Boredom Mark 2
This article is a follow-up to Newsletter 11th of December
Most parents greet their kids at the end of the school day with the proverbial question ‘how was school today,' and the notorious answer is ‘boring.' Of course, we know that is not the truth, the school day is full of formal and informal learning activities. However, because each day is much like the last, there is an appearance of sameness that leads to a sense of monotony. This lack of excitement or novelty leads to the child’s explanation of boredom! Parents and insecure teachers who worry about the child being bored fail to understand the need for boredom in developing a self-contained and independent sense of self in the child.
The word boredom first appeared in Charles Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ and since that time has come to describe the human condition of feeling we have nothing to do in an uninteresting environment. That is, we lack external stimulation. In our classrooms, teachers are experts in the manipulation of their student's external environment to make the subject of the lesson something they desire. This manipulation of the learning environment is at the core of their practice.
It is not too much of a claim to declare today’s kids, or for that matter kids across the developed world, are the most bored citizens in our history. Since automation has reduced our need to work hard for the resources to satisfy our fundamental physical needs such as food and shelter, we have had a lot of ‘spare time.' In fact, since prehistoric humans began to cook, the efficiency of eating is the reason our cognitive development progressed at a rate faster than other species. The result was we had time to think, we still do but now instead of introspective thinking our time has been exploited by the supply of easily accessible entertainment with its pervasive advertisements that use our natural insecurity and expertly construct a desire for the consumption of prescribed external stimulation. Watch any ad-break on commercial television, and you will soon be told of all the things you need to have to be happy, successful and desirable. Of course, most of us can't have all these characteristics but with every passing twelve minutes we a given a new set of promises.
If we do gain some wealth, we will have the money to seek pleasure through new experiences or visiting new places that promise excitement and thrilling adventures. We can pursue a hedonistic lifestyle but continually toiling on this treadmill eventually the dulling effect of ‘too much’ of a good thing produces a state of boredom.
It is the reliance on the external world to meet our needs that causes this inevitable boredom; so the solution is to develop our internal world. We only find peace and contentment, the reverse of boredom, from inside ourselves. Exposing children to boredom can force a child to access their inner world, and this plays a most crucial role in the development of their inner strength and resilience. Kids should be bored on occasion.
I watch my grandchildren with their addiction to their iPads, continual viewing the latest offerings from one of the many streaming services available. Their elder siblings are continually on their smartphone texting, posting on one of the many social networks. Their parents may have developed a corresponding addiction to their email account or Twitter, along with the malignant FaceBook. Like all addiction, these electronic channels are accessed continuously to avoid being bored.
Walk through the streets of any modern city, and you will see people ignoring the wonders, not to mention the dangers of their natural environment transfixed to a small rectangle that radiates exciting messages. Today one of the significant modern causes of road accidents is that drivers are choosing to watch their smartphone over concentrating on the dangerous world speeding past. Our addiction has become a real traffic hazard.
This devotion to the electronic environment has to be managed better, and one of the most important things a parent can do is not to use the convenience of the television, the iPad; the computer games to entertain their children when they complain they have nothing to do. Let them be bored. It is these early years they will learn to go into their internal world, to develop imaginary friends, create ‘games' to entertain themselves. Later they can avoid being bored by using their imagination to make-up games with their friends. The need for structure in all sports will involve the formation of rules that teach the skills of negotiation and fairness. This use of their imagination leads them to acquire the people skills that are so important for their participation in their communities.
Kids who are exposed to periods of boredom become inventive, self-contained, understand that a full life requires some personal investment of their energy. This development of a strong sense of independence is a slow process that requires patience on our parts, but the long-term outcomes are well worth it.
So don't worry too much if your children are bored. Leaving them to solve this problem through their own devices builds their inner strength that develops their resilience. Another benefit is that life does regularly provide unusual and unexpected situations and when these inevitable, exciting occasions do arrive, they will be truly enjoyed.