Want Your Kids to Have the Best Summer Ever? Let Them Get Bored.

Don’t fall into the trap of packing your children’s summer schedules chock-full— here are three reasons why boredom can be a good thing for development.
Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
June 1, 2018
Minute Read

Now that Memorial Day has come and gone, many of us are feeling like summer has officially begun. School is ending and parents with kids at home are beginning to wonder how to keep their children entertained all summer. The temptation is to overschedule our kids in the summertime, keep them busy, do whatever we must to not hear those dreaded words, “I’m bored!”

Parents, I beg you, don’t fall to this temptation and don’t feel guilty when you are away at work while your child is at home or at grandma’s with “nothing to do.” Letting your kids be bored is one of the best things you can do for them. Your job as a parent is not to constantly entertain your child; it is to prepare them for adulthood. This is exactly what boredom does.

Letting your kids be bored is one of the best things you can do for them.

I believe there has never been a more crucial time to teach our kids about boredom. Recent Pew Research revealed that 95% of teens reported owning or having access to a smartphone, and 45% of teens said they are online “almost constantly.”

These teens do not know how to be bored, meaning they don’t know how to use their imagination, they’ve lost their childish sense of joy and they don’t know how to be alone with their thoughts. This is not setting them up for adulthood; this is setting them up for failure.

Your job as a parent is not to constantly entertain your child; it is to prepare them for adulthood. This is exactly what boredom does.

But it’s not too late for your kids. You can intervene. You can encourage boredom this summer and, yes, you can enforce screen time rules no matter how much your child complains or how much you want to stick your phone in front of them to get them to be quiet.

Here are a few reasons why boredom is a great thing to teach your kid this summer:

Boredom forces kids to use their imagination.

When kids are constantly stimulated with planned activities, video games or social media, their minds have little work to do. When our kids moan about having to figure out what to do, this is not only good for kids, it is crucial to healthy psychological development. Without it, their imaginations won’t expand and they will grow into adults who are used to being entertained, not challenged. Who wants to be with an adult like that?

Boredom sharpens their sensibilities.

Just like eating too much ice cream dulls our ability to enjoy dessert, constant exposure to entertainment dulls our child’s appreciation for stimulation. When we take them from one activity to another or let them look at a phone all day without any “boring” time, we blunt their sensitivity to the joy of activity.

Kids who are faced with an afternoon without any friends, activities or devices to entertain them are forced to create fun from nothing. After they have succeeded (and yes, they will if you don’t cave in and plan something for them), then when they go to camp or to a friend’s house for a sleep-over, the fun is amplified.

Boredom teaches a child to be comfortable with himself.

A person who can enjoy his own company lives with a sense of calm. He is not afraid of hearing himself think, doesn’t feel the need to fill the quiet with the noise of Netflix or scrolling through social media. He can be still alone because he doesn’t fear being alone. The same is true for children.

A child who learns to play on his own learns to enjoy his own company. This is extremely important because if he can’t be alone, he becomes dependent on others, or on things like social media, to make sure that he has fun. Then he subconsciously feels uneasy because he worries that if these distractions go away, he will be faced with his own inadequacies.

Parents, your child does not have to be part of the 45% who is online constantly. You can intervene. Let your kids get bored this summer. Let them (gasp!) be without their smartphones for a few hours a day, or resist the temptation to thrust yours in front of them whenever they complain about being bored. It’s certainly the harder thing to do but trust me, it is ultimately the best thing you can do for your child.

Here’s to summer and the many long, boring days ahead.

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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