Boredom is a not a positive word in our society today. Our culture is a bit obsessed with eradicating this human condition. People seem to be occupied all the time these days. Even in restaurants there are tablets kids can play games with at the table. We live in a day where you quite literally could be entertained all day long. No longer do we find ourselves staring out the airplane, car, bus, doctor’s office window. Before our minds can even wonder about something we get snatched away by another “ding” of our phones. In so many ways we have forgotten the freeing nature of just observing the world around us, sitting with our thoughts, and being bored.
Our non-stop lifestyle does not make room for children (or adults) the space to just be. This space is vital to the creative potential within us and our children. It seems that just being is considered a waste of time. We are pulled by the messages to “produce more”, “do more”, “stay busy”, and “always be entertained” (i.e. performance driven society).
Research has also affirmed the fact that boredom is very important for developing creativity and problem solving abilities. Being given time to just think and be helps a person to develop self-awareness, and a consciousness of the things and people around him/her.
A researcher from the UK, Dr. Teresa Belton interviewed creative people like authors, scientists, and artists and questioned them about their experiences growing up. What she found is not entirely surprising, but it should encourage us to relax when our children complain that they are bored!
Belton discovered that boredom played a foundational role in encouraging the creative processes that led these people to their creative vocations. For example, lack of things to do spurred the study subjects to talk to people they would not otherwise have engaged with and to try activities they would not, under other circumstances, have experienced, like talking to elderly neighbours and learning to bake cakes.
Boredom does not have to be the passive act of staring out a window for hours. Boredom can be a choice. Our choice to engage in solitude practices. To be alone in solitude with a blank page can spur us. Spur us to allow our brains to develop new ideas and new habits of observation. The truth is, an adventure of new ideas is available to us us as we rediscover the good in being bored.
Dr. Beltons research in brain development has caused her to see boredom as an essential aspect of life, and one that is good for the brain! If we lean towards filling every moment of a child's day (or our own!) with some sort of stimulation, especially screen time, it “tends to short circuit [the creative process] and the development of the creative capacity.”
Boredom may be uncomfortable, yes. It may feel against the grain because our Western society resists it. But we have the ability to teach our kids how to sit in the uncomfortableness of boredom by first learning and re-learning how to do it ourselves!
As adults, we can long for “relaxation” or “quiet time” as a refuge from the chaos and busyness of our lives. It’s in this quiet time that boredom can rise to the surface. When it does we get to decide if we will press into the boredom or choose to busy ourselves again. We long for these times because we know we can rest and give our brain space to wander like it did when we were children, right?
So why not today let’s take time to set aside the “to dos” and instead give your children time to use boredom to cultivate creativity. Allow them to sit and come up with a new idea. Allow yourself to do the same. And when it feels like you’re going against the wind and it would be much easier to just entertain yourself, keep fighting for this space!
What do you think about boredom? Do you give your children time to be bored?