The whistle blows to kick off my daughter’s soccer game. A family sits down next to me with two young children. The dad places two iPads into his kids’ small hands and they suddenly are hypnotized, oblivious to the sun shining, wind blowing, and their sister and her teammates storming down the field. Their young faces show no sign of boredom.
In the era of the smartphone and tablet, boredom is facing extinction. And that’s not a good thing, especially for our children. Academic studies show that boredom stimulates young, developing minds. It forces kids to create. It pushes them to explore. And it can even help promote a child’s sense of purpose.
As University of Louisville researcher Andreas Elpidorou noted in his 2014 study, “The Bright Side of Boredom,” “boredom motivates the pursuit of a new goal when the current goal ceases to be satisfactory, attractive, or meaningful. Boredom helps to restore the perception that one’s activities are meaningful or significant.”
No Boredom, No Growth
Unfortunately, the increasing ubiquity of screens diminishes opportunities for children’s brains to wander, create, and imagine. From carpools to the classroom to big sister’s sporting events to the dinner table, screens are destroying boredom.
Why would a six-year-old stare out the car window or talk to a friend on the way to school when the latest episode of “Paw Patrol” is on? If a three-year-old can play a game on a tablet, why would he watch his big brother’s soccer game? Many waiting rooms have become quieter, and some dinner tables have gone silent. But at what cost?
Too much screen time—and not enough boredom—can lead to poor social skills, shorter attention spans, and a need for instant gratification. How many future inventors will be lost without experiencing boredom? Where will the great orators and writers of this generation come from if imagination is not nurtured today?
Friends, it is time to make boredom great again.
3 Suggestions for Getting Started
I have three real-world suggestions to do just that. These are practices we have begun in our own family to protect the endangered emotion of boredom.
Eliminate tablets from the ordinary. Daily activities like grocery shopping, carpool, and doctor appointments are a good place to put the kibosh on screens. Nix TV shows in the car and save them for long road trips. Ask your tyke to help at the store instead of handing her your smartphone. Encourage your children to watch their sister’s soccer game or just daydream instead of bringing the iPad to the field. Permit quietness and restlessness as you wait for the doctor instead of game-playing or social media surfing.
Make your home a low-screen zone. Set some tech boundaries within your home. Limit devices to shared spaces like kitchens and family rooms, and avoid screens in bedrooms. Establish a station to check in phones and tablets. Keep devices away from all family meal times. Open up time for minds to wander by designating hours that will be screen free. Most important, inspire imagination instead of entertainment by strategically placing creative outlets throughout your home with arts, crafts, musical instruments, puzzles, board games, and small toys for imaginative play.
Delay the smartphone for your children. Putting an iPhone in a kid’s pocket is the ultimate boredom-killer. Smartphones are distracting and addictive yet becoming widespread in many elementary and middle schools. They zap any moment for a child’s mind to daydream and can cause him to miss amazing boredom moments that can lead to a new friendship, skill, or adventure.
Peer pressure is the main reason many parents are giving kids smartphones at a young age. They understandably don’t want their son or daughter to feel socially isolated or left behind. To reduce this pressure and empower parents to make the right choice for their own family, several friends and I recently launched the Wait Until 8th pledge. We like to say that “childhood is too short to waste on a smartphone” and are pledging together to delay giving our kids smartphones until at least their last year of middle school.
Of course, the toughest part of making boredom great again involves us parents. Our kids watch what we do, not what we say. Count me a guilty party at managing my own screen time and boredom. But I am ready to do better and hope you are too. Let’s re-embrace boredom and pass it on to the next generation. Their futures depend on it.