Parenting

Boredom is a Boy’s Best Friend

We are on our winter break … savoring the twelve days of Christmas; purging our home of all things that are not purposeful, meaningful or beautiful; spending time with friends; wrapping up the old year, looking forward to the new.  All around us friends have commitments to spend time with family in various seasonal visits and celebrations.  Others are sick with winter colds and flu.  We are finding ourselves with more time alone as a family than we have, say, during summer break.  My son woke up anticipating playing with one friend in the morning and another in the afternoon.  He had plans.

We allow the boys a bit of time watching a movie or doing something on “a screen” many Saturdays at some point in the morning hours.  My eldest wanted to spend time watching tutorial videos about how to make a server on a computer.  He spent two hours with me overseeing him doing this.  When he finished it was time to be off the screen for the day.

Life needs balance.

My son went out to his neighbor’s home and called on him to come out and play.  He came back within a few moments asking me if they could play on his friend’s IPod while they waited for the rest of the family to finish chores so they could play a board game.  “Come on, Mom, only 20 minutes, just this one time.”  I paused and prayed.  You see, I have principles and guidelines.  My husband and I dialogue about our choices all the time.  But, I also lean on God as I parent — at least on my good days I sure do.  So, I paused.  I thought about how long he had been on the computer this morning.  I thought about our desires, our principles and what was ultimately best for this boy whom I love. 

I said, “Not today.”

He was a bit frustrated and asked again.  He assured me it was just this once.  He said, “Mom, we have nothing else to do.”  I paused again.  Nothing. Else.  Those words were key to me and I said again, “Not today, sweetie.”  My son, being the pre-teen that he is, got a bit miffed with me.  I encouraged him not to take my “no” answer out on me since it was an answer spoken in love, and from my care for him.  I reminded him that the easy road as a mom would be to let him eat whatever he wanted, sleep (or not) whenever he wanted, go wherever he wanted and watch unlimited TV, but parenting without setting loving limits is not parenting at all.  He knows, he knows.  So, he returned, more sullen than before to join his friend.  His friend was disappointed, spent a bit of time with my son and then decided to go inside where he would be allowed to play IPod if he wanted.  This put my son in a pinch.  He came home and stewed a bit.  I was so tempted to cave.  Caving isn’t always wrong.  Sometimes the best thing is to change one’s mind.  It isn’t inconsistent, it is a reflection of a life bent on seeking what is best.  But, this time I knew that he needed this.  Boredom.

He needed boredom.

He went to another friend’s home and that friend had been up too late and was feeling worn out so he wasn’t coming out to play today.  He came home lonely and bored.  It would have been so easy to say, “Okay, hun, go ahead, watch something.”  I said, instead, “I know you will find something to do.”  He didn’t like that answer.  He got a bit upset.  I stayed calm.  He said, “Do you know of something I should do?”  I said, “I have a million ideas, but in the space you are right now whatever I suggest will sound no good to you.”  I know these things.  I’ve been there.

So, he stewed around a bit.  Then, it began.  The rumble of creativity.

You see, nature abhors a vacuum, and my son was in a place where many of us lived day after day as children before our society shifted gears and TV became available 24 hours a day with 1000s of channels at our fingertips, before the internet was birthed and before people used screens for everything.  I risk sounding old-fashioned {and just plain old} when I say, “Back in my day we played outdoors all day long, with very few toys and the most engaging thing of all — our imagination.”  We think we have come so far.  We think we are doing our kids a favor, entertaining them to death, quelling them with availability of screens whenever they feel bored or dissatisfied, but are we?  I’m not a screen-hater.  I have friends who have no TV.  I have friends who have all the electronics available.  We try to run a balance.  We’re on a learning curve here too.

What I do know is that boredom is good for our children.  Boredom is the birthplace of imagination and creativity.  With enough white space, the mind kindles new thoughts and comes up with something it would never have were it stunted with some crutch of immediate gratification and external entertainment.

There are days when I know it is easy and best that I just turn on a show for a bit and let the boys chill out by watching something.  Everyone will have a range of opinions about what place this has in the life of their children.  In our home it is fine on occasion — like when we are all burnt out and just need down time, or on days when I am sick and they are stir-crazy.  It is okay occasionally, but when occasional becomes usual, there is a dependence that is not necessarily healthy.  When I consider what I want for my boys I realize that I want to allow for the uncomfortable space that fosters an ability for them to entertain themselves without relying on addictive behaviors. 

I want to help my children develop creativity, imagination and living out their own real life — not watching someone else live.  We do this by allowing them to wrestle through their own boredom.

In the end, my son found a board game he had been given several years ago and had never learned how to play.  He got it out, set it up and learned the rules by running through it on his own.  He spent about 40 minutes doing this.  When he was finished he was content.  He had gotten over the hurdle and the resistance and he was energized and peaceful.  He proceeded to his room to play piano for another half hour.  He found his way out of boredom into positive activity.  He did it.  Boredom was a boy’s best friend. 

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Jaime Johnson
    December 29, 2013 at 6:36 AM

    Thank you for this post!

  • Reply
    HeartsHomeward
    December 29, 2013 at 10:11 PM

    Jamie, Thank you for stopping by, reading and commenting! I love hearing that something I said was a blessing to you.

  • Reply
    Marcee Waymire
    December 30, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    Good stuff sister friend. Blessings to you this new year.

  • Reply
    HeartsHomeward
    December 30, 2013 at 4:04 PM

    Marcee! Thanks so much for popping over here and reading! Blessings to you, my sweet friend.

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