Screen time and the importance of being bored

Why being 'bored' is a positive behavior for your child!

Back in ‘our day’, screen time involved watching Sailor Moon cartoons before school and whatever cartoons were on (Rug rats? Fraggle Rock?) in the afternoon between 3 and 5 pm when programming automatically flicked over to the early news. When the internet did become a ‘thing’, we waited for dial up (you just heard the noise in your head didn’t you?) and had to get off the second anyone else in your house needed to use the phone.  

These days, in the generation our children are growing up in, kids are cruising the internet almost as early as they can talk when we hand them our iPhone in their prams to watch Peppa Pig while we try to get some shopping done.  They have iPads in kindergarten, laptops from primary school, an iPhone to keep them safe and in constant contact as soon as they can walk to and from school (how did WE survive?!)... and that’s not to mention all the x-boxes, play stations, Nintendo switch’s and other personal gaming devices we have in our homes.  

We are more likely to get our information from social media than we are from the news channel and trends are now set by You Tubers and Instagram influencers who are the true celebrities of the day.

So! With all this in mind, how we teach our kids a healthy approach to screen time from a young age seems almost as important as how we get them to eat their greens.  This is the first in a series of healthy screen strategies for families.

One of the major reasons parents allow their kids on screens, if we are all being honest, is the convenience/entertainment factor.  But there is much benefit, studies show, in actually ALLOWING or even ENCOURAGING your kids to be bored.  Perhaps it’s because the words ‘Mum I'm boooooored’ is usually accompanied by whinging and whining, research shows LESS than 1 in 5 British parents agree that it’s good for kids to be bored now and again.

But we beg to differ, and here’s why.....

Boredom creates abundant opportunity for child-led play.  That is, the kind of play that is unplanned, unstructured and created/led purely by the child/ren involved. Not only does this encourage imagination, creativity and originality of thought (for kids of all ages, toddlers to teenagers), it also encourages communication and relational skills as kids seek out others to join in their play and explain their concept/how the activity or game works.  A sense of camaraderie comes when kids band together to jointly do or create a new activity or game. Children of all ages also find a sense of achievement in using creativity and discovery to explore the world around them. Boredom is indeed a stimulus to this creativity and discovery. We wonder how many of the world’s greatest artists/minds/leaders were in fact, quite bored children. ;)

Boredom is surprisingly very important for mental health.  In a world of extreme structure: school, after school sports and/or tutoring, clubs and commitments etc, then being rewarded by coming home and ‘switching off’ using screens, being bored allows kids and teens the opportunity to get comfortable with being alone in their own thoughts.  Children who are given this opportunity regularly tend to be more intuitive to their own feelings and the feelings of others, more likely to be critical thinkers and, more comfortable/confident in their own heads entering the young adult years.  It also potentially sets them up for any periods of loneliness later in life, a breakup or period without a partner, a move to a new city, loss of a job etc, when being OK and confident with short periods of isolation can be a valuable asset.  

Boredom often paves the way for a life long passion or interest.  The solution to being bored is of course, to find something to do.  If screens are not an option, you are much more likely to try a new activity or hobby.  Reading, being in nature, learning an instrument, art and crafts, surfing, gardening, photography, bee keeping... there is a limitless number of screen-less activities available to you and your kids. Get your kids to write down as many activities they can think of to do if screens were out for the weekend. Whether they’re at home or out, cost money or need supplies, tell them to write down every single thing they can think of whether they’ve done it before or not.  They may have a list of 10 or 100!  Just writing the list will get the creative juices flowing. Once they are done, pick a handful and commit to trying them over the course of a week, a month or a year.  Keep the list where you can both/all see it and tick them off as you go.

How can the Thumsters Parenting App help with your child being bored? We are so glad you asked!  Research shows us that ‘screen time’ is one of the most chosen Thumsters goals for kids of all ages.  This means that until the ‘screen’ goal has been achieved, there will be a period of time, perhaps a few hours, perhaps a few days depending on the number of thumbs you’ve picked to achieve the goal, where you child may come to you with that age old complaint...... ‘I’m so booooooooored’ (thumbs down for whining 😉 ).  Don’t give in, hold strong! Don’t be tempted to give them easy wins so they get on screens and stop complaining sooner, consistency is key! Smile and deliver that age old remedy our parents gave us when we had the same complaint yet no easily accessible ready-at-all-hours screen option to entertain us: ‘if you’re bored, find something to do.’  ‘Remember the list we made? Pick something off it.’  (And if they do, what a great thumbs up moment! If they continue to whinge well, you know what to do. Thumbs down until they get the picture. That’s the beauty of the app, it's simple, yet it works)!  

We’d love to know some of your boredom busters below! Or if you try the list idea above, let us know some of the things your kids come up with in the comments!

-The Thumsters Parenting App team.