At the start of pandemia and lockdown (or spring 2020), my children fine-tuned and regularly sang a chorus of “I’m / we are bored…” and they sang it on end.
Admittingly, the days did seem endless and short at the same time (hello March and April in the midwest), there they were, stuck on a screen going to “school,” and then suddenly it is too dark to play outside (and it is only 4 pm)!
So, I got it, and I still get it – but that doesn’t make it any less annoying to listen to (repeatedly). Therefore, and, in perhaps a not so stellar parenting moment (that I am obviously not too embarrassed to share…), I developed a chorus (or mantra if you will) of my own – I intoned back: “Only boring people are bored” –
The first time I said it, we were all shocked – my children most of all, as they indeed experienced bruised egos and feelings. But I mean it and not just to be mean about it; I mean it, I briefly mentioned it here, and I explained it to my children as the following.
First, one must explore why hearing the chorus of “I’m / we are booooored” creates that knot in your stomach. For me, the uncomfortable feeling relates to being a fixer, and boredom, in my mind, is not a problem. So I remind myself of that and challenge myself not to be an enabler and challenge my children to own their boredom. As an educator, boredom is always an easy fix because children are naturally curious; channeling boredom in an educational environment is easy. At home, versus TV, video games, social media (none of which are appropriate answers to boredom, by the way), the challenge is much more challenging, but it is a challenge we must conquer!
As the adults in our children’s lives, it is incumbent upon us to understand boredom’s importance. Before you call that teacher or the principal, parents, first create an understanding of and with boredom and resist the knot in your stomach – BOREDOM IS NOT A PROBLEM!
Don’t take it from me, though; I am just an educator and a mother with an opinion -when I opine that boredom is not a problem – that’s a scientific fact, take it from the scientists.
In 2014 Frontiers in Psychology published an essay titled “The Bright Side of Boredom” – you can read it here. The report is an in-depth analysis of how boredom is defined and measured scientifically going back to the 1990s and ending in 2013 – if these are the types of studies you like to read, I highly recommend this essay. If words like full scale and raw data confuse you, let me break it down in one sentence; in fact, I’ll borrow the exact words of the essay:
“Given its twofold function, boredom is best understood as a state that monitors and regulates our behavior. It informs us when we are out of tune with our interests, and, on account of its aversive character, motivates us to engage in situations that are perceived by us as fulfilling or meaningful.”
What does that mean? It means that boredom is not a problem. Boredom is an opportunity. As parents/educators, our job is to shift this perspective and reintroduce to our children and students what boredom is.
- Boredom is an opportunity to be creative.
- Boredom is motivation to discover the novel and new.
- Boredom hones skills of self-regulation and control.
Once I shifted my children’s mindsets and expectations (in the area of screens), I continued to work hard at helping them seize the moments that appear to be problematic or boring and encourage/challenge/intone that they should embrace these instances as the opportunities they are.
Of course, one is always met with resistance and hence the phrase: only boring people are bored – the challenge is helping children develop the ability to reflect inwards and question: why am I not engaged? and what can I do to engage myself? – trial and error is expected because coupled with an understanding of boredom is the very excellent and natural consequence of GRIT development – especially when trying to figure out how to channel boredom.
Over the last nine months, I am proud to report that as a result of “boredom,” one of my children became a self-taught gymnast. Another became a real bibliophile – and still, one resists and spends a lot of her time “bored” – I am confident, though, that as long as I remain steadfast and do not cave to the ease of unlimited screen time, she too will learn how to embrace this opportunity…because she has to, and, I know this lesson will serve her well in the long run.
There is a caveat, though – this paradigm shift of boredom speaks to adolescence and its downtime – so if there isn’t enough homework or the homework is too easy – ask yourself: am I complaining because my child is bored and or I wish he/she were busier? – because if your answer is yes – this is not a problem this is an opportunity!
(HOWEVER, If your child is struggling with boredom in real-time – meaning existing in a classroom during instructional times is a challenge – then that’s for a whole other conversation addressing the responsibilities of a teacher, the responsibilities of a student and if certain behaviors can be a result of so-called ‘boredom’… )
So, in conclusion, if we have learned anything from the last nine months let it be the inevitability of downtime and our children’s reaction to it. Will we allow them to remain surfaced, bored, and pacified by a screen and flashing lights? Or will we challenge them to turn inwards, reflect, and develop themselves to become people of substance and layers?
Because, as we have now come to learn, only boring people are bored…