Boredom is good for kids

Swapna Mirashi

iPads at restaurants to ease the wait. Smartphones on school buses to amuse through the ride. On demand shows, movies… Sounds like a story of your child?

The quest of modern parenting (for our children especially) seems to be hitched on one agenda – to avoid boredom. We spend much of our mind space and money on keeping ourselves busy (that is, away from boredom) and keeping boredom away from our children. But in that pursuit of happiness, are we actually keeping that very thing we desire for us and our children – happiness – away? Read on (till the end, without getting bored), to find out.


How can monotony or boredom be good? Well they are not. Not on their own. What the do is this – they help raise the excitement levels in experiences to follow. It is like classic optical illusion problem. Look at the two central circles in the figure below. Which of the 2 central circles is bigger?

As mentioned earlier, this is optical illusion. Both the central circle are the same size. It is the circles surrounding them that create the illusion of their size. Hence we perceive that the circle surrounded by smaller circle is bigger than the one surrounded by bigger ones. Even if the circles surrounding the central circle do not add any diameter to the central circle, they definitely affect the perception of its size.

Likewise, monotony on its own serves no purpose. But when it surrounds another even marginally exciting experience, it elevates the excitement.

This may explain parents’ angst over;

‘when I was your age…’

‘we did not have half the stuff or experiences you have but we were so happy and grateful…’

In our continuous quest for finding something to do for our children and our obsession with having and giving an exciting day, we often forget to cherish and celebrate the ordinary. How will a child who is used to remote controlling a hi-tech drone, enjoy making and test flying paper planes? How will a child find pleasure in creating and soaking in the imaginary world by reading black & white text on an ordinary paper (book), when she is used to augmented reality, 3D animation? How can hand sculpting match 3D printing in the WOW factor? How can simple meal match the sugar/salt laden, fat rich junk food?

Words of Wisdom

Philosophers, thinkers, psychoanalysts write about role of boredom in our lives and in growing up.

British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote about mankind’s collective wish to escape boredom.

‘Perhaps it is as unwise to spend one’s vital capital as one’s financial capital. Perhaps some element of boredom is a necessary ingredient in life. A wish to escape from boredom is natural; indeed, all races of mankind have displayed it as opportunity occurred… Wars, pogroms, and persecutions have all been part of the flight from boredom; even quarrels with neighbors have been found better than nothing. Boredom is therefore a vital problem for the moralist, since at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.’

Yet he wrote this about the skill to endure boredom, a century ago when technology was still slow and life was low-tech;

‘The capacity to endure a more or less monotonous life is one which should be acquired in childhood…The pleasures of childhood should, in the main, be such as the child extracts from his environment by means of some effort and inventiveness.’

Psychoanalyst and author of ‘On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored’ Adam Phillips says;

‘Boredom is actually a precarious process in which the child is, as it were, both waiting for something and looking for something, in which hope is being secretly negotiated; and in this sense boredom is akin to free-floating attention. The capacity to be bored can be a developmental achievement for the child.’