Children need to be bored sometimes

Children in affluent societies are often perceived as having everything. Playrooms bursting with toys, technological devices that keep them entertained for hours, and streaming services that mean there is always something to watch.  But does this material abundance mean these children want for nothing or have we as a society misunderstood what it is children really need?

One consequence of all this stimulation is that most children today are rarely bored.  When there is nothing obvious to do, it is all too easy to pick up a phone and play a game, scroll through Instagram or watch something on Netflix (of course it is not only children that this applies to!).  This can lead to every moment of the day being filled without the child needing to employ their imagination or creativity.  Children are missing out on being bored.  But does this really matter?

Well, yes it does.  

Firstly, boredom is a counterbalance to overstimulation.  Boredom could be described as a yin state whilst stimulation is a yang state.  For health and wellbeing, there must always be a balance of both yin and yang. Children are inherently abundant in yang and therefore it is even more important that they have a yinenvironment.   It is vital that children have times in their day when they are doing very little.  Without this, a child may be constantly in a slightly adrenalised state.  What goes up must eventually come down and being over adrenalised will eventually lead to a crash.  

Secondly, it is only when children are given an opportunity to be bored that they may begin to explore another side of themselves.  When day to day life is busy and over-scheduled, children will usually remain in ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’ mode.  In Chinese medicine terms, their qi will not be flowing smoothly as they need to steel themselves to get through the day. Think how you feel if you know you have a really busy, slightly stressful few days ahead.  Many people tense their bodies and emotionally feel more uptight.  If a child is never bored, this may be how they feel all the time. 

Lastly, but crucially, a healthy dose of boredom may even help to prevent a child or teenager from becoming depressed.  Chinese medicine understands that each organ houses a ‘spirit’ and is therefore not purely a physical entity.  The spirit of the liver is called the hun, usually translated as the ‘ethereal soul’.  The hun is the source of dreams, vision, inspiration, creativity and ideas.  It enables us to experience this crucial dimension of life, without which life feels bland and sterile.   In order for the hun to thrive, it needs time and space to ‘wander’.  This only happens when a child is not engaged in activities that are primarily rational, intellectual or head-based.  The perfect way to allow the hun to become active is to leave a child without any external stimulation.  From that place of boredom, in time, fantasy and creativity will emerge and the child will learn to explore their inner world.  Without this, life feels flat, one dimensional and, ultimately, lacking in soul.  

So, a healthy dose of boredom may be one of the greatest gifts we can give our children.  In allowing them to become acquainted with their inner world, including all their many hopes, dreams and fantasies we are, ironically, enabling their future life to be anything but boring.

As parents, how can we create opportunities for a bit of boredom in our children’s lives?

  • Have family rules that include no screens on car journeys, and at certain times during the week (E.G Sunday afternoons are screen-free zones).  
  • Reflect on what feelings it evokes in you, the parent, if your children moan about being bored and having nothing to do.   For example, does it mean you feel guilty that you are not doing your job properly? (Note: our parents certainly didn’t feel it was their responsibility to entertain us all the time).  Question whether the feelings you have are misplaced.
  • Sit with the moaning for a little while, and then see what happens.  Of course, your children won’t welcome you telling them they cannot have access to their devices for the rest of the day.  It may even mean they have an adrenaline ‘come down’.  But when that passes, you will be amazed at what might happen!

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