The Benefits of Being Bored

There is a piece by Pamela Paul titled “Let Children Get Bored Again,” and in this essay she challenges the stigma associated with boredom in today’s hyperconnected society and encourages readers to appreciate boredom. Historically, having leisure time was a privilege reserved for the middle class, but people who couldn’t afford such leisure time had to do back-breaking work in fields and factories. According to Paul, “agricultural and industrial jobs were often mind-numbing; few people were looking to be fulfilled by paid labor,” so children had to get used to not having their parents around to look after them and got creative by reading books and climbing trees, and later, watching TV. This boredom isn’t bad; in fact, it fosters creativity in kids. As a kid I remember reading a lot of books because there weren’t any tablets or advanced technology back then. I also wrote a lot of stories and drew pictures. It was nice not having such a packed schedule because I could always be in my head. Did it make me any popular with the other kids in school? Not really, but I enjoyed it. Even during my summer breaks in high school I was always reading for fun. I was able to travel to new worlds and meet different characters and this helped me with my school projects and expressing myself musically.

Nowadays, people often see boredom as a bad thing, regardless of parents’ race, class or income, and parents feel they must constantly be taking their kids to multiple activities in order to fill up their time. In the film Bad Moms, for instance, the main character Amy is always taking her kids to activities and doing their homework, so not only does she lose out on leisure time but also her kids don’t get to appreciate having free afternoons to themselves. Had Amy felt less self-imposed pressure to supervise her kids and constantly be keeping them busy, they might have appreciated time to be creative and this could have helped Amy’s daughter worry less about getting on the softball team or made her son less worrisome about his mom not making his breakfast for him. He could have learned to make his own breakfast early on.

We have seen a few instances in film in which kids use boredom to take care of themselves and think of original ideas. Matilda Wormwood, in the eponymous children’s book and movie with Mara Wilson, has parents who care more about their son than they do about their daughter. While they sit and watch TV, Matilda learns how to spell her own name and read lots of books. She also learns how to practice her superpower of telekinesis. One famous scene in the film is when her parents and brother leave her alone in the house to herself. Her mom, played by Rhea Perlman, tells her that if she’s hungry, there’s a can of Campbell’s soup for her to heat up if she gets hungry. Instead of just listening to her mom, however, Matilda makes a fresh batch of pancakes for herself, and gets to enjoy her breakfast while reading her book at the kitchen table in peace. As we see later in the film, Matilda’s resilience and self-sufficiency help her develop a thick skin against the school bully and principal, Miss Trunchbull, and helps her excel in her classes because she’s spent so much time alone reading books. Had she been over supervised by her parents she would not have been able to appreciate having the space to develop her sense of self.

It should also be noted that filling your kids’ schedules with activities is also expensive and that many families can’t afford to send their kids to this activity or that activity. Paul says that even at her most boring after-school jobs, she found ways to make them fun, like coming up with stories about the purchases that customers in the checkout lines made (“the man buying eggplant and a six-pack of Bud at 9 p.m.: Which was the must-get item and which the impulse purchase? How did my former fifth-grade teacher feel about my observing her weekly purchase of Nutter Butter?”) Like her, I had a couple of average jobs, such as dishwasher and barista, but the monotony of these jobs has allowed me time to be in my head and appreciate conversations with my coworkers about things we love, such as Spongebob Squarepants, music and movies. Even as an office clerk, I sometimes write about blog posts in my spare time or read the Money section of the news so I can learn more about finances.

There is an ad by The Ad Council and the Afterschool Alliance in which a girl sings to her cat in her bedroom when she is bored. The ad is supposed to encourage kids to pursue an afterschool program so that they don’t end up like that girl. As someone who participated in orchestra throughout school, I am a strong proponent of after school programs. However, it’s important to not have kids spread themselves thin. In the documentary Race to Nowhere, students in high schools are seen constantly doing extracurricular activities and coming home late to do homework. It not only makes them exhausted, sick and stressed, but also inhibits their ability to think critically and enjoy school in their own way.

According to Pamela Paul, teachers are trying too hard to make their classes interesting to students because they think students no longer listen to long lectures. While this may sound good in the short term, it’s just that: a short term strategy before students get bored again. Paul says it’s best to teach kids how to be bored now because in their adult lives, even at jobs they love (read “follow your dreams” jobs) they still need to check emails. As Erin Griffith noted in her article, “Drudge Report,” even people who seem to be at their dream job have to complete monotonous tasks such as checking emails.

The article ends with a beautiful quote that sums everything up

This sounds boring, you might conclude. It sounds like work, and it sounds like life. Perhaps we should get used to it again, and use it to our benefit. Perhaps in an incessant, up-the-ante world, we could do with a little less excitement.

Pamela Paul, Sunday Review, “Let Children Be Bored Again”

Indeed, I think with all this technology that was supposed to make our lives easier, it’s somehow made our lives more stressful and many, if not all, of us would do well with some unfilled time to just reflect and get creative with our time.

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