Why are we so afraid to let our kids experience boredom?

We’re half way through the summer holidays and the guides to helping your kids deal with boredom are starting to appear.  Ah, boredom, the terrible malaise which strikes when the iPad charger is lost and there’s nothing on TV (which seems to be the general state of affairs these days anyway).

Reading a book can take them to another world

Why are we so afraid to let our kids experience boredom?

For those of us who grew up in the 70’s, boredom came with the territory. The summer school holidays seemed truly endless. I’m sure we all irritated our parents beyond measure with the constant, buzzing drone of “but what can we do now?“.  The response I used to get was, generally, “go and read a book”.

We were in Waterstones in Worcester the other day and it was a revelation for Caitlin who, already an excellent reader, is beginning to discover that reading a good book is far more enjoyable than playing with the acreage of over-priced plastic attached to the front of children’s ‘magazines’ or the latest toy-du-jour which often barely survives the first 24 hours with my two’s rigorous style of play.

I bet there are thousands of kids who could quote from all of the Harry Potter films but who have never picked up the actual books.  This may be because their parents do not read to them of course, and with today’s hectic work schedules for many, the bedtime story is an unfortunate casualty.

When I studied English Literature at University of Wales Swansea in the 80’s (yes, that long ago), I remember we were told that you had to read a book at least 4 times before you could really start to understand its themes, its political and social context, the breadth and depth of its imagery.  Novelists leave within their works a tantilising glimpse into the politics, history and psychology of the day.

When we read a novel we create the characters and interpret the events that happen to them in a way that has meaning for us.  When we see the film, these decisions have largely been taken out of our hands.  We miss the chance to process what has happened in our own lives against the backdrop of the story.

A book can change us in the way that a film can’t.

That’s why initiatives like World Book Day are so important.  It is also why I hope that our bookshops survive.  I suspect that many will pick up the book to see what it’s like but then purchase from Amazon to save a few pounds.  Sometimes though, the book you pick up is so compelling that you buy it there and then. It’s an old fashioned sentiment possibly but much though I love my Kindle, there is nothing like a proper, crisp, hard-copy book.

It is also the reason why we lose our public libraries at our peril.  They are fantastic free resources for cash- and patience-strapped parents where kids can spend hours colouring, reading, enjoying reading schemes and craft activities and hanging out with their friends.

Our kids today lurch from one form of stimulation to another – I should probably call it iStimulation. And yes, with no small degree of irony can we say that some of them are turning positively android.

Of course, dealing with bored children is one of the key tests of our parenting abilities, but it is surely impossible to spend every waking moment with an activity schedule, a list of local attractions and a bottomless purse.

You cannot force fun.  You can create family togetherness.  You can forge stronger bonds through shared experience but each of us needs that time to discover who we are, no matter what our age.

Let’s redefine boredom.  Let’s call it “a chance to think unencumbered by unnecessary stimuli”.  A chance, in fact, to have your own thoughts and time to learn how to marshal them.

And one of the best ways to learn about life within a secure and comforting space is within the pages of a book.

What better gift to give your kids?


  1. 27 August, 2015 / 10:12 pm

    Such an interesting post. I remember being bored stiff in the holidays! I always feel like we need to 'do' something every single day, when in fact, my eldest two are usually perfectly happy to stay in. I make sure they have some 'quiet time' every day, which is supposed to be reading time. They protest at first, but usually enjoy time to themselves, away from screens and other distractions.

  2. 27 August, 2015 / 8:17 pm

    I completely agree with you. I loved books as a kid. Luckily eva seems quite enthusiastic towards them too. I must keep that enthusiasm alive. I must admit I haven't taken her to the library or bookshop yet x

  3. Leanne Cornelius
    27 August, 2015 / 8:58 pm

    This is so interesting to read, I remember uttering the phrase 'I'm bored' quite often during childhood and my mother telling me that I had plenty to do!
    I tried getting my niece to read when she exclaimed that she was bored at my house on Sunday, she declined though because she wasn't really bored, she just wasn't allowed to do what she wanted to do!

  4. Claire Evans
    27 August, 2015 / 8:55 pm

    I completely agree. I feel guilty on the days when I haven't "entertained" my kids all day. Then I see them reading, making games up and making things and I remember I was left to entertain myself as a child a lot and treasure it. I can remember the excited feeling thinking, what will I read today/craft today? Oh to have that time now x

  5. Alana Perrin
    27 August, 2015 / 7:41 pm

    This is so true – I grew up with a love of books (probably as my mother works in a library) and was always read to as a young child. We're passing this on as parents, and our little one has just turned one and already loves books – he goes to the corner, picks out the one he wants to look at and crawls on one of our laps to read it.
    Alana x

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