Do our kids’ ever-present devices prevent them from experiencing in-between moments when they aren’t engaged in something — bored moments when there’s “nothing to do”? The idea of “nothing to do” seems quaintly old-fashioned in a world where kids busy themselves texting or online, filling every micro-moment. Once upon a time, they might instead have done a bit of daydreaming or reflecting on the past, musing about the future, observing the people and space around them, or just following their imaginations to new and interesting places.
Screen-attached kids nowadays are missing out on…boredom! Why does that matter? Because boredom is the prelude to imagination. When bored, the mind is given the time and space to do nothing but drift and wander — to indulge the imagination. It’s the imagination at play when we daydream, follow our thoughts and fantasies, work out solutions to problems and challenges, and discover what interests us most.
Research has recognized for years a connection between children’s imaginative capacity and their exposure to external sources of stimulation. A large-scale study in the 1980s of three Canadian communities compared the imaginativeness of children who lived with no television against kids who watched TV. The children in a community lacking TV reception scored significantly higher in imaginativeness than the kids with television in their homes. Two years later, after TV became present in all the children’s homes, the difference in imaginative capacity disappeared.(i)
“Imagination is important,” writes psychologist Teresa Belton. “Not only does it enrich personal experience, it is also necessary for empathy — imagining ourselves in someone else’s shoes — and is indispensable in creating change. Children…often fall back on television or — these days — a digital device to keep boredom at bay.”(ii)
You needn’t feel guilty if your kids complain of boredom. Better to see boredom as an opportunity, not a problem that needs fixing. Encourage your kids sometimes to do nothing but gaze out the window, or find new ways (with your oversight) to occupy themselves with stuff already available — in the basement, attic, kitchen, garage or yard. There’s much to be gained by exercising imagination to pass the time, rather than always depending on a screen to do the work for us.
(i) Williams, T. M. The Impact of television: a natural experiment in three communities. (Orlando: Academic Press) 1986.
(ii) Belton, T. How kids can benefit from boredom. The Conversation.com. September, 2016.