Each generation marvels at the ability of their children to be bored.
Our parents, apparently, had nothing but a hoop and a spinning top. We had books and board games, bicycles and Lego, family outings (to a local stately home, usually), wet weeks in Wales and a whole hour of children’s TV.
Today’s, of course, have package tours and kids’ clubs, in-car entertainment, mobile ’phones and media centres in their bedrooms.
And still they’re bored!
Thank goodness for that: boredom is essential to a child’s self-development.
Without the chance to get bored, a child has no time to develop their imagination, discover their own creativity or simply find out who they are.
Listen to successful adults recall how childhood boredom spurred their success. Top footballers with nothing better to do than kick a ball against a wall; film directors or musicians who filled long hours by forming a band or corralling their cousins and siblings into putting on a show. Fashion designers cut up scraps to dress dolls. Writers, artists, photographers filled empty hours with sketches and scribbles.
So if you are not rich enough to buy every latest gadget or fill every week of the holidays with adventure activities, if you’re too busy or too tired to play non-stop yummy mummy, heave a sigh of relief now.
Children whose every waking minute is packed with fun are doomed to mediocrity and social failure. They will grow up with no internal resources, no understanding of self or the world around them.
Take the case of a high-flying colleague of mine who was so determined her child should be constantly stimulated she hired an au pair to take the toddler on a non-stop cultural tour of galleries and museums and concerts and extra-curricular lessons so that he never had a minute to “get bored”. Today she has a nightmare fifteen year old with the attention span of a gnat and unable to think for or entertain himself.
In our increasingly child-centred world we have come to see a failure to keep our children entertained as negligent parenting.
But children, just as much as adults, need time to just “be”.
‘It may frustrate us to watch a child apparently aimlessly rearranging her dolls, even more so when we see teenagers just “hanging out”,’ says leading child psychologist Kathleen Cox. ‘We itch to tell them to go and do something constructive. But on the contrary, they need this “empty” time in order to develop as human beings.
‘The child lining up their dolls or reorganising their Yu-Gi-Oh! cards may be working through issues that have occurred in the classroom or playground. The slouching teenagers are in fact learning about social interaction, hierarchies and a sense of who they are.’
Remember though, “useful” boredom is unstructured: it is when the child is left to their own devices, to rearrange their bedroom or mooch about the garden or simply stare into space.
“Structured” boredom – another day spent cutting and pasting in a play club where they don’t want to be or being coerced into a game when they’re not in the mood – is just plain boredom.