Recently one dad published an article detailing his desire for his kids to be bored this summer. It’s a desire inspired by a Ted Talk-esque YouTube video, which should set off an alarm bell in any average parent’s brain. Not that you can’t learn from Ted Talks, but most of them tend to favor ideology over practicality, optimism over pragmatism, and concepts over results.
For this dad, boredom leads to daydreaming, which leads to creative thinking. Fair enough in theory, but in practice the “creative thinking” inspired by boredom can also result in bodily injury, like the time my husband’s cousins decided to create a slip and slide in the kitchen on a rainy summer day. There’s a huge developmental leap that needs to take place in your child’s brain before he is able to process free time effectively. If the apple hit Newton in the head when he was ten, he probably would’ve eaten it and called it a day.
The irony that the free-range boredom advocates fail to recognize is that children not only crave structure, they learn from it. Children aren’t born with an inherent perspective on the world. They learn how the world works through role modeling. Hence, if you spend your free time playing on your phone or tablet, your children will inevitably want to spend their free time doing the same. However, if they spend their summer in an environment that engages them in various outdoor and indoor activities, chances are they’ll want to spend their free time doing much the same thing.
So, what exactly is the motivation behind encouraging our kids to be bored? Do we really want them to think creatively, or do we expect them to act like adults who can handle their independence without burdening an adult for an idea, some cash, or a ride to a friend’s house? Are boredom advocates looking to educate their children about creative thinking, or are they looking for a cheap, easy way to get their kids out of their hair?
Countering the ill-effects of overscheduled, tech-oriented children requires more than stripping them of their phones and kicking them into the backyard. It requires them to learn how to interact with their world without Googling for the answer. In short, if we want our children to learn how to think creatively, they need to do more than be bored: They need to learn how to effectively interact with the world around them. If all they’ve ever done is use their smartphone to find the answer, they will be completely ill-equipped to learn the lesson you’re trying to teach.
Divorcing tweens from their tablets and throwing them into the backyard may sound like a good idea in theory. In reality, it’s a last-ditch attempt to remodel a decade’s worth of bad teaching on the part of parents who happen to spend their free time watching videos online. If you want your children to learn how to be bored, they must first learn how to learn. Just as perspective is learned, so is creative thinking. You need to do more than set a parental timer in order to get your kids to think outside the tablet.