"I'm bored." "School was so boring today." "I hate Sundays, they're boring!" These phrases are a familiar refrain to all parents. Like all kids, preteen girls find boredom uncomfortable, and often rush to fill the void with whatever easy source of stimulation is close to hand. Usually, that means pulling out her smartphone and turning to social media. At the slightest hint of boredom, girls are quick to scroll through Instagram or Snapchat, for no particular reason other than to relieve the discomfort of a moment of aimlessness.
Of course, girls aren't the only ones who do this. How many times have you reached for your favourite device to pass the time in the Starbucks lineup, or while waiting for an elevator? We have become an impatient society, unable and unwilling to simply be in those in-between moments. In a culture obsessed with productivity and constant connection, boredom is seen as something to be avoided at all costs.
One downside of curtailing these moments is that we miss out on opportunities to connect with those around us. Even small talk with a stranger can inject energy or empathy into an otherwise dull day, making life less boring on a moment-by-moment basis. Worse, by seeking constant stimulation, we miss out on opportunities to connect with ourselves by noticing our feelings and impressions.
Young girls who turn to technology to relieve boredom run the added risk of increased anxiety or even depression. Hyper-stimulation alone can increase restlessness, rather than relieving it. Scrolling through scores — if not hundreds — of carefully crafted, "perfect" posts can leave a girl feeling inadequate and left behind. A recent nationwide study by Girl Guides of Canada reports that 55 per cent of girls surveyed say that trying to meet social expectations about how they should look or act has negatively impacted their self-esteem.
She may also miss out on her own real-life experiences, and the creative or inspirational ideas that can emerge from a moment of boredom when it is met with patience, curiosity and openness.
Here are some ways in which braving boredom can help your daughter to grow stronger and happier.
Next time your girl says she is "bored," encourage her to see this quiet moment in her day as a gift, a chance to hit the pause button on her busy life. She has time to take a deep breath, practice gratitude, and reflect on her inner landscape — how she is feeling and what she is doing. These brief moments are few and far between in our 24/7 culture, but can be valuable opportunities to unplug from the demands of the world and feel more grounded.
Young girls who turn to technology to relieve boredom run the added risk of increased anxiety or even depression.
It is in stillness that girls can get in tune with themselves, hear their inner voice, and even find tranquility. Girls can learn to own these moments and reconnect with themselves.
With boredom, comes judgment. "I'm bored" expands into "my life is boring" or worse yet, "I'm a boring person." It sounds dramatic, I know, but this is how girls interpret their downtime. Boredom is a natural part of the human experience and not only should girls anticipate it, they need to embrace it. Teach her that she can learn to accept this feeling — which has a beginning and an end, and will not last forever — instead of harshly judging herself or catastrophizing. Uncomfortable feelings, whether we are talking about boredom, frustration, or envy, are simply that — uncomfortable.
When we explain to girls and perhaps model for them how to sit in a feeling, they come to realize that it really isn't so bad, and "this too shall pass." It takes very little time to process a feeling and start to turn it in a healthier direction. The alternative is a lifetime of avoidance and escape.
Boredom can be the low point or lull that a girl needs to motivate her to get moving and start creating. Sometimes she needs to have "nothing to do" in order to dig deep and discover "something to do." It can be extremely edifying for girls to learn how to shift from boredom to creativity and to realize the "secret power" that lies within them. To kick things off, try brainstorming a list of ideas of things to do. Consider different kinds of lists. One list could focus on skills she wants to improve, such as practicing her jump shots in basketball, or baking a birthday cake for a sibling.
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Another list could suggest creative projects she wants to undertake, such as building a doll's house or creating a board game of her own. Or she might list ways she can give back to her community, like volunteering at an animal shelter, or gathering a group of friends to join her in a bottle drive for her favourite charity. The potential for new ideas is as limitless as she is. As she plans, she will enjoy the newfound feeling of empowerment that emerges from driving her own momentum.
Girls are so used to being busy all the time with their jam-packed schedules and the constant buzzing and blinking from their screens and devices that it is becoming more difficult for them to be still, even for a minute. However, we can help them to see the richness and potential gifts contained in an everyday moment of seeming emptiness.
Lindsay Sealey is the author of "Growing Strong Girls: Practical Tools to Cultivate Connection in the Preteen Years." She is also the founder and CEO of Bold New Girls and lives in Vancouver.
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