to lead to something good. Giving children a chance to enjoy being bored will lead to creative thinking. And what happens during the process of creative thinking? They develop ideas, experiment, problem solve and work together… and none of this can happen if we’re hovering.

Creations made in a moment of boredom are all their own. No teacher told them how to do it, and no parent helped them out. Some of my favourite memories to date involve creations my boys have made when they were bored! These independent moments foster a sense of self-pride – and that is priceless. 

Now, parents, if you can manage to let your kids be bored, the next step is to be bored yourself. Because… guess what? My blog was created while I was bored. (True story!)

Julia Chiarella-Genoni a.k.a. Mama MOE was a freelance fashion writer before she had three wonderful children (one plus twins).  Her blog, Ask Mama MOE, is all about living a family-friendly life and ranges in topics. Always in a positive tone, Ask Mama MOE is a great place for some parenting humour, DIY crafts, recipes and some deep thoughts. Reviews and giveaways are also done on products Mama MOE herself would be proud to use in her home. Be sure to check out Mama MOE’s charity, Shopping From The Heart.