Boredom may seem like an impediment to fulfilling our dreams, but it may actually be an important ingredient to success. Experts expound that, especially with children, boredom provides the necessary drive to find excitement and creativity in life. In contrast, killing time with digital devices may do more harm than we imagine.
The benefits of boredom
When we lack stimulation and nothing is handy to provide it, we are forced to find something interesting to do. In this way, boredom can be considered a challenge to help children make their own fun. As clinical psychologist Stephanie Lee said, it is the “bedrock” which children and even teenagers can form their own ideas.
Since a bored mind tends to wander, it has the potential for greater imagination and impulsive creativity. Dr. Erin Westgate, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Florida, told the New York Times that, in “moderate doses,” boredom can be the trigger to jumpstart them into action.
Problem-solving and resilience
Allowing our children to experience boredom, we put them in a situation where they need to tap into their creativity and imagination to overcome it. According to Sandi Mann, psychology professor at the University of Central Lancashire in England, boredom is “the trigger that builds basic life skills.”
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Breaking through boredom of their own volition, children are rewarded with the satisfaction and the growth that comes from facing their problems. “Independent problem-solving is a way we help children and teens build self-agency, self-esteem, and confidence,” Ms. Lee said.
Furthermore, the resilience essential to get through tough situations is also developed through solving problems.
Mental and social wellness
A study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that facing and dealing with boredom can improve mental health, and even helps avert depression and anxiety.
According to Teresa Belton, visiting fellow at The School of Education and Lifelong Learning, “Just letting the mind wander from time to time is important… for everybody’s mental wellbeing and functioning.”
In many cases, boredom is a great catalyst for bringing children together. Interacting with their peers in games and other activities strengthens communication and builds lasting social skills and friendships.
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The pitfalls of social media
In this age of digital media and the internet, both young and the old have access to limitless online content. While it may seem like a simple solution to boredom, scrolling through social media on a smartphone is an addictive habit with potentially serious outcomes.
Aside from all the questionable and negative material being navigated, according to Lee, this endless flow of content deprives kids of boredom — at the expense of their imagination.
A study in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion found that teens who are addicted to social media tend to lack problem-solving and resilience skills; while a pediatric study published in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics in 2019 showed that social media and smartphones may be linked to “low academic outcomes, reduced concentration, and reduced creativity.”
Social media’s addictive nature owes to its ability to enhance dopamine production. This “feel good” hormone has its downside, however: due to our bodies’ constant quest for homeostasis, highs are always balanced with lows. A steady supply of dopamine can thus easily lead to depression. Problem solving, in contrast, allows us to experience the frustrations and achievements together, resulting in a satisfied feeling of completion.
Many people — teens in particular — tend to compare their own lives with what they are exposed to. When they can’t compete with the polished posts they see online, an inferiority complex can develop, crushing their own creativity and spirit.
A healthy approach to boredom
The first step in rescuing our children from the digital abyss is to set a good example ourselves. Set your phone aside and engage your kids in conversation and activity. Show them that there are many alternative ways to stimulate the brain.
Arrange playdates to encourage social and physical activity. Give them open-ended tasks to invite creative thinking. Even household chores can give a significant feeling of accomplishment while establishing responsible habits. Demonstrate your trust by giving them the time and space to figure things out on their own.
Cultivate a love for good books by reading with your children. This wholesome activity opens countless channels for exploration and discovery. Include them in your spiritual practice or mindfulness exercises to build a foundation for fulfilling inner work.
By embracing boredom rather than slapping a digital bandage on it, we learn to enjoy the act of living — even with challenges and frustrations. As we learn to overcome our difficulties, we grow in mind and spirit.