(That title is meant to be provocative, by the way… we do let them read, just not whatever they want or whenever they want. The “whatever they want” is covered here. The “whenever” is what I want to cover in this post.)
“I think she’s bored,” a friend said recently, regarding my oldest daughter. At almost ten, she’s getting to that stage where playing with toys and climbing trees isn’t as fun as it used to be and since we don’t watch television very often or play video games or let her read books during the day (those are reserved for bedtime, and hopefully you’ll see why by the end of this post), she doesn’t have many of the typical recreational options available to her that other kids have. Since my friend mentioned this, I’ve been watching my oldest daughter carefully for signs of boredom. And you know what? My friend is right. I think my oldest daughter IS sometimes bored. But is boredom a bad thing?
Here is what I’ve noticed, about our “Bunchkin,” as I’ve monitored her for boredom…
She doesn’t stay bored for long. And she doesn’t alleviate her boredom in what I would imagine are ways typical for children her age. She occupies herself by organizing closets, cleaning the basement, doing the laundry, giving her baby sister a bath. She’s not big on art, so while her brothers and sisters will sometimes get out the crayons and paper when they’re tired of playing with cars or dolls, Bunchkin will jump on Daddy’s computer and type. She’ll do her math work before it’s time to do so, or practice her violin. Keep in mind that she’s doing all of this on her own. While she has chores she’s responsible for each day (all the kids do, you can read about our reasons here, but I hope we haven’t gotten so lazy in America that I need to explain why the kids do chores), none of her responsibilities include giving the baby a bath or cleaning the basement. Those are the things she does to entertain herself. And she loves it! At least once a week, she’ll ask if she can stay up past bedtime to “do a late night,” what she calls a night where she puts on worship music at a blaring volume and swiffers the kitchen floor, dusts the living room, washes the windows, vacuums the floor and a host of other domestic duties she finds for herself to do. Sometimes one of her sisters will do it with her, sometimes she asks to be alone to “spend time with God.”
So I go back to my original question: is boredom a bad thing? My daughter fills her time and alleviates her “boredom” by occupying herself with domestic duties. That isn’t to say that I don’t have some responsibility in alleviating her boredom… I need to do better about giving her things to do, like teaching her to sew or knit or crochet, all things she’s expressed interest in that I haven’t gotten around to teaching her. And these are actually the things my friend was suggesting when she alerted me to the fact that my daughter is often bored (she doesn’t subscribe to the idea that kids should be entertained by TV or video games all day long, either.) But being alerted to this fact (which I think is more pronounced when she’s at my friend’s house than when she’s at home, simply because she does keep herself busy at home with things she wouldn’t feel comfortable asking to do at someone else’s house [ie clean out a closet]) has made me think about how we typically view boredom in our culture. It’s enemy number one in most American households. Give a child a video game to play, a movie to watch, a television mounted inside the car so that they don’t have to go fifteen minutes down the road without being plugged in to something that will “entertain” them.
Am I the only one seeing the horror of this? Too many kids have lost the ability to entertain themselves. Worse, many parents think that kids SHOULD be entertained during all their waking moments. The very idea that my oldest daughter is doing the laundry when she’s bored is going to horrify some parents. They’re going to think that she slaves away all day long because I’m forcing her to do chores instead of go outside and play. For those parents, please read what I said earlier… she does the laundry because she wants to. She has fun doing the laundry (horror of horrors!) My daughter thinks that housework is a fun thing to do when she’s bored. How many millions of ways is that going to serve her, as an adult!!! How much easier and more enjoyable will that make her job as a homemaker (whether we have careers or not, all women who live in houses are “homemakers”), in ways that shoving a book or a video control in her hands never could?
There is a very good reason that we reserve books for bedtime and other “down times” during the day (when the baby is taking a nap, for instance.) We don’t want our children to escape into a fictional world any time they’re “bored.” We want them to learn to occupy themselves, find creative things to do and learn to express themselves and find enjoyment in everyday activities. That’s not to say that we don’t set aside movie days for them every now and then, or that ALL reading is done at bedtime (she’s allowed to pick up a bible or a school book any time she so desires.) And that isn’t to say that I don’t need to do a better job about finding recreational activities for her, as I’ve already mentioned. But I believe that this idea that children should constantly be entertained is setting us up for problems. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that ADHD has risen to the levels it has in this generation. Kids simply don’t know how to rest their minds anymore. They can’t sit still when we need them to, because we so rarely require it of them.
So, my oldest daughter is sometimes bored** and I have some things I need to work on. In the months ahead, I plan to busy her hands with crochet needles and quilt pieces and a violin bow (she’ll be officially enrolled in lessons next semester.) Not in an effort to entertain her, but to give her another outlet in which to occupy herself in ways that will contribute to her life as an adult, resting her mind and expressing her creativity rather than entertaining her mind and escaping reality. I plan to give her something else to do, besides putting away laundry or washing the windows. Not instead of, but in addition to. I plan to expand her domestic repertoire and give her more fun things to do when she’s “bored.”
I’m convinced she’ll be a better person for it.
**After I wrote this, I read it to my older kids (we like to involve them in the reasons for our parenting decisions, whenever we can, and we hadn’t ever talked with them about the way we handle boredom before) and my oldest daughter wanted to clarify something. She suggested that I change something that I wrote, because she wanted to explain that she is NOT bored. In her own words: “I just like to do the laundry because I like to pretend that it’s my responsibility.” I asked her if she was ever bored when she visits at our friend’s house, and she said: “no, I like to follow her around and help her do things and I watch the babies. I like doing that.”
The Greenhouse Effect (why we “shelter” our children)
Helping Hands and Tying Heartstrings (why they do chores)
“Fair” is Where They Sill Pigs … (why we don’t treat them “fairly”