When I was in Middle School, I remember a comment that would elicit an immediate and challenging look from our history teacher – “this is boring” or “I’m bored”. Her response was as swift as it was incisive, “Well, Mr. So-and-So, I usually find people who find things boring to be pretty boring themselves.” Ugh! a retort delivered with surgical precision. Needless to say, students quickly learned to keep comments about being “bored” to themselves. It was actually an important lesson and one that I never forgot.
In conventional usage, boredom is an emotional and occasionally psychological state experienced when an individual is left without anything in particular to do, or is listless and dissatisfied from a lack of occupation or excitement. We all experience being bored from time to time, but for some it can become a “way of life” or their “go-to” excuse for a failure to exert and take responsibility for the required effort.
How could anyone be “bored” in today’s digital universe?! There is a deep and disturbing paradox in the information age our children inhabit. Human beings, and especially our children, were never intended to be bombarded by the amount of information they are subjected to today – benefits of the digital revolution notwithstanding! Our problem as humans is not that we don’t have enough information, but rather that we have too much sometimes.
Just look at the scrolling news feeds and incessant commentary we adults are exposed to. Each day, our kids are also exposed to far more information than they can possibly use. Child development experts, Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté, believe that the epidemic of attention problems plaguing many of today’s children parallels the barrage of information they are being subjected to. Their research has shown that it causes concentration problems, memory problems, retrieval problems, and distraction problems because the attentional systems of children cannot develop properly while dealing with a constant onslaught of incoming information.
Our own experience and self-knowledge should show us that we need time away from stimulation to integrate the information we receive. Constant exposure diminishes rather than enhances our capacity to absorb and we can actually feel it physically in our bodies. If we can experience this “supersaturation” as adults, how much greater is the risk of too much information and stimulation for our children?
When my children were little, they were always encouraged to share their feelings, fears, and triumphs at home and around the dinner table. One thing we always discouraged, however, was the use of the word “bored” or “boring”. As a parent and a teacher, the use of that expression always struck me as a bit of a cop-out. Not everything we experience in school or in life is going to be a “3D thrill ride” and there is actually no replacement for good old-fashioned hard work and task adherence to break through the “boredom barrier”.
One of the most significant signs of a lack of creativity in our children is the plague of boredom. When there is a lack of outflow in a child’s system (i.e., a lack of interest, curiosity, initiative, aspirations, goals) the resulting hole can seem dull and tedious. While some think that more stimulation is required when this happens, it is seldom the case.
If boredom is a sign of emptiness, then let’s all work to fill the void in the lives of our kids with time “to be” – and not merely with more empty sizzle.
Maybe all it will take is for kids to take the off-ramp from the information super highway to never be “bored” again!
Ric Anderson, Head of School