Dear Children of Mine,
This will not be a popular or well received proclamation. Not now anyway.
I am not afraid of your discomfort. I will not rush to relieve you of all of your suffering. Some, yes. But not all.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not that I cannot feel your pain, or boredom in this case, but I will not be easily swayed to make it go away.
I want you to create, imagine, come up with inventive, even messy ways to engage in life. I want you to manage your emotions when you are bored to tears, not by complaining you are bored, running to the snack drawer, pestering your sibling or zoning out on a screen. You’ll have to find something to do. There is a closet full of junk to turn into crafts, toys for days, the great outdoors, loads of books and jeez, the best thing, that space inside your head that allows imagination!
But research also suggests boredom may not inspire creativity in ALL people. There are indeed certain types of people that tend to respond better to periods of boredom than others and there is a common belief that some people tend to ‘get into trouble,’ if allowed to be bored.
I’ve seen this happen. Plenty of sibling harassment rises from the depths of boredom.
“We are rightfully fearful of boredom and its negative consequences. Too much time and money, little purpose, and boredom are a lethal combination.”
Nancy Blakey, parent educator and author
So I will remain vigilant. I will keep my eye on you, my children. This too will not be well received in phases of your life, but i’m committed to talking to you, listening to you, spending time with you and paying attention to you so I can see how that boredom lands.
I know this is possible – to survive boredom. I didn’t have TV growing up. No Nintendo, no cell phones for sure. We played in the dirt and my mother took us to the library a lot. And lucky for us, she is still championing creative play and live connection as our Nana. She sent me this wonderful article, full of suggestions for what TO DO when you kids says, “Mom, i’m bored!”
I love the idea of a Boredom Buster Jar! Having your kids come up with ideas of things they can do when the boredom strikes. Here’s a supportive list of age-by-age guide to screen-free activities to keep children under the age of ten busy, with minimal supervision from you.
But the struggle is real. The outside forces many. A long summer ahead plus a long pandemic as a lead in doesn’t make this easy on kids or parents. The omnipresence of technology is ever tempting. This could be the kind of proclamation that gets totally lost in the dog days of summer, or well before. Perhaps that is partly why I’m writing it down. To give myself reinforcement.
It’s birthday season in our house. Everyone child wants technology. They all pine for their own phones. Lots of their friends have phones. There is real pressure from everywhere for this endless (or limited) access to the internet. It is veiled as a ‘need,’ for safety. A need to connect with friends and family without any effort at all. I am wary.
“We’re trying to swipe and scroll the boredom away, but in doing that, we’re actually making ourselves more prone to boredom, because every time we get our phone out we’re not allowing our mind to wander and to solve our own boredom problems,” Mann says, adding that people can become addicted to the constant dopamine hit of new and novel content that phones provide. “Our tolerance for boredom just changes completely, and we need more and more to stop being bored.”
Dr. Sandi Mann, a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K. Mann is the author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good
Not only am I wary, but I’m not sure what NEED it actually solves besides making my life easier as a parent. Which, don’t get me wrong, matters. I love the freedom screens afford me. I can almost forget I have kids. I can work, take a bath in quiet, do yoga, think in peace.
And there are PLENTY of high quality screen time activities that are awesome. Entertaining brilliant movies, educational apps, inspirational stories, good video games, etc. And we have those.
And it might also be a good place to proclaim that this isn’t a critique on kids that watch a lot of screen time or parents that have good results with it. It could just be my kids.
But the hell that follows a screen binge in my house makes me question if any amount of screens is worth it. The transition from the stimulation of screens to the doldrums of real life are too painful for kids. Their poor little brains are in withdraw. It not rational or reasonable and there are always tantrums.
Furthermore, our whole lives start to revolve around SCREEN TIME. It becomes the currency with which we live our lives. The barrage of question like this never end:
“When am I going to get screen time?’
“I didn’t get enough screen time.”
“How can I earn more screen time?”
“I should have more screen time because the internet was slow.”
and on and on and on.
They often try to make the argument that if I just let them watch as much as they wanted they would get tired of it. NOPE. I’ve never seen the bottom of it. Not on 15 hour plane flights, not on long weekends with no limits, not ever.
What I get instead, is kids that hold their pee, sneak shitty snack food in front of the device or eat a super fast meal so they can get back to their screens, shirk all responsibilities and turn into zombies that can never fall asleep at the right time of night. And whenever I take a responsible look over their shoulders they are watching some dumb video on youtube with kids opening toys. NO WONDER THEY ARE MISERABLE AFTER BINGING ON THAT SHIT.
I admit, I’ve been known to watch perhaps the dumbest TV on earth – The Bachelorette and eat a bag of salt and vinegar chips. We all need to indulge and space out. And everyone would agree I should probably hang up my Sam Harris Podcast for more junk reality TV once in a while. It would balance me out. But the truth is, I feel like shit when I watch crappy TV. I stopped years ago and once in a while i’ll enjoy a good movie to flush out some emotions, and I love a documentary.
And I don’t need my kids to be just like me. But I refuse to be ruled by screen time.
We had to stop cold turkey last week. Things were getting out of control around the house. With pandemic distance learning coupled with virtual dad and friend calls, our screen time had creeped into the morning, the afternoon and before bed. Somehow no one was grateful, or well behaved or sane. People were off the hook with crazy every time I said it was time to shut it down. And the house was a disaster with only 1 human out of 4 trying to keep it sane.
What happened was painful, then beautiful. For about 2.5 days, the kids were zombie like, depressed and clawing at me for screen time all day. And just like fog burning off in the late morning, their little creative brains woke up. They started PLAYING with each other. Coming up with the strangest imaginary games and clever ideas. My big kid started doing magic tricks. The girls built forts and turned tomato cages into formal dresses. They noticed how shitty the house was and started cleaning up.
But none of this happened until I completely took the screen time OFF the table with a hard boundary.
I want to find the happy medium, and I think we’ll get there.
But in the meantime, its summer and we are going outside. We went camping for 3 nights. They laughed hard, ran around endlessly, played with fire and black snakes, sat around under a big full moon and the second their heads hit the pillow, they were out.
So, kids, we might live in the modern world, in the city and surrounded by all things virtual. But I will not steal your boredom or your childhood. And if you are in (virtual) therapy complaining about this in 30 years, I am sorry.