Skip to main content

young child looking out of window on rainy dayIngram Publishing

If you're constantly worried about providing stimulation for your children, you may actually be doing them a disservice.

That's according to education expert Teresa Belton, who told the BBC that it is good for children to be bored, as it encourages them to exercise their imaginations.

While studying the effects of boredom, Belton, a senior researcher at the University of East Anglia in Britain, has interviewed numerous creative types, including authors, scientists and artists, such as British writer and actress Meera Syal, the BBC reports.

Boredom in many cases encouraged these individuals as children to find ways of occupying themselves, coaxing them to develop their own "internal stimulus."

"Lack of things to do spurred [Syal] to talk to people she would not otherwise have engaged with and to try activities she would not, under other circumstances, have experienced, such as talking to elderly neighbours and learning to bake cakes," Belton says, commenting on Syal's upbringing in a small mining village. "Boredom is often associated with solitude and Syal spent hours of her early life staring out of the window across fields and woods, watching the changing weather and seasons."

And perhaps more importantly, Belton says, boredom encouraged the actress/writer to keep a journal filled with short stories, poems and observations.

Some youngsters who lack this kind of ability to occupy themselves creatively wind up acting out, "smashing up bus shelters or taking cars out for a joyride," the researcher says, adding that screen time – the use of television, computers or smart phones – has become a default stimulus for children who have nothing to do.

The idea that children should be allowed to amuse themselves is something author Pamela Druckerman discussed in her bestselling book Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. In the 2012 book, Druckerman observes that much more so than American parents, French parents emphasize the importance of their children learning to be happy on their own.

"A child who can play by himself can draw upon this skill whenever his mother is on the phone," Drukerman writes. "Parents who value this ability are probably more apt to leave a child alone when he's playing well by himself."

Many commenters on the BBC website seem to agree that a little boredom is beneficial.

"We can entertain and 'busy' our children to the point that they have no time for their own thoughts and ideas," one commenter wrote. "We all need 'down time' – whether it's an hour when we get home for work or quiet time at the start or end of the day."

Added another: "It's horrifying to see how some children are pressured into continuous activity, and never allowed to just be themselves, bored or not. Boredom, in any case, seems to be an essential part of growing up, enabling us to cope with it, and to develop personal resources of our own."

What do you think? Are we overly concerned about keeping our children stimulated?