School of boredom: why parents are following Eva Mendes's screen-free summer for children

Should we all be taking a leaf from the Hollywood star's parenting book by encouraging children to turn off the 'square au pair' for the holidays?

Why parents are choosing a summer of screen-free stimulation for kids. Photo: Unsplash / Robo Wunderkind
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Eva Mendes has opened up about her summer plans for her daughters Esmeralda, 7, and Amada, 6, revealing she is “bringing boredom back” for the school holidays.

In an interview with Byrdie, the actress, 48, said: “I really feel like when we’re bored — not stimulated by a phone, an iPad, a computer or television — that’s when ideas come in.” After spending a few months in London, where long-time partner Ryan Gosling was filming, the Hitch star said she wanted her children to swap electronics for the outdoors now the family are at home.

“When we were in London, we went from musical to musical taking advantage of being back in the theatre, we went to all kinds of museums, we went to Windsor Castle — I had a tonne of field trips planned for them, which we did,” she continued. “Now, I feel like it’s time to bring boredom back, especially for the kids but for myself as well.”

Actress Eva Mendes, who has two daughters with actor Ryan Gosling, has spoken about the importance of boredom for kids. AFP

While the idea of giving up the “square au pair”, aka TVs or iPads, to occupy the kids during the long, hot summer, can seem daunting to frazzled parents, Mendes could be on to something.

Sofia Stigka, a child psychologist from Thrive Wellbeing Centre by Dr Sarah Rasmi, in Dubai, says: “Boredom is the base of creative thinking, the condition that will trigger a child’s natural curiosity to discover the world around them and that will help them channel their unlimited imagination and need for movement and activity.

“It also helps them develop valuable executive functioning skills, such as problem solving, decision making, prioritisation and flexibility. This free-of-structure play promotes self-regulation and it fosters confidence, self-reliance and independence. While being bored, objects obtain new characteristics and innovative purposes, giving children the opportunity to exercise their pretend play skills."

Parents and teachers have spoken about the benefits of opening the back door and letting her kids create their own fun outside. Getty Images

Mother-of-three Eleanor McAlister, a primary school teacher from Ireland, has experienced the benefits of her own “summer of boredom” for her three children, aged 6, 8 and 10. For her family, this involves opening the back door and letting her kids create their own fun in the garden — with as little adult intervention as possible. “As a teacher, I’m very aware that children learn through play,” says McAlister.

“Having that freedom to play without rules is so valuable for building resilience, for learning to deal with conflict resolution and for building confidence. I resist the urge to be prescriptive and just leave my children to it and let them experiment and make up their own fun. I’ve seen them become incredibly creative in making up their own games, with their own rules, and they have begun to recognise the value of having rules, without me laying down the law.

"They have learnt to settle fights and squabbles between them, while their sense of independence and confidence has vastly improved.”

As well as stimulating them mentally, physical play can actually improve well-being too. “Practical play promotes body and hand-eye coordination, development of fine motor skills and sensory regulation,” says Stigka, who advocates going back to basics.

“The environment creates and offers different opportunities for play. Three-year-olds, for example, have all they need at the beach — sand, rocks, seashells, water and of course their hands.”

'Electronic entertainment limits a child's motivation to use their own mind to come up with creative game ideas,' says child psychologist Sofia Stigka. Photo: Unsplash / Josh Applegate

Conversely, overexposure to electronic devices deprives children of what Stigka calls “the cornerstones of a social skills set: meaningful social interactions and communication”.

“Electronic entertainment limits a child's motivation to use their own mind to come up with creative game ideas, as they rely on the electronic games’ instructions, unable to deviate from it and thinking only within the confines of the software. Consequently, social network and creativity are among the affected areas from electronic games, limiting the child's capacity to make their own fun.”

For mother-of-two Chloe Billing, from the UK, embracing free play during lockdown led to the launch of family business Me-shirt Kits, personalised T-shirt painting kits for kids. “We started our business during lockdown when I was homeschooling with a new baby in tow and I wanted to focus on my then five-year-old’s mental health through the pandemic.

“I didn’t feel it would be beneficial for any of us if she watched TV all day long and I wanted her to get something from her time with me and to have fond memories of lockdown which extended beyond finding new things to stare at on the television.

“We talked about what she’d like to do that would make things more interesting in the limited world we had been put in and we settled on an art project a day which inspired her to learn about artists and techniques and experiment with fabric painting, which led her to come up with the idea of our personalised T-shirt painting kits and we started selling them to friends. Now we are selling online and she’s been able to sell to real customers and supply kits and party bags to friends too.”

Stigka says: “Children need time to themselves, to daydream, to listen to their thoughts, to observe their environment and to respond to the stimuli that the world around them has to offer. Downtime with no exposure to electronic devices gives children the opportunity to discover their personal interests, to experience the world with a critical eye and to end up with creative ideas.”

Updated: July 21, 2022, 4:03 AM