One of the more frequent themes I hear in my practice with children with ADHD, autism, Executive Functioning Disorder, and anxiety is how easily they report being bored. This becomes a major issue when kids are kept from their electronics and video games as if you ripped a part of their being away from them when they are restricted from their screens. The temper tantrums when kids can’t play their video games are often the stuff of legend and make parents think their kids are addicted to video games and technology. This is almost always not the case, but the conflicts that arise can nonetheless be damaging to relationships at home. As a result, many parents have learned to give in to demands for screen time in order to avoid the temper tantrums and anger that ensue when a child can’t play his video games.
The child who has tantrums when restricted from his screen often reports that he is bored and that “there is nothing to do,” as if he needs constant stimulation. If this is the case with your child, he is not alone. I frequently talk to parents about the “boredom” that kids and adults experience in today’s digital world. Face it, we live in a world where we are bombarded by ever-present alerts, beeps, and whistles on our cell phones; music playing; news headlines; and an expectation that we move and do things fast! I see the impact of this fast-moving world in myself while standing in line at the bank, being “bored,” and then reaching for my phone to keep my mind active. Sometimes kids and adults need to learn to be in the moment, relax, and have a sense of where they are. We (not just your kids) have begun to rely too much on digital media and technology to entertain ourselves.
I often tell parents not to accept being bored as an excuse for not getting things accomplished or because there is nothing to do. Kids and adults need to learn how to become engaged in many activities. We all benefit from having some quiet time. When kids persist on tasks and engage themselves in creative opportunities, they also learn how to be content with what they have and improve their self-esteem.
Here are some strategies to address the “boredom” accompanied by screen restriction that frequently precipitates temper tantrums:
Send them outside. It is far too easy for youngsters to spend time indoors these days due to concerns about safety, security, and getting hurt. However, children display better attention and learning when they spend more time outdoors. Even in winter, dress them up warmly and send them outside.
Work harder to make other activities more engaging. Parents face a difficult challenge in keeping children away from digital media. Games and technologies are so alluring and engaging that both children and adults have a difficult time keeping themselves from the nearest screen. As a result, parents need to model other activities themselves and work harder to find low tech interests for themselves and their children. They may need to spend time and money to engage children in activities outside the home.
Practice meditation on mindfulness training with your child. Being more in the moment and focused is very powerful and has been demonstrated to be extremely helpful to children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in improving focus and attention. These are also skills that can help children to be happier in the moment and less frustrated when they feel bored or things are not going the right way for them.
Sometimes less is more. Temporarily put away some of the mounds of toys your child has, alternating the toys so that he has “new” toys on a regular basis. Many kids have so many toys they are easily bored and have problems finding something they want to do. Think how easy it is to say you are unable to find anything to watch on television even though you probably have 500 stations available to you.