Thursday, July 25, 2013


Camp is over and the children have been home for a full two weeks. House rules are only two hours of media a day (cruel, I know) and we've already been to the library more times than I can count. There is no doubt about it, my kids are bored-grumbling ensues!
When has boredom become such a crime? When did constant engagement and fine-tuned entertainment become such a given for kids? There are plenty of options for things to do (read, draw, trampoline, skateboard, clay, paint, paper, etc) but they just don't seem to want to do the things that are available to them. Why is that? Too many choices or just not the "right" ones? How do you help someone to think outside the box and to get their own creativity thing going?
An interesting paper by John Eastwood, Alexandra Frischen, Mark Fenske, and Daniel Smilek in the September, 2012 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science.
The authors suggest that attention plays a mediating role in the experience of boredom.  In order to be bored there are a few conditions that need to be met.  First, people need to have a level of energy or arousal to feel bored.  When people have low arousal and there is not much happening in the world, then they will often feel relaxed.  When someone has high arousal, though, they have energy they would like to focus on something, but they cannot find an activity to hold their attention.
Second, boredom typically occurs when people have trouble focusing their attention and they believe it is for environmental reasons. When you are sitting in the mall, for example, there are many activities happening around you.  There are people having conversations around you.  You might  have something to read.  There may be televisions or video displays.  But, the stress of waiting for your friend to show up often makes it hard to concentrate. Your mind jumps from one thing to another.  You attribute your feelings to the environment, and so you feel bored.
This example leads to another key aspect of boredom.  As Eastwood, Frischen, Fenske, and Smilek point out, bored people become aware of their difficulty concentrating.  As a result, bored people often try to amuse themselves by daydreaming and letting their mind wander.  Interestingly, while mind wandering helps people to keep their minds occupied, studies suggest that the more your mind wanders, the more bored you feel.  The idea is that you recognize that this daydreaming is meant to occupy your mind, and so you realize that the situation is boring.
One more key element of boredom is control.  Boredom often occurs when you have little or no control over your current situation.  Waiting rooms, lectures, and store lines are all places where you have little control over your situation.  Normally, we react to unpleasant situations by changing it.  If you don’t like a book you are reading, for example, you close it and do something else.  Boredom happens when you are unable to change the situation. 
So, what can we do to help boredom? If you are stuck in a lecture (not that my lectures are every boring) and responsible for the information being presented, you need to find a way to keep yourself engaged and attentive. When you have some control in a situation you can use your understanding of boredom to help out. Need to lower your arousal level? Try a meditative exercise or listening to music to calm yourself down. As for my children? I think we'll go see a matinee!

Friday, December 2, 2011

I am a huge fan of the How To guide. Let's be honest, there are plenty of lessons we missed out on as kids (or adults) for one reason or another. How To guides help introduce us to new topics and provide an easier entry into a new area-level the playing field a bit. You never know, some undiscovered talent could be waiting for you just around the corner!

Jumping in with a smile!