Steve Jobs’ Best Advice: Let Your Kids Be Bored

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My brother and I chatted last night about Steve Jobs and how we both admired his work. Like everyone else on the internet, I’ve been reading as much as I can about the man and his legacy. And I came across a fantastic article that included some great wisdom for this day and age where we schedule each and every one of our children within a minute of their lives: let them be bored.

Here’s what he said:

Jobs usually had little interest in public self-analysis, but every so often he’d drop a clue to what made him tick. Once he recalled for me some of the long summers of his youth. “I’m a big believer in boredom,” he told me. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity, he explained, and “out of curiosity comes everything.” The man who popularized personal computers and smartphones — machines that would draw our attention like a flame attracts gnats — worried about the future of boredom. “All the [technology] stuff is wonderful, but having nothing to do can be wonderful, too.”

Amen and amen. I was just talking about this with a friend yesterday. You need time to indulge in curiosity. That just doesn’t happen when you have nothing to be curious about because you have everything you could need, unlimited resources for taking care of problems, and not a moment of spare time. There is a certain irony, of course, in having a man who helped (however benignly) contribute to the problem of overstimulation saying such things. But it’s true none-the-less.

We need to allow our children time to play alone, to be alone, to work out solutions on their own, time to ponder. It’s the same advice I’d give anyone who wants to write. They need a lot of time to think. And read. And ponder.

We think that we’re doing our kids so many favors by getting them involved in every activity we wished we could have done as kids, from badminton to Girl Scouts to chocolatier classes. But perhaps the best thing our parents did was not giving us everything and not catering to all of our fleeting desires.

I can’t be the only person whose fondest memories involved lots of long days in which I could indulge all my curiosities about the world around me — the way water flowed through the garden, the way fruit rotted when it fell off the vine, the way the birds loved the cherries in the tree, the lizards on the house, the thorns on the bushes, the sand pit, the sound of the distant swallows. Everything.

I don’t want to rob my children of these gifts. So I’ll have to remind myself to give them time to be curious and explore and find their own adventures.