Will our kids ever be bored?
The other night the lights went out on my train – a generation ago we’d have spent the rest of the journey in solitude, bored out of our skulls, but the game has changed. Everyone was hunched over their phones and tablets, faces lit up by halos of information, united in personal amusement. In a world where it’s so easily avoided, our kids will never be bored. Is that a good thing?
We’ve grown to see boredom as something to be endured, a burden to bear until the next distraction. Psychologists associate it with depression and anxiety, teachers make it the enemy of learning, the police even link it to crime.
Yet constructive downtime – that’s actually thinking about stuff, not idly twiddling your thumbs – is a good thing! The key to getting children to embrace boredom is to see it as something positive, a time to be reflective and philosophical, rather than imposed void on their information-driven minds.
Teresa Belton, research associate at East Anglia University, says boredom needs to be ‘recognised as a legitimate human emotion that can be central to learning and creativity. ‘It seems that no task can be started without us deciding what exactly it will lead to… Sometimes we just need to set something in motion and let the rest follow.’
We shouldn’t be too hard on distractions, though: constant information is the modern way of life. Clive James said: ‘Anyone afraid of what he thinks television is doing to the world is probably just afraid of the world.’ It works just a well if you replace ‘television’ with ‘Angry Birds’.