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Boredom Never Killed Anyone But Avoiding It Has

Alain de Botton, British Author and Philosopher extraordinaire, has an interesting idea about addiction. In one of his publications, he describes addiction as the following: 

“There are, in truth, far more addicts than we think. Indeed, if we look at the matter squarely: we are pretty much all addicts… addiction is the manic reliance on something, ANYTHING, in order to keep our dark or unsettling thoughts at bay. Being inside our own minds is, for most of us, and very understandably so, a deeply anxiety-inducing prospect. We are filled with thoughts we don’t want.” 

In layman’s terms, almost all of us are addicted to something, even if it’s considered a good vice (i.e., excessive exercise). Addiction distracts us from being alone with ourselves – a scary proposition for even the most confident among us.  

And with the continual advancement in technology, the disenfranchisement we have to our sense of self is exponentially growing. We are immersed in a time in which everything is readily available to us at the push of a button. With the rapid progression of technology, a thirst for immediate entertainment and gratification has become the norm. With that, the need for distraction is ever-growing. What little alone time we have is typically filled with activities like checking Facebook, watching tv, playing video games, shopping online, going to the gym, talking on the phone, or going out for Happy Hour. These are all activities that entertain us, creating immediate yet short-lived gratification and further perpetuating actions that mimic that of addiction. 

So, what does this have to do with raising children? A lot actually, but not in the “sex-and-drugs-are-bad,-kids” kind of way. 

When I was growing up, most days, my parents pretty much pushed me out the front door and said: “don’t come back ’til dinner.” This meant I was left to my own devices to entertain myself. Usually, that involved lobbying all of the neighborhood kids to come back to our house and play make-believe in the backwoods with whatever resources we had available. We didn’t have iPads and iPhones. We weren’t shuttled from soccer practice to French lessons to Piano lessons to Dance Class to Cooking Class to Karate. Our parents didn’t pour tons of energy and money into filling up our days with activities in hopes that the overstimulation would keep boredom at bay while also turning us into prodigies.  

I fear that, with each new generation, we further reinforce a mindset that boredom is something to avoid; that it somehow has adverse consequences to the development of the youthful mind. I am of the firm belief that our hyper-focus on entertaining our children not only sends the wrong message but sets the foundation for addictive behavior.

Plenty of research has shown that the frontal cortex of a child’s brain lights up with dopamine neuron transmission when introduced to something super stimulating like video games. The actual physiology of the brain’s overstimulation of feel-good chemicals mimics that of a drug addict. The problem is that when the video game (or whatever stimulation is causing that part of the brain to light up) goes away, it leaves the person feeling anxious and depressed. It would be similar to using a bunch of appliances in your house at once and blowing a circuit. When you overstimulate an impressionable mind and then take that stimulation away, it can lead to cognitive and emotional developmental problems which do your child no good when they are left to their own devices later on in life. 

Boredom encourages creativity. It forces the individual to utilize whichever resources are at their disposal to create something from nothing. From boredom breeds a strong sense of self because it forces the individual to be left with just their thoughts. This is an important skill to nurture in a child because it provides them with the building blocks to learn how to be okay with being alone, being still, and being without entertainment. When we reinforce the belief that every second of the day must be devoted to distracting the mind, that’s when our kids turn into teenagers that experiment with drugs or other stimulus-seeking activities. We failed to teach them at a young age the coping skills to deal with boredom, self-reflection, and having nothing to do. 

So, let your kids be bored. Let them figure out a way to fill their time that doesn’t involve technology or socializing. Give them a cardboard box and leave them to their own devices. Seriously. They’ll be okay.  And you’ll probably find that they are calmer and happier kids that turn into mindful, healthy adults.

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