Adapted from my newspaper column.
I am bored. If there is any mantra that epitomizes summer with children, that phrase is it. As their mother, the words send me into a tailspin. Childhood should be happy, joyful, and adventurous. Not boring. What can I do to pull them out of this distressing state? My suggestions yield little fruit. “I don’t want to do that.” By the time the kids are done nixing my propositions, I feel just as bored as they do. Signing them up for yet another summer camp becomes appealing. But what would I be depriving them of if I rushed to fill those empty hours?
Kids have a miraculous ability to feel boredom whether they have access to stacks of the best selling kid books (the library), the latest DVDs, a new slip n’slide, or the top-rated game for their game system. The result is the same. I’m bored.
Setting doesn’t seem to matter either. My children spend most of their summer deprived of the ability to flip through the channels of a television, along the banks of a small lake. They, justifiably, in their opinion, managed to utter that phrase of tedium on a particular day, despite the fact that their morning involved tracking an army of ants to their home, feeding a lost baby Robin a worm, catching no less than 4 toads, and built and decorated a toad-condo out of an empty cardboard box. The fishing gear, rafts and water trampoline had yet to be touched. At that moment, I looked at one sincerely sad face, and into his bewildered eyes, and laughed. Preposterous. “You don’t even have the slightest idea what being bored feels like,” I decided.
Maybe, they aren’t really bored. Perhaps kids just aren’t used to the feeling of autonomy after spending most of their year being told what to do, for how long, and when. When they get home from school, there are more books to read, and more worksheets to be completed. At their sports practices and music lessons, they are to practice drills, in this particular way, for this amount of time.
When school vacation starts, kids suddenly have free rein of their own time. They are baffled. “What am I supposed to do?” they may wonder. This newfound independence must feel strange. Kids have given this, this freedom, a name of their own — boredom.
As adults, we don’t have the luxury of boredom – or freedom. If there is the slightest millisecond when the feeling of ennui takes over, we suddenly remember the emails that need answered, the leaky faucet that needs adjustment, or the fact that people will be hungry in just a few hours, and something needs to be prepared.
Some child development experts say kids don’t have enough time to feel the all-important “boredom.” Boredom sparks a child’s creativity, giving a child the needed time to use his imagination to turn clouds into animals. For only a few months of the year, kids now have the chance to think for themselves.
Now when I hear the words, “I’m bored,” I smile back, remembering that what a child really wants is permission: The assurance that it is OK to use his own power of choice. When I hear the words, “I’m Bored,” I simply look back and say, “You mean, you feel free?”