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Jane Benjamin, PhD: The Benefits of Boredom PDF Print Email


By Jane Benjamin, PhD, Licensed Psychologist and Clinical Director, The Counseling Center of Bronxville

Mar. 15, 2017: As I rode on Metro-North into the city a few weeks ago, I looked around and noticed that not a single person was staring out the window idly watching the world go by. Most were tucked into their telephones, their computers, their iPads. Some were speaking on the phone. Some seemed engrossed in online games. But no one looked unoccupied.

This observation made me start thinking about the loss of inactivity and boredom in our modern-day lives. There is something to be said for staring out a train window as the world goes by, or looking up and seeing interesting shapes in the clouds, or even just staring into space. We are stimulated every second--with "productive" activities, multi-tasking, and goal-driven schedules. And because of the connectivity of email, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, we often narrate our lives to others more than we actually experience and live within our own individual psyches. This over-stimulated existence leaves very little, if any, room for the possibility of boredom.

So why is boredom a good thing? Periods of boredom provide fertile ground at all ages. It is during these non-goal-directed, more idle times that we come up with new ideas, acknowledge problems and come up with potential solutions to them, and become aware of changes we might want to make in our lives.

For young children, the seeds of creativity take root during times of inactivity and boredom. When a child says, "I'm bored," it is a natural reaction for a parent to want to provide the child with something to do, make suggestions until something is found appealing, or to arrange interesting activities that fill the void.  This directing of children is a part of good parenting, of course. But it can be overused. It is equally important to allow the child time to flounder and come up with his or her own ideas.

Letting a child make something out of nothing helps the child in a number of ways. The child comes to learn that he or she has interesting ideas, a good imagination, independence, and creativity. And perhaps, most important, it teaches the child that the answer to this unpleasant emotional state called boredom lies within the self and does not necessarily have to be found externally.

This ability to look within for answers is a skill that will serve a person throughout life. So often, in this age of over-structured and electronically plugged-in lives, I see adolescents in my practice who excel academically, excel in sports, have become proficient in numerous extra-curricular activities, but who cannot bear to be idle and disconnected. They do not know how to fill themselves up and are perpetually looking outside themselves for answers.

Seeking relief from boredom by relying solely on external stimulation makes a person feel at the mercy of external circumstances and powerless to do anything but wait until circumstances change. Helping a child realize that his or her own creativity, imagination, fantasies, and curiosity are internal resources that are always available helps to build a vital psychological skill. 

There are times when "boredom" can be a code word for something else that may require a different kind of attention. Chronic "boredom" can signal depression for some people, a way of saying that nothing feels interesting, stimulating or worth doing. And this sort of chronic bleak outlook may need treatment.

For children and adolescents, frequent complaints of "boredom" could also indicate an attentional issue such as ADHD. The child may feel bombarded with stimuli and find it difficult to sufficiently focus enough on any one activity to alleviate the boredom. Again, this is an issue that might benefit from treatment by a mental health professional. 

It is important to make a distinction, in oneself and one's children, between healthy boredom and symptomatic boredom. But if there is not an underlying problem, then allowing time to un-focus, to daydream, to "space out," to ponder, and to imagine can be a very good thing. 

Pictured here: Dr. Jane Benjamin, licensed clinical psychologist and the clinical director of The Counseling Center. 

Photo courtesy The Counseling Center 


Mistakes During the Teen Years: An Essential Tool for Growth

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By Jane Benjamin, PhD, Clinical Director, The Counseling Center Apr. 17, 2018:  Parents often tell their teenage children, “I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.”  But...

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