Summer vacation has just begun, but you’ve probably already heard it: “Mom! I’m bored!” Your first response might be to offer suggestions of things to do, but those are often greeted with a series of no’s. Experts suggest that an alternative approach to the “I’m bored” lament can be good for kids—let them be bored.

Unstructured Time is Important

Unstructured time gives children a chance to explore their inner and outer worlds and be creative. As Jonah Lehrer noted in his book Imagine, creative ideas come from times when our mind is relaxed and not working on something, tapping on a phone or computer, or flopped in front of the TV. This unstructured time also gives children a chance to develop skills such as developing independence, figuring out how to motivate themselves, and learning to manage their time.

While it is next to impossible to eliminate screens from our children’s lives, you can limit their use or direct them towards creative pursuits. Allowing the computer to be used as long as they are building or programming in Minecraft or editing a video they shot with their phone channels that screen time towards creativity. Have them show and share their work when they are done. Don’t let working in Minecraft end up as watching an endless stream of Minecraft videos on YouTube.

Another approach is to kick them outdoors without their phones and tell them to come back in a couple of hours, just like your parents used to do. Allow them the time to sit on the porch being bored before they figure out what to do. Don’t worry too much about their not having a phone—just have them stay within yelling distance of the house and if trouble happens, they’ll come running to you just like you used to do. Give them the time to have a little independence, accept responsibility for their well-being, and find challenges that interest them, even if you’re watching from the window.

For kids used to being constantly stimulated, to having a phone, computer, game console, TV, or structured activity readily available, unstructured time can be strange. It is a little unpleasant to be under-stimulated. But that mild discomfort is just what your child needs this summer to thrive.

Photo ©2006 by Zen Sutherland under Creative Commons license.