MUNICH â€" To be a parent is to be a victim. That's at least the message some parents convey. Yes, of course children are wonderful and sweet and all that jazz. But let's be honest, arenâ€™t some of the things children say just annoying?
"I donâ€™t liiike it."
"I don't waaant to."
"Are we theeere yet?"
The distinguishing and irritating characteristic in all three examples is the excessive stress on a vowel, usually towards the end of the sentence.
Here's another one: "I'm so booored!â€ â€" a sentence some pestered parents rank as the worst of the worst. And yet for many scientists and researchers, that oft-repeated phrase is a subject of great fascination.
Research has shown that boredom can be downright dangerous in some cases. A recent study conducted on civil servants in the United Kingdom found that the risk of suffering a heart attack increased by two-and-half times if the employee was bored at work during the previous month.
But what about children? Is a kid who constantly complains about being "booored" in any kind of serious danger? No child, it would seem, has ever suffered a boredom-induced heart attack. But how might boredom affect a child's psyche? Should we consider it a child's worst enemy after hunger, or say, the neighbor's vicious little dog?
The path to creativity
The answer to that question, according to countless neuroscientists and educational theorists, is a resounding "no." As an important motivating force in child development, boredom can help rather than harm children. As such, it should be allowed to develop, meaning parents can just be parents â€" not entertainers who are responsible, as some how-to books suggest, for dispelling boredom by introducing fun little games at every turn.
Hamburg-based educational theorist Peter Struck writes in Parenting Book that parents shouldn't even react to the classic "I'm booored" plea. Children, according to Struck, need space to develop activity ideas. Parents who take immediate measures at the slightest sign of a tantrum to amuse their child end up encouraging lasting behavioral patterns. The lesson children take from this is: "I am bored = I will be amused by my parents," which can have devastating effects on both parents and children in the long run.
Photo: greg westfall
Struck is not alone in advocating this particular point of view. Nietzsche came to a similar conclusion. "To escape boredom, man works either beyond what his usual needs require, or else he invents play, that is, work that is designed to quiet no need other than that for working in general," the famous German philosopher wrote.
"He who is tired of play, and has no reason to work because of new needs, is sometimes overcome by the longing for a third state of mind," he added. "A state of mind relates to play as floating does to dancing, as dancing does to walking â€" a blissful, peaceful state of motion: It is the artist's and philosopher's vision of happiness."
Helping kids help themselves
Without boredom, in other words, there would be no creativity. A highly regarded study carried out three years ago by psychologists Benjamin Baird and Jonathan Schooler of Santa Barbara's University of California focused precisely on this subject.
The researchers gave 145 students two minutes to come up with as many preferably original uses for everyday objects such as toothpicks, clothes hangers or bricks. They then divided the students into four separate groups. One group had to carry on with the list of uses. The second group was allowed to rest. The third group was given a highly complicated, engrossing task, while the fourth group was given an undemanding, monotonous challenge.
After 12 minutes had elapsed, all four groups were then given the same task as in the beginning, i.e. to come up with uses for toothpicks, clothes hangers, etc. There were no noticeable differences in performance among the first three groups. But the fourth group improved their performance by 41%. The students who had been given a simple task and were bored by it had continued to work, subconsciously and without any pressure, on the first, more interesting task.
From the perspective of French philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, the founders of existentialism, boredom is one of the central experiences leading to the recognition of the self. Educational theorists have their own ideas about why and how boredom is beneficial: Children who never learned to overcome boredom will not, they argue, know what do with themselves when they reach adulthood.
None of that is to say that children should be left entirely on their own to cope with and dwell on their boredom. Peter Struck and his colleagues recommend that parents support their children by helping them help themselves, by providing stimulus, for example, that children can keep developing by themselves.
It's also important to take the expression "free time" literally â€" make sure there's time in the day when children really are free, as opposed to being engaged in violin lessons, soccer practice or dance classes. Such activities are valuable, but in moderation. Most experts suggest that one activity per week is plenty for kindergarten-aged children.
"Boredom," Nietzsche wrote in The Happy Science, "is the unpleasant calm of the soul which precedes the happy voyage and the dancing breezes" that drive us forward.
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
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