Bertrand Russell on Childhood

I found some great quotes from Bertrand Russell on

The capacity to endure a more or less monotonous life is one which should be acquired in childhood. Modern parents are greatly to blame in this respect; they provide their children with far too many passive amusements… and they do not realize the importance to a child of having one day like another, except, of course, for somewhat rare occasions.

The pleasures of childhood should in the main be such as the child extracts from his environment by means of some effort and inventiveness. Pleasures which are exciting and at the same time involve no physical exertion, such, for example, as the theatre, should occur very rarely. The excitement is in the nature of a drug, of which more and more will come to be required, and the physical passivity during the excitement is contrary to instinct. A child develops best when, like a young plant, he is left undisturbed in the same soil. Too much travel, too much variety of impressions, are not good for the young, and cause them as they grow up to become incapable of enduring fruitful monotony.

I do not mean that monotony has any merits of its own; I mean only that certain good things are not possible except where there is a certain degree of monotony… A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.

Today more then ever, children are bombarded with experiences which don’t require any involvement at all. Consuming content has become the default version of entertainment so you cannot avoid wondering what kind of adults this will produce. It changed even today’s adults, who prefer turning on TV and watching some (in their own words) stupid show to being in a quite house.

But still, I believe children would rather choose physical activity and involvement, if such are available their surroundings. When I give my daughter a tablet to watch her cartoons or those people unwrapping surprise eggs (or whatever), and she notices any other interesting activity in the house, she will leave the tablet, ask “what’s going on, what is it” – and, if sufficiently interested (which is not so difficult to achieve!), she will start participating in whatever is going on. The problem is, I think, that often times such activities are not available and that children (who hate boredom more than anything) easily resort to consuming content. What quotes above suggest, which is pretty amazing since the passages are almost hundred years old (1930), is that a child should learn to entertain herself by inventing or creating things. Otherwise, with today’s technology and more of it coming, I’m afraid their patience for life will fall to zero.


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