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Most parents have heard the advice that a little boredom is good for kids. We think of boredom as having nothing to do (“I’m boooooored!”) and would kill for some of it ourselves. But psychologists see it more as a state of mind, one that may arise when a person is technically occupied—folding laundry, for example, or waiting in the checkout line. It’s being forced to sit with your thoughts when you’re itching to do something else.
Today, smartphones fill up many of life’s monotonous moments. According to one recent survey, 90 percent of Millennials bring their phone into the bathroom. But all of us, and especially kids, benefit from mental timeouts. Here are a few big reasons…
Great place to spur creativity: Take a walk. Long walks were a preferred pastime of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, among other artistic geniuses. A walk around a familiar neighborhood or trail offers the perfect blend of dullness and stimulation, with added health perks.
2. It balances overstimulation. One of the first lessons a parent learns is that too much stimulation leads to undesirable behavior, from an overwrought newborn wailing through the “witching hour” to a grade-schooler acting out as soon as he gets off the school bus, a phenomenon known as after-school restraint collapse. There’s a reason many preschools and kindergartens mandate rest time even after kids have outgrown naps. Boredom is an antidote to the busy, chaotic world.
Great place to calm down: Your child’s bedroom. Don’t feel bad banishing him to his room and letting him occupy himself with books, train tracks, or whatever toys someone thoughtfully provided him. Even if he doesn’t sleep, you might find he’s better rested at the end of the day.
3. It’s a necessary life skill. Even in the age of smartphones, sometimes you just have to be bored. Like at school. Or at work. “One day, even in a job they otherwise love, our kids may have to spend an entire day answering Friday’s leftover email. They may have to check spreadsheets,” wrote Pamela Paul in a New York Timesopinion piece, “Let Children Get Bored Again.”
Great place to just be bored: Road trip! My parents love to tell the story of that time they drove an hour out of the way to cross the Ohio River via car ferry, thinking we kids would love the adventure. Once on the river, they looked in the backseat to find my brother and me clicking away on our View-Masters, oblivious to the scenery.
Today’s road-tripping families have the convenience of iPads and movies. (“Honey, did you remember to download Moana?” is now up there with “Honey, did you close the garage?”) Some digital intervention may be absolutely essential—because bored kids are also fighting, whining kids—but leave time to look out the window.