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The boredom chorus

Opinion

The boredom chorus

Jane Stephens knows how a long, hot summer can bring the ‘I’m bored’ refrain to a crescendo, but advises parents not to orchestrate all activities.

The long summer school holidays are on the wane, thank goodness. Tourists (wonderful as they are) are heading back to their boroughs. Teachers are starting to mumble about the returning refrain of the school bells. And while parents generally like their offspring, most have had their fill by now of the little mites being under their feet, with juvenile complaints of being bored rising to a cacophony.

While it is not sharply unpleasant, humans are wired to find boredom undesirable. It feels dull and unnatural, aching and slow. But psychologists and educators say that boredom begets creative thinking and wellbeing, and handling it depends a lot on managing frustrations and regulating emotions.

It is worth remembering that there is truth in the aphorism that no one has died from it and, given the chance, imagination can come out to play, and memories can be made. School holiday boredom gives little adults-in-training a go at some life skills that will definitely come in handy down
the track. The problem is that they are not in the habit of filling activity holes and gaps in the program. They are not in the mode of planning, gathering materials and solving problems.

The challenge for grownups, psychologists say, is to aid kids rather than provide an endless supply of distractions and activities. It is like helping them with baking rather than buying them the cake. By working with kiddies to develop a list of fun ideas and then sourcing the supplies for them, they have options to go to in those inevitable quiet hours, and adults can occasionally admire and encourage, rather than control and deliver.

I feel for the poor little things. Never has a generation been so stimulated or purposely entertained and never have children been less in charge of crafting their own amusements. This is the daycare generation: the ones whose every day has been structured since birth.

The US’s Child Mind Institute experts say boredom is gold for children, helping them develop planning strategies, flexibility and problem-solving and organisational skills in ways that are lacking in kids whose lives are constantly structured. The biggest challenge for grownups is to put up with kids’ initial resistance and whingeing. And then letting them be.

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Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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