“Mom, I’m bored.”
Even our three-year-old, if being cruelly forced to sit in the car for more than 7 minutes will sigh and say, “This is boooooooooring.” I don’t think he even knows what it means, but he’s certainly heard that sitting still, without anything to play with must mean that he’s bored and that Mom is the meanest ever.
For a while I was really uncomfortable with my kids being bored. Why should you be bored?! We have so many fun things to play with? Why are you not thinking of wild and crazy things to do? Have you already run out of ideas at the age of 6? I would offer all kinds of suggestions. Would you like to play with action figures? What about drawing? Maybe you could play a board game? Read that new book? All suggestions were met with a look that I’m sure I’ll see a lot of when he’s a teenager: an almost-eye-roll, a deep sigh, and an extended, whining “nooooooo-oooo.”
I’ve been wondering about why I had so much discomfort around my kids feeling bored. I think I avoid boredom. I think we, as adults, avoid boredom with even greater proficiency than our kids do. I take my sons to swim lessons at a nearby YMCA. I usually have one in the water, while the other is waiting for his turn to swim. I’ve been trying to intentionally spend that time with the dry child, talking, playing… just one-on-one. We read books, or bring a couple of toys, or maybe just talk. I have to force myself not to take out my phone and catch up on a few blogs that I read, or return that email, or… whatever… mindlessly troll Facebook. I’ve noticed that the other waiting moms are doing just that. Heads down, phones in hand, catching up on feeds, and tweets and pins.
But I also feel that magnetic pull to bring out the phone in line at the grocery store. While I sit in the car at school to pick up my son from kindergarten. I’ve seen families at restaurants, as they wait for their food to come, each totally engrossed in their own little screen. Could all of it be to avoid boredom? Would someone out there go so far to say that boredom is obsolete? Why be bored when you can play games, stalk friends on social media, balance your checkbook, watch Netflix, search for a recipe for supper, watch videos of kittens, all on that little screen in your pocket! If I don’t allow myself time to “be bored” then, of course, I would show some discomfort when my children are complaining about boredom.
I’m more comfortable with the concept of boredom lately because I’ve been reading about brain research, kids and media. I’ve been reading about how kids’ brain develops. They need challenges and problems to solve. Boredom is a problem that needs to be solved-- but not by me. They don’t need my suggestions. They need to struggle with it and figure it out. I’m learning that brains move a little more slowly sometimes than it takes to load a webpage. Ideas take time and space to unfold. It’s normal for a child to take 15 minutes to fully engage in an activity. There might be some discomfort for a little while, but when kids have to struggle with boredom and make choices, their brain is making new connections.
Boredom is good for kids! It gives them time to think. It gives them moments to slow down and make choices. It helps them develop who they are and what they really like. They get to solve a problem and then feel good about it. They aren’t distracted by a tv show or a game. They are left to sit with themselves for a few minutes. I bet that time would be good for adults as well. I mean, right? Putting down the devices, the to-do lists, the need to constantly achieve and to just… sit with yourself. Maybe even be a little bored?
I’m hoping to embrace boredom around here. I don’t want to give in to the whining of my kids. I don’t want to give in to the little screen that I carry around. I want to sit with a little boredom, spend more quality moments with my family, and leave some space for all of us to grow together.