The surprising benefits of boredom

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In this age of helicopter parenting, there is immense pressure on mums and dads to fill their child’s schedule with educational activities. It goes without saying that putting this amount of pressure on yourself or your child is mentally and physically exhausting. And as the science is beginning to show, such overzealousness might be counter-productive to your child’s growth.

Most of us who experienced life before the digital revolution can remember the long hours and endless days of our own school holidays, when we had to find ways to entertain ourselves. With parents often working or busy running the household, children were regularly left to their own devices. In my family, this often resulted in daydreaming about make-believe worlds and invented games that would later become a staple of family bonding time.

This anecdote illustrates a rarely-acknowledged fact in today’s hyper-connected world: boredom breeds creativity.

The relationship between boredom and creativity
As counterintuitive as it seems, boredom actually pushes people out of their comfort zone and forces them to find innovative ways to entertain themselves. A 2014 study in the Creativity Research Journal found that individuals who were given deliberately boring tasks performed better in the creative tasks that followed. The boredom that caused participants to lose interest in the original task jump-started a state of contemplation and reflective thought that later encouraged participants to come up with more inventive ideas.

Boredom encourages reflective thought
Although introspection is something that we often take great strides to avoid, as identified in this New York Times article, it’s something that is necessary for mental health.

Being left alone with your thoughts, with no external stimulation, allows you to confront, process, and accept negative feelings instead of evading them. The strain of avoiding negative thoughts can actually foster deeper psychological issues such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, as well as depression and panic attacks, among other troubling problems.

However, with children being given access to their own digital devices at a younger age, the younger generation is growing up without ever experiencing true solitude – and true boredom. Without time alone to reflect, children don’t have the opportunity to come to terms with their subconscious worries. This lack of self-reflection will affect their ability to empathise with others, which will in turn negatively affect their self-esteem.

All things considered, a bit of solitude and boredom is a small price to pay for the highly valuable long-term benefits. During the holidays, try giving your children some space away from technology and stimulation. Remove mobile devices from the house and change your WiFi password. Endure the complaints that will follow and remember what Bertrand Russell once said:

“There is an element of boredom which is inseparable from the avoidance of too much excitement, and too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure… A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life, and is one of the things that ought to be taught to the young.”

Leave your children alone and let them find their own way. You might just be pleasantly surprised at what they come up with.

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