Who knew being a mom would be such a balancing act? Scrambled eggs or birthday cake for breakfast? (Cake has eggs, right?) Homework or hanging out? Tough love or leniency? It feels like we field “this or that” questions all day, every day. Take, for example, a balancing act I’ve been navigating for years. Should I fill every minute of my kids’ lives with entertainment, activities, and schedules? Or should I let them be bored?
Turns out, sometimes kids need to be bored.
Sure, they need opportunities to learn and grow through structured activities, adventures, and programs. And in a world of instant gratification and short attention spans, they’ve grown accustomed to overscheduling and overdoing. But surprisingly, rather than being harmful or even just a little inconvenient, boredom is good for kids.
Here’s why kids should be bored.
The Benefits of Boredom
No kid wants to be bored. I get that. I don’t like it either. But the benefit is not really in the boredom itself. It’s our kids’ response to boredom that matters. Rather than jumping in to fill their boredom with more activities, we should allow them to feel a little uncomfortable. That discomfort can yield amazing results with a little encouragement.
Think about the valuable life skills our kids can develop when they are encouraged (forced?) to fill their boring moments with something to do. As they come up with ways to combat their boredom, they gain practical experience that will help them not only through their childhood and adolescent years, but well into adulthood. Let kids be bored so they can gain skills like….
- Tolerance to less-than-ideal circumstances
- Planning strategies
- Problem-solving skills
- Organizational skills
- Being comfortable with their own thoughts
- Responsibility for their own well being
The benefits of boredom are many and honestly, who doesn’t want these things for our kids?
Beating the Boredom
My kids are teenagers now. But their response to boredom has not changed over the years. While they don’t like being bored, they especially don’t like being forced to do something about it on their own. Mostly because making something out of nothing is tricky, especially for kids. And it takes work.
But that’s where we come in. As parents, we can gently guide and assist them in their boredom-busting efforts and then give them space to take the ideas and run. Here are some tips I’ve found useful over the years as we’ve tried to combat boredom.
Give your kids a little structure first. Even in those more open summer months, start with short chore lists or other responsibilities they need to accomplish. Kids like consistency and routine. They will probably gripe and complain a fair amount, but these structured activities can help them appreciate the downtime when it comes. And hopefully they will be more excited to do something they want to do with the free time they have.
You can also help them create “boredom buster” lists before boredom sets in. Brainstorm things they want to accomplish, activities they love to do, or experiences they want to create. Then, when a boring afternoon strikes, send them to the list to pick an item for themselves.
If they still need a little help finding something to do, give them one or two options to choose from when they get bored. If they don’t like those options, encourage them to come up with one of their own. They might just need a little help getting their creative juices flowing before they come up with a really great way to tackle their boredom.
When in doubt, here are a few activities that can help foster creativity, ignite imagination, and lead to self-discovery.
- Board games
- Art projects
- Pick-up sports game (kickball, anyone?)
- Neighborhood night games
- Research projects (This could be especially rewarding before future trips. Invite kids to research the history, location, or people of a particular destination.)
- Scavenger hunts
- Service projects
- Learning a new skill
- Reading a book
- Learning/practicing an instrument
Balancing Boredom with Tech
Professionally, I teach high schoolers all day. So I know a little about boredom and tech. In the classroom, I have a love/hate relationship with phones. On one hand, they are amazing tools for learning and growth. On the other hand, I’m fighting them pretty much every minute during class because kids would rather disappear into their phones because they’re “bored” than stretch and learn the material we are covering.
This same problem happens in our homes. Sometimes we use tech as a crutch to combat boredom rather than as a tool to respond to boredom. It’s tempting to answer the “I’m bored” complaint with another video, one more game, or just a few more minutes (hours) scrolling social media. But when used properly, tech can be an ally to boredom-busting attempts rather than the enemy. And we’re right back to the question of balance.
It’s important to set screen time limits or scheduling screen time after unscheduled screen-free moments during the day. Without screens, kids have the opportunity to look up and around themselves for something to do. Limiting screen time can initiate creativity, improve social interactions, and strengthen mental health.
When determining whether tech should be part of the boredom solution, consider how it’s used. Do our kids go to their phones to fill time or wander aimlessly? Or are they using these valuable tools to learn, create, or grow? Electronics can help kids develop new skills, create projects (You should hear some of the music my son writes electronically with the help of online tutorials), or discover new information. The key is in the outcome. If the tech can help accomplish another task, it’s a great tool for fighting boredom.
Mastering the Balancing Act
The good news is that after so much practice, moms are master balancers. We’re pretty good at knowing which way to lean to help our kids out. So, if you’re ever wondering if you should find something for your kids to do or let them be bored, give boredom a try. They may not always love it. But if they can see boredom as a challenge to overcome rather than an experience to endure, they can develop some amazing skills and abilities, use their resources wisely, and have fun in unexpected ways—all of their own making. And for that, they’ll thank you later.