How technology affects children’s imagination

Child using laptop


It’s unusual to go anywhere these days without seeing children and teens engaged with screens – especially in situations where they may be prone to feel bored. Whether it’s at a restaurant, in the car, at a sibling’s sports event, or in their own home or yard – many kids are spending a good portion of their day engaged with screens as opposed to finding ways to engage with the world around them. In fact, one of the biggest complaints I hear from parents is how frustrating it is to deal with their child’s cries of “being bored” when they aren’t allowed to use digital media. Many parents in my practice have confessed that their children don’t know how to find other activities to engage with, and aren’t choosing to utilize the many toys, games, and other activities at their disposal. 

Adults in our generation think back to our childhoods and all the time spent outside climbing trees, building forts, creating things with Legos, making art projects, or creating plays complete with costumes from the dress-up box in the attic. I’ve had many parents wonder what their kids are missing out on by not engaging in those activities, and feel concern about whether children today are growing up without imagination, curiosity, and creativity as a result.

While digital devices and media certainly can inspire creativity and imagination in some ways, parents are right to ask questions about how constant engagement with passive device-driven activities are impacting the development of imagination and creativity. 

In this article, we will delve into the effects of technology on children’s imagination, the importance of boredom in fostering creativity, and practical tips for parents to encourage imagination in their children both on and off screens.

The impact of technology on children’s imagination

Many children are spending increasing amounts of time engaged with screens, and often prefer to spend time with digital media as opposed to other activities. Research has shown that child creativity and imagination have decreased significantly over time when compared to previous generations. One of the reasons this seems to be occurring is increased time spent on digital devices and media, as opposed to non-screen activities. 

The passive nature of many digital activities, such as watching videos or playing pre-programmed games, may limit opportunities for open-ended play and imaginative exploration. They also tend to reduce the amount of time kids spend in physically active play, which we know is critical for the development of the brain – including imagination and problem-solving.

Girl using tablet

The importance of boredom

Contrary to popular belief (and the complaints of children), research shows that boredom can be a powerful catalyst for creativity and imagination. When children experience boredom, their minds are free to wander, daydream, and generate new ideas. This can feel frustrating to them, as it requires them to self-generate ideas and figure things out – as opposed to passively engaging with stimulation or ideas provided to them via apps, video games, and other media. 

Embracing moments of boredom allows children to tap into their innate creativity and explore the world around them in imaginative ways. While children may not like it initially, expecting them to have time when they’re “bored” and having to come up with their own ideas of what to do (even if that means lying on their bedroom floor and staring at the ceiling) is very beneficial for their brain development.

Benefits of technology for supporting imagination

While concerns about the impact of technology on children’s imagination are valid, it’s also important to recognize that technology can provide valuable opportunities for fostering creativity and imagination. Interactive educational apps, digital storytelling platforms, and creative software tools can inspire children to express themselves creatively, experiment with ideas, and engage in imaginative play. 

Games and platforms that require kids to problem solve, generate their own ideas, and even engage with others online in creative pursuits can be beneficial. In fact, research shows that these kinds of collaborative technology platforms that encourage learners to design and create things can support improved creativity and imagination. Virtual reality and augmented reality technologies offer immersive experiences that can spark children’s curiosity and imagination in new and exciting ways.

Finding balance

How can parents find a balance between allowing access to digital devices and media, while also fostering imagination and creative thinking? Here are some simple tips parents and caregivers can implement for young children through teens:

1. Limit screen time

Set reasonable limits on children’s screen time to ensure they have ample opportunities for unstructured play and imaginative exploration. Encourage screen-free activities such as reading, outdoor play, and imaginative storytelling. Older kids can be encouraged to engage in creative expression through various forms of art, building things, and spending time with peers in real life activities. I recommend using a parental control app like Qustodio to easily set time limits and monitor digital activities.

2. Provide open-ended toys and materials

Stock your home with toys and materials that encourage open-ended play and creativity, such as blocks, art supplies, costumes, and pretend play props. These materials allow children to use their imagination to create and explore without predetermined outcomes.

3. Foster outdoor exploration

Encourage outdoor play and exploration to stimulate children’s imagination and creativity. Nature provides a rich sensory experience that can inspire imaginative play and storytelling. Encourage children to observe their surroundings, collect natural materials, and invent games and stories inspired by the outdoors. Remember that time in nature isn’t just for younger children – teens and adults benefit greatly as well when it comes to stimulating creative thinking!

4. Encourage divergent thinking

Foster divergent thinking skills by encouraging children to brainstorm multiple solutions to problems, think creatively, and explore alternative perspectives. Encourage open-ended questions and discussions that spark curiosity and encourage imaginative thinking.

5. Engage in co-creative activities

Participate in co-creative activities with your children, such as storytelling, art projects, building forts. Collaborative activities provide opportunities for shared imaginative experiences and strengthen parent-child bonds.

The key takeaway here is that while technology undoubtedly plays a significant role in children’s lives and development, it’s essential to strike a balance between digital engagement and opportunities for imaginative play and creativity

Parents need not be afraid of boredom, and in fact should take a child’s cries of “but I’m bored!” as a sign that they’re doing something right and beneficial! By recognizing the importance of boredom, embracing screen-free activities, and providing opportunities for open-ended play and exploration, parents can nurture their children’s imagination both on and off screens. 

Encouraging imagination not only fosters creativity and innovation but also promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, and emotional resilience, laying the foundation for lifelong learning and success.

Qustodio dashboard | kids screen time

How can Qustodio help protect your family?

Qustodio is the best way to keep your kids safe online and help them create healthy digital habits. Our parental control tools ensure they don't access inappropriate content or spend too much time in front of their screens.

Get started free Get started free