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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I'm Bored

The Aish mom blog has caught my eye. The current article begins with these statements: "It strikes terror into the heart of every mother, paralyzes the best of teachers, antagonizes even good-natured babysitters. It's a short expression that packs a lot of punch. No one wants to hear their children say those dreaded words, "I'm bored."

The author is correct that many parents fear boredom. People I have met and articles I have read include possible boredom as one of the reasons camp is a must. Perhaps my opinion is not a popular one, but I welcome "boredom" in moderation. Capitalized upon, boredom can be translated into productivity.

The author writes, "It's particularly frustrating after all the money we've lavished on summer camp, the latest computer games, the newest toys...." A commentor hits the nail on the head when he writes "Could this be why more mundane activities are boring? They've been desensitized with so much of the latest gadgets and technology that traditional activities just do not suffice."

The author asks, "Do [our kids] see us flit from project to project, unable to sit down and really see something through to the end, excited by the vision and not the nitty gritty work?" and recommends that we take a more active interest in the world around us writing, "If our children see us enthralled with everyday vistas and experiences, they will learn to do the same."

This is fine no doubt. But, to tell you the trust, I can't ever remember seeing my own parents regularly and actively enthralled, nor were they always excited by the vision because the "nitty gritty work" is, well, work. And yet, I can't remember spending a summer bored, although by the end of break I was certainly ready to go back to school. As I recall, there was always something to do. I have no doubt that my mother welcomed boredom too. The result of my own "boredom" often ended up in learning something new, reading, exercising, bike riding, or just cleaning the house. And if I didn't find something, my mother suggested something. (In no way do I endorse letting children randomly roam the streets, although it is a shame that seeing kids bike ride around a neighborhood is a rarity today).

The real problem, in my very amateur parent opinion, is not so much that the adults don't demonstrate enough enthusiasm, although a little more probably couldn't hurt, but that we have engaged in over scheduling both our children and ourselves and that our children simply don't know what to do with "downtime." They are so used to being "entertained" and stimulated by the excitement of something, they have lost some ability to just choose some work and see it through. I have to say that if I see a topic in the Yated one more time about what to do to "entertain" kids, I will scream. I'm afraid all of the entertaining has worked against parents.

In the week between school and camp, conversations amongst mothers focus on how hard it is to have the kids home, how they are "bored" and how they are "driving me crazy." Perhaps I live in an alternative universe, but we haven't experienced any of the above. My kids have been occupying themselves quite nicely. The oldest seems to have found a new interest. And the kids have been so engrossed with reading each other books every morning this week, that I've been free to tackle some projects. I might be the only parent out there who actually is experiencing a small tinge of sadness that school starts next week.

Recommended book I read this summer: Hyperparenting: Are You Hurting Your Child By Trying Too Hard? which was later reprinted as The Overscheduled Child. These books are far too detailed to review in one sentence, but one recommendation was to let the child live amongst the parents in his life, rather than separating the child out into his/her own activities. The authors recommend abandoning the notion that parents' lives revolve solely around their children and revisits the concept of children being a part of the daily discourse of a family, where they learn a great deal more about living by having the opportunity to observe adults in an adult world. Today it seems that many children are removed from the day to day life of their parents. I imagine much of the difficulty the week between camp and school or school and camp is that parents and children don't have a regular non-Shabbat rhythm when they are together. And being together outside of Shabbat and Yom Tov is a rarity as boys have school on Sundays and then there are the Sunday extracurriculars.

Just some thoughts. As always, I await your comments.


Larry Lennhoff said...

An excellent moshol about avoiding boredom, as well as an enjoyable kids book in its own right is The Phantom Tollbooth. Parents and kids would both have a great time reading it.

frumhouse said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly. Children need to learn to "just be" with themselves and their families without organized activities structuring their time. There are many opportunities for structure - school, camp, shabbos groups, etc. Kids need to learn to create their own structure and develop their own interests - whether that means books, exercise, building models, sewing, art, etc.

The time for them to be "finding themselves" should be now and not in their 30s backpacking across Europe.

triLcat said...

In case anyone's kids are bored, my newest idea for a project (for me) is to make a rag doll - I'm thinking a Raggedy Ann - for my daughter. I've done some googling, and it doesn't seem like a terribly complex project, and I think it's cool to have hand-made, soft-bodied dolls.

talmudita said...

I think adults are also scared of being bored, or rather don't know how to be bored. In school we learned about a lot of psycho-social benefits people get from being bored - you start to think more deeply, pay more attention. And now people actually have trouble getting there because they have cell phones and as soon as they get just a little bored, they entertain themselves.

SephardiLady said...

Talmudita, Great you mention this. In Pirkei Avot, as I'm sure you know, there is an admonition not to turn one's thoughts away from a review to exclaim on the beauty of creation. I read a nice interpretation that talked about the importance of being alone with one's thoughts and not running to interupt them.

I might be alone, but I believe that the go-go-go environment hurts our children and ourselves. As soon as we get started with one activity it is on to the next. As soon as our kids get absorbed with a project or a book, we pull them away because something else is on the schedule instead of letting the activity reach its natural end.

Of course, in life there is a lot to do. The question is how to control that to allow for that downtime needed.

anonymous mom said...

"Today it seems that many children are removed from the day to day life of their parents. "

Absolutely. Major problem. That and the fact that ipods and ds's are removing them from themselves too.

Commenter Abbi said...

"That and the fact that ipods and ds's are removing them from themselves too."

Because before ipods, Walkmen, VCRs, tv, didn't exist?

ProfK said...

I'm with you SL in welcoming some boredom into my life. For years before Rosh Hashanah I used to ask for a boring year. That didn't work so I switched to asking for a boring month. Didn't happen again. I went from a month to a week to a day to a few hours and that seemed to do the trick. Sitting in a comfy chair with a cup of coffee contemplating the scenery outside the window--that's not boring; it's absolutely refreshing.

anonymous mom said...

Abbi, I don't know about you, but I grew up in the 70's and we didn't walk around with our T.V. attached to us. Just today, I saw a little boy we know walking from his mom's car into the cleaners while playing his ds, completely engrossed. Ipods completely shut them out of their surroundings. DVD players in cars again take them away from their fellow family members, the conversation of their parents (valuable) and their own thoughts! Nope. Not the same world. Not the same choices. Plugging your kids in all day every day is unhealthy.

anonymous mom said...

Allow me to flash you young 'uns back in time. Music: when you put on the record player. In high school, some of us had walkmen which played casette tapes that we had to carry along with us to switch over when we were done with one. No automatic switching sides either. And the radio was pretty limited. No VCRs--one girl in class who was pretty wealthy had one--a Betamax--and we could watch it when her parents allowed us to. Video games: at some point, in high school, something called "Pong" came out. OUr cousins who lived about 40 miles North had it so when we could, we drove over on a Motzei Shabbos to play. Pacman was fun, but it was in airports only then. Really cool. T.V.: we had your basic 7 channels and whatever was on, was on. If your parents allowed you your T.V. time and if something good was actually on, then we watched it in between Machanayim and jumprope. Seriously. I'm willing to jump into this millenium, but I will harness the garbage it has shoved down our kids' throats.

Commenter Abbi said...

Hmm, I grew up in the late seventies/eighties. We had cable tv, vcr and i almost always had a walkman/tape deck for my room. I watched A TON of tv- morning, noon and night. We watched in the mornings when we got up and when we got home from school. I also did brownies, flute lessons and other stuff, but mostly, after school, it was a lot of tv until my mom got, home from work, when i did my homework, had supper, went to bed.

My point is, let's not kid ourselves that this newfangled technology is the first of its kind and all of the sudden our kids are the first ones to experience mind numbing media devices. And let's also not pretend we all experienced childhoods that were only filled with educational, wholesome pursuits 24/7. I think a lot of parents have this fantasy that they didn't watch much tv as kids, but when they sit down to think about it, they realize that they actually did watch quite a bit.

(btw, i barely watch tv now, except for shows i really like, and i've always been an avid reader. So... make of that what you will. My children, 3 and 5 are only allowed to watch the preschool channel that has no ads. But they are still quite addicted to it.)

A Living Nadneyda said...

In the world of therapy and psychology, patients (at least, adult patients) often use the word "bored" in reference to something vaguely threatening, although they themselves aren't necessarily aware of the association.

Maybe in this case the perceived threat is connected to aspects of the summer vacation -- not having a concrete, day-to-day schedule to rely upon, not really knowing how to fill one's time without the constant buzz of all the electronic objects you all mentioned, the simultaneous and conflicting worry of wanting vacation to end, and wishing it would go on forever, and many other things.