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It's OK to be bored: The case for making space for curiosity

Being bored has been proven to increase creativity and curiosity, while enhancing mental health. It gives us space to slow down, feel less pressure, and to digest our experiences.

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Child walks down the lane
Emily Behr
, Growga

I am, by no means, a perfect parent. My kids often watch TV while eating a meal. And, there are many times that I let technology serve as a babysitter while getting something done around the house (or taking a shower!)

With COVID, we’ve all had to use more technology. During last year’s virtual school, I put my 3-year-old in front of the iPad for over an hour so that I could get work done while my kindergartner joined her class on her computer. And, I started to notice that the more they were exposed to the stimulation that technology provided, the less they were okay with being bored or playing on their own. It became a cycle that, still, four months later, we are working to unlearn.

Even this weekend, in between activities, my first grader complained to me, “What am I supposed to do? I am bored.”

“Figure it out.” I replied.

There was whining. She was not happy about it. And I know I could have offered suggestions. I could have stressed myself out trying to find something to entertain her. I could have brought out the iPad or put on the TV.

But, I didn’t. And, you know what? She found something to do and played and read for over an hour by herself.

And, by stepping back, I got to witness her feeling empowered and independent as she problem-solved and came to her own decision. Not only that, she chose a task she really enjoyed, so she played longer and with more contentment.

Being bored has been proven to increase creativity and curiosity, while enhancing mental health. It gives us space to slow down, feel less pressure, and to digest our experiences. One study has shown that “people who had gone through a boredom-inducing task later performed better on an idea-generating task than peers who first completed an interesting craft activity." Another study shows that “taking a break can be a valuable opportunity to help our overloaded brains relax and alleviate stress."

So, why do we feel the need for us and our children to be constantly entertained? Why did we freak out when instagram and Facebook went down for four hours recently?

If you are guilty of this, you are not alone. We don’t like to be bored and we turn to technology to fill that void. In one study, one-quarter of participants said they would rather give themselves a painful shock than be in a room with no external stimulus (music, books, phones) for 15 minutes. We are all on screens more often and with more frequency than ever before. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that children spend an average of seven hours a day on screens, including television, devices, computers and phones.
And this is just the beginning. Recently, Instagram announced that it will be creating an app for an under-13 audience that has since been paused due to backlash. A recent whistleblower at Facebook exposed that tech companies know that, by exposing children to this addicting technology before they have the developmental capacity to regulate their usage, they are aiming to “hook” them for the long-term.
In the past 18 months, children have been more exposed to technology than ever before, the NY Times recently reported. Children’s screen time had doubled by May as compared with the same period in the year prior, according to Qustodio, a company that tracks usage on tens of thousands of devices used by children, ages 4 to 15, worldwide. The data showed that usage increased as time passed: In the United States, for instance, children spent, on average, 97 minutes a day on YouTube in March and April, up from 57 minutes in February, and nearly double the use a year prior — with similar trends found in Britain and Spain. The company calls the month-by-month increase “The COVID Effect.”

Now is our chance to turn off technology and reclaim space for curiosity for our children. Let’s let our children experience boredom, so that they learn skills which can transform the way they navigate experiences now and in the future.

Here are some simple tips that can help you as a parent, step back and make space for curiosity.

Set aside unstructured time. Make a point to not schedule a part of every day. Even if it’s just 15 or 30 minutes, set aside time to have no agenda.

Go outdoors... without toys. In his book Last Child In The Woods Richard Louv exposes the growing divide between children and nature. He suggests “nature-deficit disorder” is directly linked to conditions such as obesity, attention disorders, and depression in today’s wired generation. So, put away the toys and step outside. Go for a walk together, or just let the kids explore. See what happens when you step back and watch instead of leading.

Limit screen time. Set guidelines for screen time that work best for your family and stick to them. Instead of defaulting to a screen to keep your kids entertained, try asking them to get creative and figure out an activity to do on their own. Your kids might fight you on this at first, but by sticking to the guidelines, they will soon find things to do that don’t involve screens and you will all reap the rewards.

Emily Behr is the founder and CEO of Growga, a curriculum delivery platform for Pre-K-8 educators and youth development professionals. Growga’s research-based mindfulness curriculum focuses on SEL, movement, and mindfulness in an approachable and engaging way. Find out more at www.mygrowga.com.


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