My mother used to tell us, “I am not your entertainment committee. If you’re bored, then I’ll give you something to do.”
That usually sent us running. Because “I’ll give you something to do” meant “I’ll give you something to clean,” and we knew it. And now that I’m a mom, I find myself uttering those exact words at my own kids. They too know this means cleaning, and they run.
Because children, wise up: IDGAF if you’re bored. I am not, as my mother so wisely said, your personal entertainment committee. I was not put on this earth to amuse you. I refuse to do so, and this summer, you can find a way to amuse yourselves.
According to The Economist, we now spend double the amount of time actively playing with our kids we did fifty years ago. This does not take into account summer vacation, during which we’re expected to provide things like sensory bins, baby pools, sprinklers, slip ‘n’ slides, and giant-bubble-making activities, all of which require planning and proper supervision.
It does not take into account organized activities that children are expected to participate in, the endless parade of summer camps and sports teams. It’s like the world expects us to hand our kids a morning agenda with sticky tabs detailing what they’ll do when: chalk-drawing time, screen time, pool time, craft time, all organized by Mom (even The Economist admits that mama does most of the heavy lifting).
There will be camps. There will be packed lunches. All of this so that the children can avoid being bored. Boredom is bad. Remember, idle hands are the devil’s playground. Or something like that.
Well, fuck that noise.
Listen up, kids. I spent my childhood with some craft supplies, a bike, a sibling, and the neighborhood. My mother didn’t ignore us. She just didn’t amuse us.
Mom had a life. Sitting down to an interminable game of Monopoly? Not in her job description. So we were forced to do the unthinkable.We were forced to get creative. According to LifeHack, that’s the number one benefit of allowing children to get bored: “It develops their innate sense to be creative” and is “an internal stimulus” that forces children to use their minds in different ways.
In fact, boredom can lead kids to try things they normally wouldn’t do. When my kids start to wander around bored, when they’ve exhausted the LEGOs and the books and the usual outdoor mud pit, they find other diversions.
Sometimes they decide to explore the wooded corners of the yard. They read to each other. They draw. They ask me to get out paints or do sand art. They play ancient Romans until I yell at them to take the swords outside. I ignore them and go on with my own life. They get creative. Win-win.
Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority here.
According to The New York Times, “subjecting a child to such inactivity is viewed as a dereliction of parental duty” in this day and age. A recent study found that “regardless of class, income or race, parents believed that children who were bored after school should be enrolled in extracurricular activities, and that parents who were busy should stop their task and draw with their children if asked.”
Um, no. Sorry.
Instead, “boredom teaches you to respond constructively, to make something happen for yourself … you learn to vanquish it.” And you learn to vanquish it by being creative.
When we give kids nothing but structured time, Aha! Parenting explains, we deny them the chance to find their true passions. How do they know they might like to build a fort, or climb trees, or catch toads (like my middle son does obsessively) or watch bugs on the sidewalk (like Einstein apparently did for hours)?
Boredom leads to imagination, which leads to creativity, which leads to passion. So y’all are gonna be some bored-ass kids this summer.
But what do you do when your kid will not stop bitching “I’m bored, I’m bored, I’m soooooooo bored” (like my 5 year-old)? And the cleaning threat doesn’t work?
Researchers say there are several ways to boredom-bust. You can start by sitting down with your child and making a list of things they like to do, or would like to do. You can pick from the list, or they can, when the dreaded attacks of the “I’m bored”s appear. Aha! Parenting has a lot of good ideas for these in what they call their “boredom-busting jar.”
Lifehack recommends designated play areas for kids, inside or outside (depending on the climate and time of year, of course), along with encouraging nature play. Kids are seldom bored in the outdoors; there’s always, at the very least, a stick to beat against something or pine cones to stack.
Almost every expert recommends limiting screen time in general. They blame it for diverting kids’ attention; they grow to expect constant stimuli, and when that stimuli is removed, their brain registers it as boring. (When they really weren’t doing much of anything in the first place but staring at a screen.) And that’s not actually an activity. Screen time can have its uses, but when it comes to boredom busting, I’ve found that the more my kids watch, the more they whine about boredom. If we cut it out entirely, they hardly ever say they’re bored.
So kids, strap on in. Get ready for an under-scheduled summer full of a whole lot of nothing. Maybe dig some holes. Catch some toads. Find some crayons.
But don’t tell me you’re bored. Or I’ll tell you to clean your goddamn room.
I’m not your entertainment committee, you know.