Boredom, to be or not to be?

I recently read an article on the BBC website by Hannah Richardson about boredom in children and I was intrigued. The thrust of the article was that, “Children should be allowed to get bored.”

As a kid, I don’t ever remember being bored, except maybe in history class. But I didn’t allow that boredom to exist. I drew pictures of the teacher. I talked to my neighbours in class. I think boredom only exists if you let it. There is no excuse for boredom unless you are forced to do something that is not challenging.

Let me clarify here. There are two kinds of boredom. One that results from lack of stimulation from the environment around you, and the other from being forced to do a repetitive task, or something that is not very challenging. I am going to venture to say that there is no such thing as the first kind of boredom.

Lets be honest, unless you are in a dark room with no windows, there is always stimulation. And even then, your mind will not stop thinking. Unless you are talking about being forced to learn the dates of the battles of the war of 1812, in my mind, there is no such thing as boredom.

Western society has created this state of boredom by creating the attitude that we must always be entertained. These days there is a growing tendency for children’s lives to be scheduled down to the minute. They are used to having someone or something entertaining them during every hour of the day. Now there are video players in cars and planes. Kids use devices when riding the bus or train to block out the so-called boring world around them. Life itself has become boring because we have forgotten how to engage with it.

Dr. Teresa Belton told the BBC that “cultural expectations that children should be constantly active could hamper the development of their imagination.” I think if we don’t give kids the opportunity to be bored, they won’t develop creativity. They will not learn how to take initiative, how to start something when they are not given instructions. I think we need to give kids a chance to sit with their boredom and see what happens.

When you give yourself down time, you think of ideas and you have a chance to process your experiences. You are also forced to find something to do, meaning you are forced to be creative. This is an important skill. When there is nothing, how do I make something?

Training in the arts helps eradicate boredom by providing children with three important tools. The first is an artistic skill. This is the most obvious solution to boredom, because it gives you something to do. It gives you training in dance, painting, or an instrument. These artistic skills are an endless source of stimulation. You will never run out of songs to play or things to paint. These artistic skills are also tools for engaging with the world. They give children ways to respond to what they see, and communicate what they feel. This leads me to the second boredom eradication tool that arts training provides.

The second is training in careful observation. When you stop to look at the world closely and quietly, you will always find something interesting. By training your observation skills, the arts will never allow you to be bored. You are trained in engaging with the world. Even if you have “nothing to do,” there will never be a ‘lack of stimulation’ because you have been trained to pay attention to how the light hits the side of someone’s face and to hear the rhythm of the windshield wipers.

The third tool the cultivation of an attitude of making. How can you be bored if you are making things? The arts ask you constantly to make something out of nothing. In improv theatre you are given a premise and asked to create a scene. In dance you are given a piece of music and asked to interpret and create choreography. In visual arts you are given two colours and asked to create an alien landscape.

I believe boredom is a self-inflicted mindset. If you find yourself experiencing what you may think is boredom, simply push yourself to use your creativity to find something to do. You can find something interesting in everything if you change your attitude. When kids say they are bored, my answer is, “Well, how are you going to solve that problem?” I find this switches their attitude from “someone/something should be entertaining me”, to, “I can find something to do myself”.

If you have kids who are bored, enroll them in an arts program and they won’t have that problem again. They will have the tools they need to engage with their environment and make something from nothing.

It is still important to give them free time, to observe and process the world, but they will not be bored. If they are, challenge them to solve that problem on their own, and chances are, they will engage in free thought, sing, dance, or pick up a pencil and start to draw something.