The Benefits of Boredom

Posted by Whit Honea on

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The information and views set out in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of SmartyPants Vitamins. Monday through Friday is soccer camp, it runs from 9am to noon. After that there is time for a quick lunch, and then straight to fencing on Monday and Wednesday, art on Tuesday and Thursday, and music on Friday. Weekday afternoons are for baseball practice, games on Saturday—right after basketball. Sunday is all about academic refreshers, math games, reading, mock spelling bees and science experiments. It’s going to be a jam-packed summer! And such is the modern recipe for battling boredom, that infectious parasite of time and energy that pits itself against parents, their need for constant structure and the one-upping contrasts and comparisons of backyard braggarts everywhere. You know who you are. Lately, however, there has been a backlash against the overscheduling of summer activities—often by the same people that roll their eyes at expensive, extravagant birthday parties that confuse entertainment with endearment, the everyday heroes of common sense and perspective—and with it a defense of boredom, the misjudged gateway to imagination and the pure enjoyment of leisure. Yes, I firmly believe that boredom gets a bad rap. Summer vacation, which the majority of American children are currently experiencing, is a time for play, rest, reflection and growth, not, as many have argued, the padding of college applications and the stress of keeping busy. Relax. Read. Think. Create. Breathe. Summer break is a gift to childhood, passed down from generation to generation. Children relish its very existence and bask in its glory, knowing it for what it is while remaining naively unable to comprehend the vast value of it. Adults, however, seem to have forgotten what they once held sacred, and more often than not find themselves removed and inconvenienced by the lack of constant supervision and the looming threat of downtime. As such they try to regulate the very thing that they once enjoyed by weighing it down with all the activities of the alphabet, forcing summer to pass in a blur of fees and certificates rather than roll lazily from day to day, always on the cusp of promise, always with the dare of adventure. “Wait a moment,” you say, “boredom is the feeling of weariness that stems from one being unoccupied or lacking in interest. I looked it up.” Fair enough. But what, I ask, is wrong with that? In a world as fast as ours, as distracted by the shine of all things new and then the even newer, what is wrong with unplugging from the world, be it electronic or the proverbial rat race, and staring out the window for what must feel like forever? It is there, when boredom sets in that wheels start turning, the gears inside a child’s head that have already given way to so much dust and cobwebs that, if left unchecked, will soon become the treadmills of their mind, covered by an accumulation of random stuffs and seldom exercised. Boredom, it turns out, is an invitation to imagination, invention and inspiration. Ironically, the Internet is full of this exact sentiment: There are calls to action asking parents to break the cycle, and it is easy to find studies that equate boredom with brilliance. However, that isn’t to say that organized activities don’t serve a purpose; they can provide skills, discipline, discovery, and, in most cases, fun. But when they become all that summer is, then the real benefits—the growth of self and thought—are lost in the bustle. The bottom line is that summer vacation is meant for kids to be kids, to experiment and play, to find success and failure and the lessons of both. Fill their days as you see fit, but do not let the pressures of societal guilt or obligation influence your decisions. There is much to be gained by embracing the freedom of the season, time unaccounted and the creativity of children left to their own devices. You will be amazed at what they come up with, and that is summer well spent.
Know anyone who might be too scheduled to think? Share this with them! What are your plans for Summer vacation? Are you fully booked or just going to play it by ear? We'd love to hear in the comments!  

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