Category Archives: sacrificing childhood boredom

The consequences of sacrificing childhood boredom for hyper-activity

In a NY Times article today, Alina Tugend cautions about the possible consequences of the over-scheduled and overly-orchestrated lives of young children today.

“…Music lessons, gymnastics, horseback riding, tutoring, summer-long residential camps, sports teams — the list goes on and on. Often, so do the costs.

And even if the money is not there, some parents find a way. I know people who have borrowed from family, used home equity accounts and run up their credit cards to pay for all the stuff they believe their children just cannot miss.

“The experiences we thought kids had to have before high school has moved down to junior high and now elementary,” says William Doherty, a professor of family studies and director of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Minnesota. “Soon, we’ll be talking about leadership opportunities for toddlers…”

– continue reading Family Happiness and the Overbooked Child.

The problem is, most kids don’t really want to spend their young lives being constantly shuttled from one activity to another. They just don’t have the time to tell anyone — and besides, mob mentality is a strong force, and, as a result, many of their friends parents are overbooking their children too.

Steven Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago dismisses the possible silver-lining from keeping children highly engaged by reporting that, according to his studies, there doesn’t appear to be any correlation between academic success and participation in a higher number of extra-curricular activities.

As a matter of fact, the constant busy-ness of children might actually be counterproductive when it comes to creativity and innovation. According to an article written in the Wall Street Journal by Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip character Dilbert; the constant connection to technology, information and activity has left no room for childhood boredom.

Remember those peaceful moments during the lazy summer days of your own childhood when you laid on your back for hours and looked up at the clouds, letting your mind wander to explore the possibilities — or out flat on your stomach watching ants go in and out of the entrance to their anthill. Those moments happened without any plan, schedule or pre-registration — those easy moments, when the generosity of time allowed us to become curious about the simplest things — like a strange beetle climbing a blade of grass or a hole at the base of a tree that might just be the hidden passage to an entirely different world.

“…Experts say our brains need boredom so we can process thoughts and be creative. I think they’re right. I’ve noticed that my best ideas always bubble up when the outside world fails in its primary job of frightening, wounding or entertaining me.

I make my living being creative and have always assumed that my potential was inherited from my parents. But for allowing my creativity to flourish, I have to credit the soul-crushing boredom of my childhood…”

– continue reading The Heady Thrill of Having Nothing to Do

I know that I sound like a broken record when I talk about the value of spontaneous, unstructured and creative childhood play and how extremely important it is to let children supervise themselves — to pick the teams rather than joining them, to make the rules rather than agreeing to them.

I keep repeating this mantra because I understand the value of it. I lived it — and I so want children today to experience the joys of childhood innocence and frivolity themselves.

As a parent of three young girls myself, I regularly witness how the decline in spontaneous, unstructured play today directly affects the ability of many children to think creatively, to problem-solve or to entertain themselves, be happy with and be genuinely curious about the possibilities of a cardboard box.

Sometimes, the best thing we can do for our children is to just leave them alone and give them the time and space to create their own experiences in life. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is just open the door and let life happen — all by itself — without any schedule or coach or uniform to consider.