I think it would be a gross understatement to say that all of our lives have changed a great deal over the past five months. Certainly, it’s been a difficult challenge for parents to adjust to the new normal, but what about for children?
How many of you parents are being faced with the old “I’m bored, and I can’t find anything to do” routine right about now? And how many of you have responded to these heart-wrenching laments by offering up a detailed list of boredom reducing activities such as cleaning their room, cutting the grass, or washing the car? Chances are, those suggestions are sure to cure their boredom faster than they can say, “Never mind me asking!”
Obviously, I am poking fun at a pretty common exchange between parent and child, but taking a closer look at this issue there may be some discouraging trends developing. Are children really displaying more intense feelings of boredom than they were ten to twenty years ago, and how has much more time at home during the pandemic increased these emotions?
Dr. Dianne Levin describes a troubling trend seen in children today who say they are frequently bored, jump from one activity to the next, have trouble figuring out how to play when given open ended activities, and have a difficult time solving problems they have with other children. Even more troubling, this issue appears to have long-term effects that can stay with children into their teens and beyond. Through other research, Dr. Jonathon Plucker from Indiana University has concluded that, “Finding things to do when bored is the way kids learn to be on their own, find out what interests them and what isn’t boring. That’s the problem we see with college students. The ones who have a hard time adjusting are those whose parents never transitioned into giving them more responsibility.” Effects can also be seen in children who were not encouraged creatively and were not allowed to pursue their own independence.
These trends are pointing to a larger problem than children being bored or the inability to solve a classroom word problem. The larger issue here is a deficiency in the skills necessary to form mental images, think creatively, solve problems, visualize outcomes, and develop self-discipline.
So what can parents do to help their children develop more resourcefulness and greater creativity, especially as the monotony of pandemic isolation becomes harder to overcome? Start by helping kids build a list of “boredom busting” activities. Once they have done this a few times, they should be able to come up with a list of their own and eventually not even need one. Set some rules on the amount of television or video games kids can watch and play. This will encourage more creative thinking as opposed to imitating what they see on the screen. If you do allow kids to watch television during the day, encourage educational or thought provoking programs, ones that may promote physical activity or creative thinking. Also, try to give your children the opportunity to experience new things. Take them to a park you’ve never visited, on a hike, a bug hunt outside, or a secret “treasure” hunt based on a map you’ve designed. Allow them to ask as many questions as they like. This can encourage creative thinking and spark their interest in a variety of new areas.
The more you allow children the opportunity to be creative, the better they will get at it, and the less bored they will become. By getting your children to stop playing the “Bored Game” and start thinking for themselves, the more likely you are to help improve their chances of happiness in the long run.
Resources used in writing this article came from “Winning the Boredom Game” by Michael Mann and the Media Wise Movement, a founding member of the Cygnus Research Group.
Bill Stone is the County Extension Director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.