“Mom, I’m bored.” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase, I’d be sipping umbrella drinks in Tahiti.
However, I no longer reply to such complaints with much more than a raised eyebrow. My kids know that it isn’t my job to provide them with endless entertainment options. Here’s why I let my kids be bored—and why you should consider it, too.
1. It Isn’t Deadly. While it sounds harsh to say, places like prisons, refugee camps, and some office complexes are full to the brim with folks who have nothing entertaining to do. While many of them complain about their plights, my coroner friend has yet to write, “bored to death” on a certificate.
Our technology addiction has made us intolerant of boredom. Fully 52% of smartphone users check-in hourly or more. While some do so due to fear of missing out (FOMO), many do it to distract themselves from boredom. Unfortunately, this addiction makes people helpless when Wi-Fi disappears. Believe it or not, only a few short decades ago, the palm of your hand didn’t come equipped with a boredom-busting gadget. Letting my kids entertain themselves minus a screen is a vital skill I want to encourage.
2. It Builds Decision-Making Skills. When you think about it, your kids probably spend at least 90% of their time following orders. While this practice instills discipline, it leaves them rather helpless when it comes to making choices. Letting my kids be bored forces them to select how to fill their time. Allowing children to exercise their independence builds decision-making skills, which they will need to do in their future careers.
3. It Inspires Creativity. Remember the old TV show, “MacGuyver?” That guy could get out of any predicament with a paperclip, a rubber band, and some elbow grease. Talk about creativity! When your children have to use their imagination to fill empty time, it inspires their creativity. They won’t be bored if they’re rehearsing a puppet show they intend to perform after dinner.
4. It Makes Them More Appreciative. I’ll admit it—my oldest has a smartphone and probably uses it with more expertise than I do. However, I don’t let her stay glued 24/7. Besides what the blue light does to her circadian rhythms, I don’t want her relying on internet games to beat boredom. Therefore, I limit her screen time. An unexpected side effect is that she now looks forward to when she can use her phone. If she had access whenever she liked, she would whine about boredom while taking her device for granted.
5. It Keeps My House (Somewhat) Cleaner. I long ago accepted that life with kids meant dealing with some degree of messiness nearly always. However, my kids occasionally clean up their rooms when they’re bored. My little ones benefit from honing their organizational skills while I find myself harping on them less. I haven’t quite gotten them to the point where they spontaneously mop the kitchen floor, but I’ll be sure to brag if they do.
6. It Encourages Mindfulness. I secretly think that one reason mindfulness continues to rise in popularity is that adults are so busy, we often lack time to slow down and think. Letting my kids be bored introduces them to the practice without saying a word. There’s nothing wrong with lying on the back porch and looking up at the clouds, inventing shapes in each one. Doing so centers my kiddos in the present moment, if only for a short while.
7. It Shows Them Life Exists Beyond the Screen. With homeschooling now in vogue everywhere, I sometimes worry that my children won’t know life beyond the computer screen. My work-from-home example probably doesn’t help. Letting my kids be bored by denying them screen time when they complain forces them to find alternatives. If the weather proves pleasant, they might head outside for hide-and-seek. If it’s raining, they can send a handwritten note to their grandparents or color.
8. It Keeps Them Moving. Nearly 20% of American children qualify as obese, and many do not shed weight as adults. These excess pounds contribute to chronic health conditions. Letting my kids be bored often forces them into physical activity. They might head out to play tag or set up a round of 2-liter bottle bowling in the kitchen—anything that gets them off the couch counts.
9. It Makes Them Eat (a Little) Healthier. One thing that adults and kids alike share in common is that they like a snack. Having a bit of extra time to kill gives them an incentive to make it healthy. I involve my children in weekly food prep, and we portion out individual serving sizes of carrot sticks and celery. My oldest can prepare simple microwave meals, such as oatmeal, and add fruit for extra phytonutrients.
The nine reasons above explain some of the benefits of letting my children fill their free time. While they still sometimes complain that they’re bored, I let them be—and maybe you should consider doing the same.