We are fortunate that our biggest problem right now is boredom. We are healthy and safe. We just have to get through this period of isolation with our relationships, and our sanity, intact.
I recently had the opportunity to interview a boredom researcher Elizabeth Weybright, through my job as a science writer at Washington State University.
And I learned something. Given my experiences in Germany, I tend to give my kids a lot of freedom and responsibility, but sometimes I fail to recognize when they still need a little help.
My son has been super bored, like in my home office every 20 minutes bored. I told him to make a list of things he could do. He came back with a sheet of paper and the word “nothing” written on it.
“From a development perspective, younger kids are likely to need more structure than older kids,” Weybright told me. “When you try to impose too much structure on teenagers, you may experience some resistance.”
In other words, my 10 year old needed some guidance. My 13 year old not so much. Weybright recommended sitting down with younger kids to help them think up ideas on that list, and to show them where the things they might need would be: markers, sketch pad, board games, and other toys.
I always thought that boredom can was good for kids as it can spur them to creativity. While that can be true, Weybright also pointed out that boredom isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s a signal that the situation they are in isn’t very satisfying.
So yes, letting kids be bored can give them the space they need to figure out what it is they really want to do, but it takes time to develop skills to find healthy solutions to boredom. If they don’t develop that capacity, boredom can lead to bad behaviors, especially in adolescence, including substance abuse and other risky behaviors.
Boredom is particularly challenging now because we can’t do too much to take ourselves out of the current situation. We’re stuck the very familiar: same four walls, same stuff, same people.
I’m looking to strike a balance with my son, giving him some structure while still giving him some time to figure some things out on his own. We’re also giving him and ourselves some slack. These are difficult times.
Read more about Weybright’s work and advice here.
How are you handling the boredom of COVID-19 isolation?