"Mom, I'm bored!" The moment the words left my daughter's mouth, I was incredulous.
"What do you mean you're bored? You have hundreds of books and toys! How can you possibly be bored?" Summer break had just begun and already boredom had settled in.
Since that conversation I've discovered that kids who complain about being bored usually rely on others to keep them busy or entertained. While in school they have a set routine—everything is neatly laid out for them. When summer break begins, they're at a loss.
Children today seem to believe that having a good time is a pre-ordained birthright. They have this notion that they deserve to be entertained at home, in school, or anywhere they are.
Most parents fear the dreaded words, "I'm bored," and consequently spend many hours and dollars ensuring that their kids aren't. Adults who are uncomfortable with "dead air" themselves feel they need to fill that void with something—anything, for themselves as well as for their children.
But it's okay—even healthy—for kids to be occasionally bored. Boredom isn't intrinsically bad. Boredom puts kids in touch with reality. It lets them know that the world isn't a three-ring circus, and yet they can still be constantly amazed and full of wonder.
When children frequently complain of being bored, they need to learn to take ownership of their time, to make their own decisions about what to do instead of relying on others. When children are forced to entertain themselves, they will. Someone once said that the cure for boredom is curiosity.
Kids who are allowed to experience boredom not only survive but thrive. Here are some personal discoveries:
Boredom forces creativity. Out of desperation I have found my kids making up their own games, designing cards and pictures, using scrap fabrics to make doll blankets and clothing, setting up a museum of natural history outside, and much more. Left to their own, they have spent hours using their imaginations and have had fun doing it.
Boredom never hurt anyone. When we were kids there wasn't the plethora of toys, electronics, and television shows aimed at kids like what's available today. We weren't hurt by this lack, and our kids won't be either. My sisters and I used to make our own fishing poles with a stick, rope, and safety pin. In fact, many of the interests I have today, such as cross-stitching and writing, developed during my childhood because I actually had time to pursue these interests.
Boredom leads kids to be more observant. When children are rushed from one activity to another, they soon become oblivious to their surroundings. However, when bored, children are looking for something to do, they begin to pay more attention to their environment.
My kids have gone outdoors in moments of boredom then found themselves totally engrossed in the immense variety of rocks, flowers, leaves, and objects they unearthed. These excursions have led to an extensive rock collection and an increased knowledge and interest in all of God's creation.
Boredom doesn't cause kids to get in trouble. Many parents falsely assume that if kids are left to their own devices they'll do nothing but self-destruct. Sure, if you leave a bored kid or two alone in an empty house with access to unwholesome or dangerous activities, you could be asking for trouble. But in a safe environment with proper supervision, responses to boredom are nothing short of amazing.
Boredom teaches independence. When my oldest daughter was still an only child, she had to learn at an early age that sometimes she had to play on her own. As much as she would have liked it, Mommy wasn't always available to play. Even with four kids now and another on the way, I've learned the importance of making sure all of our children are able to occupy themselves alone from time to time.
Boredom can create readers. Some children have a love for reading from an early age; others will only read if they can't find anything better to do. But once a child discovers he can pass the time with a good book, he will often come back to this outlet again and again. Frequently, I have discovered my "bored" daughter engrossed in a book, unable to put it down, even when another opportunity does arise.
Boredom allows time for introspection. A child with nothing to do is forced to think about what he likes or dislikes and what his interests are. In other words, he gets to know himself. He will learn to do new things because he wants to, not because someone told him to or signed him up for it. In short, boredom teaches him about himself and his God-given abilities.
By allowing our children to experience boredom, we enable them to find their creative sides and develop their interests in depth. The benefits of boredom are many, so the next time we hear, "I'm bored," we don't have to cringe. We can smile instead knowing that boredom is a blessing.
Tammy Darling is a freelance writer living in Three Springs, Pennsylvania.