Children should be allowed to get bored, expert says

Child in Dr Belton said children needed time to stand and stare

Children should be allowed to get bored so they can develop their innate ability to be creative, an education expert says.

Dr Teresa Belton told the BBC cultural expectations that children should be constantly active could hamper the development of their imagination

She quizzed author Meera Syal and artist Grayson Perry about how boredom had aided their creativity as children.

Syal said boredom made her write, while Perry said it was a "creative state".

The senior researcher at the University of East Anglia's School of Education and Lifelong Learning interviewed a number of authors, artists and scientists in her exploration of the effects of boredom.

She heard Syal's memories of the small mining village, with few distractions, where she grew up.

Dr Belton said: "Lack of things to do spurred her to talk to people she would not otherwise have engaged with and to try activities she would not, under other circumstances, have experienced, such as talking to elderly neighbours and learning to bake cakes.

"Boredom is often associated with solitude and Syal spent hours of her early life staring out of the window across fields and woods, watching the changing weather and seasons.

"But importantly boredom made her write. She kept a diary from a young age, filling it with observations, short stories, poems, and diatribe. And she attributes these early beginnings to becoming a writer late in life."


The comedienne turned writer said: "Enforced solitude alone with a blank page is a wonderful spur."

While Perry said boredom was also beneficial for adults: "As I get older, I appreciate reflection and boredom. Boredom is a very creative state."

And neuroscientist and expert on brain deterioration Prof Susan Greenfield, who also spoke to the academic, recalled a childhood in a family with little money and no siblings until she was 13.

"She happily entertained herself with making up stories, drawing pictures of her stories and going to the library."

Dr Belton, who is an expert in the impact of emotions on behaviour and learning, said boredom could be an "uncomfortable feeling" and that society had "developed an expectation of being constantly occupied and constantly stimulated".

But she warned that being creative "involves being able to develop internal stimulus".

"Nature abhors a vacuum and we try to fill it," she said. "Some young people who do not have the interior resources or the responses to deal with that boredom creatively then sometimes end up smashing up bus shelters or taking cars out for a joyride."

'Short circuit'

The academic, who has previously studied the impact of television and videos on children's writing, said: "When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.

"But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them."

It is this sort of thing that stimulates the imagination, she said, while the screen "tends to short circuit that process and the development of creative capacity".

Syal adds: "You begin to write because there is nothing to prove, nothing to lose, nothing else to do.

"It's very freeing being creative for no other reason other than you freewheel and fill time."

Dr Belton concluded: "For the sake of creativity perhaps we need to slow down and stay offline from time to time."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    The Nasty party and their disciples up to to their usual tricks. Go on bully a kid, injure a fat person, strangle a smoker. Long as you grovel around a fat cat, or a lord you'll be OK in this country. What a cesspit of a country we are. Alternatively join the civilised people, and like us want a civilised people who want the best for everybody. It's not as though that nasty produces good results!

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    168 James
    Just like aviatrix?
    Or is it merely using a French word because we don't have something to distinguish female comedians from male ones? In much the same way as we use fete, bouquet, etc. etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    @163 Funeral Addict

    You just proved my point! I'm not in the least bit conceited - quite the reverse - rejoice in life and thank goodness I can still make a contribution despite two heart attacks & cancer. Moreover, I give large amounts to charity and help various local bodies. I simply believe we should all stand on our own two feet and not expect help as a matter of right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    @163 Funeral Addict.

    Wow. Wrapped him up from a few sentences? You can read people like a book.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    This so true. The benefits of boredom (in its widest sense) should also be considered in the classroom - as teachers there is huge pressure to be all singing, all dancing with frenetic pacing and short, sharp 'episodes' in the lesson; pupils mostly feel hard done by, rather than fortunate, if they are given a chance to quietly rely on their individual creativity, or sustain and develop an idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Comedienne??? Stupid, made-up word.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Poor use of language here. Amusing oneself without constant parental stimulus/input isn't the same as boredom. Boredom is the result of a lack of both interest and imagination. One can be bored whatever the activity.
    All the researcher appears to be saying is that children should be left to their own devices sometimes, allowed to gather their own experiences and exercise their own imaginations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Boredom is created. If you can create boredom, you can create anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    Unless you are extremely fortunate, you will find that a significant proportion of your working life consists of boring, routine tasks."

    This is especially true of banking where the challenge of the work is so mind numbingly tedious and the working conditions so appalling they have to be motivated by massive salaries and bonuses just to keep them at their desks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    I spent so long trying to understand the meaning of the second paragraph that I got bored...sorry. A bit of punctuation and identifying a relative clause would have saved the day. Am I alone in struggling with the new BBC chatty journo style?

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Yes, I was terribly damaged by this ordeal but somehow went to university, thereafter started a business & made lots of money and am now very comfortably retired. All my own efforts and never asked for help. Yes, loathsome to the left wing benefit dependents..
    You're still bitter and conceited though aren't you, despite all you have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    161 Perhaps you have overstated the case, but the basic point is valid. Unless you are extremely fortunate, you will find that a significant proportion of your working life consists of boring, routine tasks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    Because they're going to be bored to death in a 9-5 routine of depression and worry they may as well get used to it early.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    As a teacher and parent I would absolutely agree that a child should be able to spend time amusing themselves in a quiet environment to develop the ability to use imagination and enjoy solitude. So many children now are constantly on the move and being entertained by electronic media.Being able to concentrate on one thing a a time and play with simple games to occupy oneself is almost dying out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    With so many great books to read, so many great films to watch, so many great places to go to, etc etc, it's hard to believe any child nowadays could claim to be "bored".

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    nothing wrong with being bored every now & then.... absolutely kids need to have the time to be bored & explore their own imagination...

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    I grew up with spending some of my time coding making simple computer games on the Atari ST with the 'BASIC' language code (as well as being outside making dens and campfires). This was an excellent way of being creative. Instead of banning children from computers, encourage them to be creative with them, such as enjoying simple graphic design etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    I started reading this article but it was so boring that I just went straight to the comments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    I can truly say I got bored after the first 1 1/2 sentences. Got to go; feel the urgent need to write something equally ridiculous for the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    I don't think I was ever in when I was a child, wasn't allowed to watch much tv. I went horse-riding and helped at the stables as well as going out on my bike.

    We didn't have consoles or mobile phones but we survived!


Page 10 of 18


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