From sporting events to iPads, children are bombarded with stimuli from their environment. In this digital age, children’s downtime is filled with television or other digital devices that offer entertainment that can stunt imagination and cognitive growth.
As a mom, I want my children happy and active, of course, but as an educator and development specialist, I know how important it is for children to sometimes be bored.
A young child who faces boredom has an opportunity to create and develop executive functions. Scientists refer to these capacities as self-regulation—a set of skills that rely on three types of brain function: working memory, mental flexibility and self-control.
Once children get past the complaining portion of this “most unfair, disastrous and heinous lack of entertainment you subject them to,” they naturally let their curiosity drive them toward imaginative play, as long as the environment is conducive to it. A strategy for the adult in this predicament is to provide safe spaces where children can explore their world without a myriad of restrictions and/or “danger zones.” It is in those spaces that the mind can wander and ideas form. This imaginative process is also key for children to develop empathy (imagining how someone else may feel), self-regulation (imagining what their bodies are capable of), and self-discovery (What am I interested in? Good at? Want to be?).
Teresa Belton (2001) conducted a study on the impact of television on the imaginative process and products of story-making. She found that children who were overly stimulated scored lower on divergent thinking tasks, meaning that their ability to be creative was negatively impacted. Mann and Cadman (2014) conducted a meta-analysis on boredom and its impact on creative potential, finding that children left to complete mundane tasks were more motivated to compensate that experience with a creative self-driven activity. Neuro-scientist, Susan Greenfield, stated in an interview that during most quiet times in her childhood she would daydream, sketch and write stories that were the precursors to her future work in behavioral science.
Overstimulation can be a product of parents’ endless efforts to keep their children occupied, robbing them of the opportunity to problem solve and skewing their expectations of others in varied circumstances in the real world. So, when your child says they are bored or you are feeling overwhelmed trying to fill every minute of the day, think first if this is an opportunity for them to take responsibility of themselves before stepping in to solve this “problem” by devising another activity to fill the time gap.
VP of Education