Most adults have clear memories of feeling bored. Long-awaited summer vacations turned quickly into endless, hot days with "nothing to do." Waiting for a doctor's appointment meant staring at the wallpaper in the pediatrician's office for an eternity. Boredom, however, seems to be endangered these days. With ever-present electronics and more structured activities than ever before, both kids and adults enjoy near constant stimulation no matter where they are. And some research suggests that this could be stifling.
Many experts are finding a link between boredom and creativity; it shouldn't be surprising that there's a link between the two, if you think about it for a while. After all, how many of us have our best ideas during mundane undertakings like long drives, showers, or jogs? This tendency is being actively investigated by lots of academics; for example, take a 2013 study published in the Creativity Research Journal —yes, it's a thing. The control group was asked to list as many creative uses for a plastic cup as possible. The experimental group had the same task, but first they read for a while from a phone book. The readers tended to come up with more ideas, so the mind-numbing task was associated with more creative idea generation.
Some experts worry that young people's constant exposure to stimuli may be damaging. It makes perfect sense to bend over backwards to entertain kids, especially young ones, in some scenarios; airplane rides, toddlers, and iPads were meant to go together. But adults who hand over gadgets, schedule too many activities, or drop what they're doing to make suggestions are depriving kids of the chance to figure out how to creatively entertain themselves.
Of course kids, particularly teenagers, will likely chafe if parents allow boredom to descend too rapidly. We recommend starting slowly. Make a family rule that no gadgets are allowed during car rides, in lines, or in waiting rooms, for example. In these situations, ask questions that encourage kids to notice what and who is around them. Watching the world go by is a supremely entertaining and imaginative activity that never gets old if one watches with the right perspective. At home, help kids make a list of things they could do when they announce, "I'm bored!" Hang it on the fridge, and encourage them to consult and add to it.
Adults should keep in mind, though, that kids remember what they see much more readily than what they hear. If you're the type who pulls out a cell phone to kill the time it takes the elevator to ascend a few floors, you may need to embrace boredom yourself. Think of these little moments as luxurious opportunities to refresh your mind. Take a few deep breaths and concentrate on relaxing your shoulders and neck. Channel Sherlock Holmes and look around you carefully, noting small details. It's a win-win: Not only will you be providing a good example, but you'll end up feeling calmer and more serene. And maybe the perfect, creative solution to that nagging problem will present itself at last.