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When Being Bored Can Be a Good Thing

A recent opinion piece in the New York Times (2/3/19, Pamela Paul, “Let Children Get Bored Again”) gave me a lot to think about. When my children were young they would sometimes say they were bored. My response was, ‘Well sit in time out until you’re not,’ and before you knew it they would find themselves interested in something and out of time out.

It might seem a bit harsh, but just think what that time can mean—observations get keener and things are noticed that weren’t before. Creativity is fostered—imagine the mind thinking about falling leaves in the dappled sunlight coming through the window and how that can stimulate fantasies, stories or just pure wonder.

Life isn’t about being entertained. Rather it’s about learning, emotional development, appreciation of aesthetics and knowledge of the world around us. How do we foster that? Certainly, not through electronic devices, which are so ubiquitous. It’s bad enough that folks seem to prefer texting and using the cell phone instead of silence and thought, but think of the effect on young children?

I was having breakfast in a café when a dad came in with a toddler and a four-year-old clutching an electronic tablet. Once seated, the four-year-old became mesmerized by the game he was playing and Dad seemed quite content to go for the quiet life. But, what a missed opportunity that was for conversation and interaction. Clearly, a missed opportunity for the child to relate to the world he was experiencing. I was appalled, but not surprised. Like you, I’ve seen this over and over again.

I’m not sure why parents think that it’s important to keep children busy and entertained. We know play is important for development, but play can’t happen in the context of electronics and the frenzy and manic behavior they seem to encourage.

I know that parents lead busy lives, both holding demanding jobs as I and my wife did. We had three children within five years after we turned 35. It was a great temptation to plop them down in front of the TV. Instead there were always toys to play with, books to look at, and the opportunity to help with dinner. And of course, if they did get bored they knew better than to let on!

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