Why I Plan To Let My Kids Get Bored This Summer

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We as parents tend to schedule every moment. Why this mom (and the experts) say being bored sometimes isn't so bad.

<p>Mixmike / Getty Image</p>

Mixmike / Getty Image

Fact checked by Sarah Scott

Today’s kids are overscheduled and overstimulated, as are their parents. I can’t be alone in barely getting through this school year but by the grace of coffee, carpools, dry shampoo, and drive-thrus.

With summer fast approaching, I’m determined to slow down and encourage my kids to do the same. While there are a few summer camps I’ve enrolled them in, since our family is desperate for downtime (and camp is so darn expensive!) I have already informed my brood that the theme of this break is being bored.

I realize I’m super lucky to work from home and be on hand to hear the inevitable question: “What can I do?” But when my kids utter those magic words, I’ll know they are just about to figure out the answer on their own.

Sure, I’ll organize some beach afternoons and day trips, but for the most part, I want my children to do what kids are supposed to do: be kids! With my help and supervision, if needed, they can go outside, build blocks, create a fort, do puzzles, read, set up a lemonade stand, draw, bake—the list goes on.

What they can’t do? Park it in front of a screen all day. Other than that, the sky’s the limit when it comes to enjoying plenty of unscheduled time this summer.

Why Downtime Is So Important for Kids

The experts we talked with all agree. Downtime is important, as well as allowing kids to be bored from time to time. And parents shouldn't feel guilty about it.

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, the Director of the Digital Wellness Lab and the Boston Children’s Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders (CIMAID), as well as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, says being bored can be a boon. As he tells Parents, “Boredom should be embraced, not avoided. Boredom is the crucible of creativity, imagination, and innovation.”

“We create our own engagement when given time and space to do so,” seconds Carrie S. Cutler, clinical associate professor, Curriculum & Instruction College of Education, University of Houston—and a mom of eight.

Yalda T. Uhls, MBA, PhD, a child psychologist and Founding CEO of the Center for Scholars & Storytellers at UCLA, says being bored can lead to less stress for today’s overscheduled kids. She also notes, “When kids have the freedom to choose what they want to do, they are much more likely to get engaged in it.”

Meanwhile, Eran Magen, MA, PhD, the founder and CEO of Early Alert and parentingforhumans.com would add another benefit to the list of reasons to let your kids get bored: rest.

“It's helpful for kids to learn how to make life fun and interesting for themselves, rather than rely on others to always tell them when and what to do," he adds. "This is where imagination is born, where creativity gets discovered and nurtured.”

When a child tells you they’re bored, consider it as an opportunity to empower the child, according to Dr. Magen. You might say, "This is your chance to come up with things to do. You can play, or practice, or make something, or rest, or whatever else you'd like to do.”

Teri Cady, the Executive Director of Destinations Career Academy of Colorado, agrees.

“It’s important for parents to involve children in the decision-making process when planning summer activities. This encourages autonomy and responsibility, fostering a sense of ownership over their time.”

But board-certified clinical psychologist and author of Hello Baby, Goodbye Intrusive Thoughts, Jenny Yip, PsyD makes a great point. She acknowledges it can be challenging for parents to occupy today’s kids. Unlike those of us who grew up in the ‘80s, kids now are unlikely to be granted free rein of the neighborhood from dawn until dusk—and that’s where screens can be the downfall of an unscheduled summer.

Limiting Screen Time

We are constantly looking at some kind of screen, be it on TV, a tablet, a phone, or a computer. It's become the go-to when we get bored (for both kids and adults).

“Screen time has become the default behavior for too many of us," says Dr. Rich. "We pull out our phones instead of looking out at the world and each other.”

Outdoor play has been replaced by screen time. Today’s kids spend more time inside, and in front of screens, which can lead to an increased risk of childhood obesity and related health issues. So, yes, we’ve got to get kids outside!

“Outdoor play instills a sense of autonomy and self-confidence as children engage in self-directed, imaginative ‘boredom busters,’” Cutler says.

Of course, directing kids outdoors at all times and completely cutting off screen time is unrealistic for working parents and any parent who needs a break from playing social director! As Dr. Yip notes, we parents only have so much emotional bandwidth before we might need a screen or a scheduled activity to help us out.

How to Find the Right Balance This Summer

Ultimately, there’s no hard and fast rule to follow when it comes to scheduled versus unscheduled time according to Dr. Uhls.

“Each family should feel like it's OK and even desired not to schedule every minute, even for family time. That's when the magic happens, when we give ourselves the freedom to do ‘nothing,” Dr. Uhls says.

“Each child is different and thrives from different amounts of structure and guidance,” Cutler explains. “Watch for cues from your child to see when intervention with planned activities is warranted or downtime would be best.”

She adds that some kids can get anxious at the prospect of unstructured time, so giving kids options can help them make the most of downtime. “Just a few options for young kids and more for older kids,” Cutler says. “The goal is for kids to develop introspection, planning, and creativity.”

Just keep in mind that leaving kids to their own devices for too long can lead to trouble! “Expecting kids to occupy themselves for a full day may be too much to ask,” Dr. Magen cautions.

In the end, Cutler says, “Childhood is a good time to lay foundations for unstructured moments that can nurture a child's sense of comfort in being with oneself. When parents back off and give kids time to invent, pursue their curiosities, and complete activities that they select, kids naturally build self-regulation, language, cognitive, and social competencies.” 

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Read the original article on Parents.