Downtime Helps Kids Develop Creativity and Imagination

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, your survival guide to our crazy-busy, ever-connected modern world hosted by Dr. Edward Hallowell, ADHD expert. Dr. Hallowell talks about moderation with electronics and how downtime helps kids develop their creativity and imagination.

Mini Episode 5: One Mom’s Dilemma Over Technology Use and Free Time


DR. HALLOWELL: Hi, this is Doctor Ned Hallowell, and welcome to our mini distraction. These are tailored for people who don’t have much time. I guess that means everybody. These are like our regular show, only they’re a lot shorter. They’re mini distractions. This week’s full distraction show is about the impact modern technology is having on kids and their parents. For today’s mini, I wanted to share with you a conversation I had with Kelly, a single mom of a seven-year-old daughter who has a parenting challenge that I’m sure many of you can relate to. Hi Kelly, welcome to the show. We have an in-person question. Go ahead and ask.

Kelly: Hi, thank you for having me on the show.

DR. HALLOWELL: Thank you for coming.

Kelly: Here’s my question. I have a seven-year-old. I’m a single mom. Our life is so hectic. We are running around, first I’m working a career. When I get home, it’s homework, it’s lacrosse practice, it’s running to the gym because it’s important to exercise. When we finally do chill out, she just wants to get on her iPod and relax and hang out and play some games, watch a TV show, so I let her.

The part that I’m struggling with I guess as a mom is to have her appreciate the things in life that are simple versus we’re always running around. We’re crazy busy. That’s her normal. Whereas, when I was a kid, we got time to play, and we were outside, and you know, it’s just so different that I’m struggling with the best way to handle it and raise her so that she’s not constantly thinking running in fifth gear is normal.

DR. HALLOWELL: Sure. The big mistake that good parents make is that they do too much. I see it over and over and over again. I saw it in myself when I was raising my three kids. We want so much to give them everything and for them to have the best. We want them to be all that they can be, and end up doing too much. We overbook and over-schedule their lives. You end up schlepping them from one enriching activity to the next all day and into the night. By the time you get home, you’re both worn out. All you have the energy for is to watch TV or to go to sleep.

What I urge parents to do, what I urge myself to do is to prioritize. Cut back. Have three activities instead of seven. Don’t overbook, either her or yourself. Make time for doing nothing, for play, for cuddling. Make time for rolling around on the floor together, and for being silly. Be bored, because when you’re bored, the next thing is you do something creative. When she says, “Mommy, I’m bored,” say, “Great,” and walk away.

Kelly: She does do that, when we have a little bit of downtime it’s like, “What are we doing? Where are we doing? What’s going on?” I kind of feel like I have programmed you to be busy every second.

DR. HALLOWELL: Next time she says that, say we’re doing nothing, and just walk away.

Kelly: Okay.

Moderation with Electronics

DR. HALLOWELL: You can say have fun and walk away. This is nothing time. You can equate that with fun time. This is time for doing nothing. Make up your own game. Don’t let electronics be the default position. For a lot of kids these days, when they’re faced with nothing, they immediately go to electronics. Some electronics is fine, but you want to limit that. They need to learn moderation with electronics. It’s one of the new tasks of parenting and being a child, being an adult, for that matter. How to use these electronic devices in moderation.

Kelly: Right.

DR. HALLOWELL: Also, how to make up your own game. How to turn an empty box into a kingdom. How to turn the design on the rug into a world you want to explore. The only way you’ll do that is to not have access to electronics, and to not have some agenda. Now we’ve got to go to this lesson, and that sport, and this, you know, tutoring session.

Develop Their Creativity and Imagination

Overbooking them is a big mistake. They don’t develop their imagination. They don’t develop sort of the muscles of initiative that they really need in life. Scheduled downtime. It’s also good for you. You work all day; you need to have downtime yourself. Say that to her. Part of life is learning how to amuse yourself without an electronic device, and without some agenda, without some schedule activity.

Kelly: I haven’t thought about the imagination part, because when she does get bored, whether it be a car ride or whatever, “Can I use your phone, can I just play on your phone?” I’m always like, “Yeah, sure,” but I haven’t thought like wow, I’m robbing her of being able to expand the way she thinks.

DR. HALLOWELL: You are. You need to force her, really, to bare the frustration of not having an electronic device, which is sort of like a pacifier. Instead, come up with something, come up with a new idea. I’ll never forget, my son, when he was about eight years old, the five of us, three kids and mom and dad, took a long trip, and we all collapsed into a hotel room on the New Jersey turnpike, and they were young enough all five of us could fit. About 6:00am, there’s clothes all over the floor, and he shakes my shoulder, and he says, “Dad, I’m awake,” I said, “I can see that, Jack,” and he says, “Can I watch TV?” I said, “No, we’re all sleeping.”

About an hour later, he shakes my shoulder again and he says, “Dad, look what I made,” and I look up, and there’s this line stretching from the window sash clear across the room to the handle on the door. He says, “Dad, it’s a clothes line,” and it was all the clothes tied together. His imagination went to work once he couldn’t watch TV, then he found something else. It’s that kind of activity, that inventiveness, that really, we need to progress the world. Give your kids the gift of frustration, of not being entertained. Don’t rush in like oh, try this, try that, try the other thing. Say figure it out and just walk away, and they will figure it out. Their imaginations will come to. If you give them too much pre-fabricated entertainment, then they won’t develop their imagination.

Kelly: Right, that’s great, that’s good advice. Thank you so much.

DR. HALLOWELL: My pleasure. Thank you Kelly.

Kelly: You’re welcome.

Closing Statements

DR. HALLOWELL: That’s our mini distraction for today. To hear more about the struggles parents are facing with technology, electronic devices, and internet safety, make sure you download this week’s full show. I think you’ll find it to be a very worthwhile listen. If you have an issue, a question, or a suggestion, call us toll-free at 844-55-connect, or e-mail us at [email protected]. Or, go to our website at To hear more mini and full length episodes, subscribe to Distraction on iTunes, and thanks so much for listening.

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, “One Mom’s Dilemma Over Technology Use and Free Time”. Distraction is available on iTunes.


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