Previous Post Next Post


Brought to you by

The Case for Letting Your Kids Get Bored

The case to let your kids be bored

By Hayley Krischer |

My iPhone sliced my finger – and, no, it’s not a new “Make Your Thumb Bleed” app. My finger is wounded because my phone screen (digitizer, in tech terms) is shattered like a windshield after a head-on collision. I have my two kids to thank.

Last week, while my 18-month-old was crying in her stroller, my 6-year-old, Jake, grabbed my iPhone out of the diaper bag and launched Balloonimals, an adorable app that transforms balloons into movable creatures. “She’s too young for Fruit Ninja,” he said. “She’ll love this.” But my daughter wasn’t amused by Balloonimals as much as we hoped and tossed the phone to the cement, cracking the glass. Soon enough, the glass split more, and eventually my iPhone transformed into a dangerous weapon – thus the Band-Aid on my thumb.

Once upon a time, I was one of those parents mesmerized by the dynamics of the iPhone. It’s a phone! It’s a television! It’s a video game! And like every other desperate parent, I downloaded Yo Gabba Gabba, Clone Wars and apps like Angry Birds to keep my kids busy while waiting on line, at the airport, in traffic, or in a number of other tedious situations where they actually had to, gasp, be patient.

But now, as I attempted to read email through broken glass, I thought how my father responded to my boredom in my childhood – “Go bang your head against the wall.”

What he meant, I think, is that I needed to create my own entertainment (even if that entertainment was head banging) without being spoken to, told what to do, or if it had been the 2010s, given some mind-numbing app.

From the point of view of a parent, it makes complete sense as to why we’d hand over a $200 iPhone, simply in hopes of distracting them.

But Adam Cox, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, and author of No Mind Left Behind, points out that today’s children don’t have the benefit of the life experience you get when you take a break from technology. “If I ask my son if he wants to take a walk in the woods with my dog tonight, he’ll say ‘No’ if he knows he can play his DS. And I can’t blame him. He doesn’t know the [benefits] of taking a walk in the woods.”

It’s no great shock that removing electronics from kids reaps a positive effect. In his 2006 study, Why Kids Need To Be Bored, James D. Williams of Soka University, who required three middle-school students to give up all technology including games and their phones, found that the one child who completed the study engaged in more pretend play with friends, rode her bike, spent more time talking to her parents, and best yet, had better grades. Two other students dropped out early on because, surprise, surprise, they found it “boring.”

Demonizing technology isn’t my intention here; I simply want to know how to utilize it to our advantage as parents while not depriving our kids of the experience of boredom. As with most things, it’s probably a question of quantity. While a recent study of 1,000 students in China suggested a correlation between very high levels of internet use and depression, even Cox contends that in moderation, technology can be ok. “We can say, ‘What’s the harm in giving a child a chocolate bar?’” he says. “It only becomes a problem when it becomes a habitual response” or, as a New York Post article recently called the iPad, “the city’s hottest new babysitter.”

Any given parent should probably test the waters themselves. Take Jessica Sherman and Neil Corp of Woodside, NY, who recently enjoyed a rare hour-and-a-half long dinner – because they brought a portable DVD player with them and played it for their two-year-old daughter in the restaurant. “It’s was kind of cheating, but totally nice,” says Sherman. But afterward, recalling the offensive looks from other restaurant goers who didn’t seem to enjoy Lilo and Stitch as much as their two-year-old did, they reconsidered their decision. “We’re going to have to eat dinner faster next time.”

I ask her what her parents would have done – she is one of five siblings – to entertain her and her brothers at a restaurant. “My parents wouldn’t take us out to dinner.” (In my case, my parents did take us out, and I distinctly remember making up dramatic plays with the salt and pepper-shakers as we waited for our pizza to arrive.)

Of course, the decision of how often and how long your child will be plugged in is inevitably up to you – but, as every parent knows, there isn’t anything instantly rewarding about taking the tech away. “My son is incredibly annoying when he’s bored at first,” says Selena Butcher of Glen Ridge, NJ, who at an early age carved out regular unstructured playtime for her children. “And then he gives into it once he realizes I’m not going to provide him with anything to do and he has to find something to do.” Butcher’s decision stemmed from the onslaught of playdates and seeing how over-stimulated her children were during the week. “I think I took slight cues from them,” she says. “The more activity they wanted, the less they really needed. Sort of like a drug.”

Just the other day, Jake was persistent and tearful when I told him that if he wanted to play two levels of Indiana Jones Lego Wii, he’d have to entertain himself in his room for a little while first. He marched upstairs in an angry fit, but when I went to check on him 30 minutes later, he had built two Magna-tile skyscrapers (complete with “secret compartments”) and was curled up on his beanbag, studying a picture of the Millennium Falcon constructed entirely from LEGOs. “It’s amazing, Mom! They built it with 5,000 LEGOs,” he said. And then, in the next breath, “Can I play a level now?”

More on Babble

About Hayley Krischer


Hayley Krischer

Hayley Krischer is a freelance writer who often writes about parenting. She is wearing sunglasses in this photo to hide the dark circles under her eyes due to her two children who refuse to sleep.

« Go back to Kid

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, profile photo and other personal information you make public on Facebook (e.g., school, work, current city, age) will appear with your comment. Comments, together with personal information accompanying them, may be used on and other Babble media platforms. Learn More.

16 thoughts on “The Case for Letting Your Kids Get Bored

  1. mumus says:

    I’m living in a country where iphone/ipad mania has yet to strike. My sister recently came to visit with her kid, her husband, two iphones and an ipad. I think if some Americans could see how truly disfunctional it seems to an outsider observing the obsessive use of this technology, they might admit that this technology merits a bit of demonization. Maybe my sister and her family are more fanatic than average Americans, but reading this article I suspect their ipod use is restrained compared to many.

  2. wohm says:

    once again, some common sense posted by babble: distracting your kid with an iphone is a bad idea. it’s really sad that people need to read this article to figure that out.

  3. ChiLaura says:

    My sister works for Apple and is trying to convince my dad to give me his iTouch. She thinks that I can do things with it — using it for my running might be nice — but also thinks that I should have it so that I can “entertain the kids when we have to wait for stuff.” It is a nice thought, but one that I can’t understand. My kids need to learn to NOT THROW FITS just because life is inconvenient. (They’re actually quite well behaved, especially in public.) As a parent, it’s my job to teach them and to give them room to entertain themselves. The life of the mind, people! Come on!

    I recently told my mom not to give my 4 y/o son a handheld Leapster, just because I don’t want to start him down that path. Go, boredom!

  4. Margaret Wheeler Johnson says:

    I especially appreciated this recollection: “I distinctly remember making up dramatic plays with the salt and pepper-shakers as we waited for our pizza to arrive.” Technology can’t entirely obliterate moments like that, but I do think it’s important for parents to create situations that encourage them. -Margaret, Assistant Editor

  5. Anonymous says:

    I love this article! I’ve had to ban my mother-in-law from giving my children (2 and 4) her iPhone while we are out to dinner. My kids are relatively good at dining out and I always make sure to have plenty of crayons/pencils and paper for them. My mother-in-law once stated to me that she saw no difference between my children drawing and using her iPhone. I see a huge difference. They are using their imaginations and working on fine motor skills while drawing, not to mention interacting with the other kids and adults at the table. When they see the iPhone come out, they fight over who gets to use it and for how long. I don’t have a problem with the iphone as a last resort, but don’t like my kids to whine for it every time they see it.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Not to sound like I’m from the last century or anything, but we don’t let the kids use the Iphone and they don’t have itouches, wii’s or DS’s. They’re allowed to play video games on the computer or watch a video on the weekends, but only for a limited time. They moan from time to time that “all their friends” have X,Y and Z, but they also read a lot, draw and generally know how to entertain themselves. My advice: bring books and coloring books (or suduko for older kids) when you travel/go to dr’s etc. You’ll be amazed how quickly they’ll forget about the iphone!

    Great post.

    Delia Lloyd

  7. Ceridwen Morris says:

    This is great. And this is the part I find hardest: My son is incredibly annoying when hes bored at first” … My 6 yr old son and I have almost nightly battles where we go through how I’m not going to buy him something, let him play a video game or watch a movie. He actually sobs. Then about 30 minutes later he’s involved in some epic imaginary game till bedtime. The 30 minute sob-fest though, boy does that suck. Oh and I should say that we do tons of video games and tv and consuming of products. Don’t get me wrong. I’m just trying to regulate here. Not ban.

  8. AH says:

    I agree with the essay and the comments. They have brought up an issue for me that is a pain: even if you limit TV, computers, gadgets, etc., those in your family (in-laws much?) will have a hard time jumping on your train. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing or what, but they hate to see a fussy child, so they give her cookies, juice, DVDs, toys that light up and dance. And after we come home from that 4 day weekend of instant gratification, I have a pain in the arse 3 year old to wean.

    Words to live by: Anything you do in relation to your kids that makes life convenient or easy for you will come back and bite you in the arse. Sooner or later.

  9. anarchist mama says:

    Bravo. Don’t react with terror if your kid says “I’m bored.” They will find ways to entertain themselves, if forced. Kids are resourceful like that.

  10. Amy says:

    Whenever our friend’s daughter says she is bored, he tells her she is boring if she can’t think of something to do. We adopted that and our kids stopped complaining about being bored when they cannot watch tv or play on the computer.


  11. Rob O'Daniel says:

    It -is- a generational thing AH – somehow parents today mistake the notion that their job is to ensure their child has a “better” life to mean that they should ensure that their children have an “easier” life. Easier is not better. Convenience kills creativity. Immediacy stunts imagination.

    We have a responsibility to ensure that our children are equipped with the tools to survive and thrive in the real, analog world before we thrust them headlong into the digital abyss. Social skills, problem-solving abilities, creative thinking – these are the attributes our children need, not software proficiency or gizmo mastery.

  12. Hayley Krischer says:

    Glad you all liked the article, thank you. I must add this. My phone still looks like a cracked windshield. People ask why I haven’t gotten it fixed yet. At this point, it’s a deterrent. Here’s a recent example. “Mommy, can I watch Clone Wars on your phone?” My reply: sorry darling, you’ll have to stare at cloud formations. Mommy’s phone is still too dangerous.”

  13. Daniel D Ross says:

    if boredom is good for our children then there is probably some benefit in allowing ourselves to get bored

  14. smartypantzed says:

    @Hayley. My husband got me the 4g iphone for Christmas, and I managed to accidentally throw it out. It was best thing that ever happened. Now whenever my kids complain that I’m the only mom without an iphone they can play games on, I smile and say, “Mommy is still punishing herself for not being responsible.” It’s the best excuse and it helps me keep my kids technology free!

  15. TK says:

    Sounds to me more like a case of bad parenting relying on technology as a crutch, then getting upset when it can’t parent as well as a human being.

  16. Melissa Brown says:

    I must say, I can’t ever remember complaining because I was bored at home as a child. Not once. There weren’t enough hours in the day for me to get in all the playing I wanted to do. If the weather was safe, I was outside, building things with sticks and plants, or playing pretend, reenacting scenes from books like Little House and Narnia. Inside, I had my barbies, and my sister and I reenacted scenes from mom’s soap operas. We also had a nintendo, but I believed it was for the older kids (my cousins) and adults to play, and me to watch. I rarely got to hold a controller till I was over 10. I am thirty years old, by the way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

Previous Post Next Post