Thursday Thoughts: The benefits of boredom

I know we’ve touched on the topic of boredom in the past (in this post about after-school activities), but this new opinion piece on boredom in the New York Times really resonated with me and I thought it makes for an interesting discussion. The article touches on the fact that boredom spawns creativity and self-sufficiency, and that it’s important for children to accept that life isn’t always a ‘parade of amusements’. Sometimes it’s boring, and the sooner children accept that, the better off they’ll be.

I have to say, I completely 100% agree with this! I grew up on a farm in the countryside. We didn’t have cable TV, we didn’t have a skate park, shop or town hall we could walk to, we didn’t even have neighbours! Whenever we told our parents we were bored, we were told to go outside and play, or my dad would cheekily suggest a chore like pulling weeds or washing the car. We quickly learned that we were better off playing nicely and looking busy than admitting boredom to our parents. As a result, my siblings and I played for hours together every day, creating our own games and running wild and free in the surrounding fields. Of course we’d eventually get bored, but we’d then have to find something else to do: a new game to play, a craft to make, a play to perform, a book to read, etc.  We didn’t rely on our parents to constantly provide entertainment.

As the article suggests, back then parents didn’t have as much pressure on them to over-parent. The article claims that ‘nowadays, subjecting a child to such inactivity is viewed as a dereliction of parental duty…every spare moment is to be optimized, maximized, driven toward a goal’.

Call me an old-fashioned under-parenter,  but I simply refuse to buy into this kind of parenting.  My kids play so well together when they’re home and bored. Of course there are the occasional arguments and whinging, but I’ve found the more uninvolved I am when they argue (within reason, of course), the better they play. We also don’t have a television and the kids don’t have any electronic games or devices, so there isn’t a quick entertaining solution in our house. Again, as a result, they end up playing more creatively, crafting more, reading more, being bored…!!!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave comments below!

Courtney x


Comments (14)

February 7, 2019

So glad to read about under-parenting!
I’m a huge fan of boredom. I have to say that’s my main parenting technique! Yes, my kids have outside activities like swim club, music lessons and theater, but when they’re home I totally under-parent and I’m quite satisfied with the results. The kids’ creativity is sparked, they figure out ways to not simply occupy themselves, but create, invent, and discover. I also limit my intervention in their disputes so that they figure out how to resolve conflicts and negotiate.

We also travel a lot and when we travel, they don’t bring anything but a book with them (my kids are 12, 8 and 3). The little one just brings her “doudou” and that’s it. I want them to interact, observe and connect to the experience of traveling and new environments. If they have all of their stuff with them, the dynamic would be totally different.

Anyway, that’s my experience.
Thanks for the article!

February 7, 2019

I don’t have anything new or inspiring to say other than that I agree 100%!!! The days my children mention boredom end up being the days that they blow my mind with their creativity and imagination — hunting for treasure outside, planning a performance with tickets to their show, playing school (complete with “field trips” and specials), crafting for hours, etc — they recently made a yearbook with photos and superlatives of our chickens — ha! I could go on!!!

February 7, 2019

Completely agree with this. I have little ones (under 5) so it’s actually quite easy to set them up with a little something to play with or put the big basket of dinosaurs in the middle of the rug and leave them to it. BUT how does it work when they’re older and there’s more influence from their peers? Do they feel like their missing out?

Paul Humber
February 7, 2019

1000% agree, and I think it’s an important thing for adults to remember too… I genuinely can’t remember the last time I was bored, and the idea of boredom sounds like absolute bliss, the holy grail state of mind that’s at the end of the endless to-do list… but maybe it needs to be bumped up to the top of the list every now and then.

Courtney in Australia
February 7, 2019

That is such a good point! I would LOVE to be bored!!! xx

February 7, 2019

I agree with this 100%. However, with three very young kids (all under 4) and my husband and I both working quite a bit, I sometimes have to remind myself that while boredom and time to be free and use your imagination is important, spending quality time with them and playing with them is also important. It’s a balance I always have to try to find! I’ll often realize that I haven’t actually spent much time with one (or sometimes all!) of them because I’ve been so busy doing other things. I’ve also learned it depends on the child. My oldest could play and entertain herself all day, while my second often needs a little nudge doing things on her own. Regardless-I do agree that often kids are over parented these days.

February 8, 2019

Thanks for this post (also loved the NY Times piece that you shared). I am so excited to see that there are parents with older children who manage to do this! Our daughter is 2.5, and so far, we have managed with zero screens and electric toys. We play with her a lot and could surely improve on her “boredome training” (although I feel that it can prove more difficult when you only have one child). My question is: what happens when they go to kindergarten and then school? How do they feel when their peers talk about TV shows/cartoons they like, collect cartoon character stickers, or play video games? How did you prepare your children for this; and how do you explain that what’s considered “normal and fun” in most families isn’t in yours?

February 8, 2019

Great article and reminder to keep it simple. This is so hard some days! We made the mistake of introducing tv and ipad with our daughter when she was 1.5/2 and a very social kid (never played with dolls etc) and we needed to get work done! Now that she is 5.5 and my son is 1.5, I do find it hard to let her be bored. Both kids are very social, confident and incredibly busy. Even with 7 hours lf school, and after school activities she needs activities (not done alone) that keep her “not bored.” Because of the age spread, they play together but for a limited time (he’s too little for board games, crafts (that don’t damage the new house!) and being an older mum (41) we’re not making more kids! Not a lot of kids in the neighbourhood and playdates are so exhausting to organize (and tidy up from!)
It’s definitely a tough one that being an only child qho was very introverted, has a hard time finding solutions for.

February 9, 2019

I read this article as well and loved it.
My 9 year old daughter is a highly active very extroverted child and I am now having issues because she wants to be involved with her friends and what they are doing. her friends at school are very into minecraft and playing together and devices. my daughter spends the day feeling so left out which is one of her worst fears by the way. I feel confident in my parenting decisions but it does create this constant battle with her. everyday coming home
and crying and upset that she can’t “play”
with them. I know some parents might say that maybe she should find new friends but I feel more and more in our urban lifestyles parents are relying on electronic devices so it makes it harder and harder to push back when so many kids are doing it. I am fine with pushing back but i feel like it’s a constant battle with her.
I know in Byron it seems many people share your beliefs.
do other kids at school have devices or electronics that ever make your kids jealous or feel left out?
it’s so much easier if all families were on the same page.
I also think the personality type of the kid. my daughter if she ever watches a show becomes addictured and angry when it has to be turned off:(
would love to hear your thoughts:)

February 10, 2019

I totally agree and I partly do that. I have 3 kids, we live in a mountain village. My kids are free to go out and play, both during winter with snow, and during summer. But, there is a BUT, when they are at home they start playing together and there is no way to stop them to argue and they use the whole house to play (we don’t have a very big house!) so, my question is: while your kids get bored, or play together, where are you and what are you doing, or trying to do? Most of the time I’m at the computer trying to work or do the laundry and stuff like that and they constantly interrupt me, asking my attention. We have tv and sometimes, especially before dinner time (while I’m trying to cook) they start fighting and screaming and I’m soooo tired and the TV saves me. I just let them watch disney’s movies or national geographic documentaries, but it is the only way to have some quite and silence in the house!! I think you are very lucky with your life and you’re such good parents! You’re family inpires me a lot. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It is fascinating to see how family life can be different in different cultures and places…

February 11, 2019

“I am bored” are my 3 favourite words – after “I love you”, of course!! My 10 year old daughter and especially my 12 year old son live in fear of me suggesting at 1970’s day (which was when I grew up)! We go outside, we discover stuff about ourselves and generally end up closer than ever.
Fabulous article!

February 12, 2019

Do your older kids long for an electronic device that would allow them to message more easily with friends from London? No judging- just curious because though I am one who loves snail mail, I do believe for communicating long distance, electronic devices can be truly miraculous and was just curious about the older children who clearly have friends they love and miss from London

February 18, 2019

As in most cases, walking a middle line is easiest. I don’t think you need to constantly get kids bored to prove a point. And I think you risk alienating kids from their peers if you completely ban tv and electronic devices. It’s important to guide them and teach them responsible use of these things rather than going blind through rose tinted spectacles. No offence but your kids must feel they miss out on times if they can’t even, say, watch surf videos.

Courtney in Australia
February 19, 2019

I completely agree about walking a middle line. Of course if you ban something outright, your kids could end up not having a healthy relationship with whatever it is you’ve banned. We don’t ban television completely. We do sometimes watch a movie together as a family. Easton and Quin sometimes watch surf videos if there’s a competition on that they’re interested in watching (and actually, I do think the surf videos help give them inspiration for their own surfing). My kids certainly don’t feel like they are missing out in terms of TV or electronics. It’s not something they are begging for. In fact, our eldest, Easton, who will turn 14 in June, is now one of only 4 kids in the class who don’t have a mobile phone, and he’s still not asking me for one.

Leave a Comment