My boy isn’t impressed when I express pride every time he announces “I’m bored.” At five years old he’s reached a new plateau and its one that has him slightly confused. When he was a baby signs of restlessness were greeted with me singing with him, bouncing on my knee or introducing new sights or sounds. Toddlerhood had his own explorations, but sometimes I would come in to set up a new sensory table, a new activity. As he grew a little more, he looked to his sisters for amusement, getting involved in their games, getting them to play with him, trying to be twelve rather than four. He has played and played and played, frustratingly never learning or moving forward, but having quality time with his sisters. But now at five and a half, he’s wiser. He’s played great games with all of us and he wants to do more, but he’s developed preference on what he likes to play and simply joining in to other people’s stories, just isn’t cutting it. His old games and toys, don’t seem to offer amusement and so often we just won’t do what he wants us to do. So, the wail of “I’m bored” follows.
And his mother says, “I’m so glad”, and I am.
Our children aren’t bored enough now days. We as parents seem to feel it’s our job to amuse, to set up and distract. Sure, I play. I can often be found on a bed driving some imaginary bus and saving some stuffed toys from some horrible fate, but then I stop for a bit, or sit on the “bus” and read, while he rides, drives and saves. I’ll offer options, but he’s five now and my instincts have told me, it’s time to enable, but not to amuse.
Remember car trips? Remember staring out the window for sometimes days, watching the world wiz by and imagining everything under the sun, even just swearing you’d never take your children on road trips?
Remember going shopping with our mothers, or waiting for them to get their hair done? Remember playing with our fingers, as they were the only amusement, literally, on hand?
Now, we seem to do everything in our power to make sure our children aren’t bored. We offer them toys or iphones, we offer them treats to distract them or simply get other people to take care of them while we shop, so it goes smoother and they don’t get bored, because that would be a disaster. But who is it a disaster for? Is it really that bad for them that they are bored, or is it the inconvenience for us that make us avoid it so frantically?
Boredom offers opportunity. It is our spirit’s way of saying I have room here. I have space where I can do something different. I want to try something new. I’m ready for the next adventure. Boredom says let’s try something crazy. Boredom is the imagination’s invitation to come out and play. That’s why our parents did well to offer us that tub of clay or simple blocks to compete with boredom; they are tools for the imagination, rather than amusement or distraction for it.
Our children are children at an important time. Some say that when 85% of them retire from their careers, those jobs haven’t even been invented yet. Their imaginations have to be razor sharp, yet we live in a world that can actually blunt it. Boredom invites them to find solutions to problems, even if it’s just jumping on their bed chanting I’m bored! Boredom asks them to ask themselves what they think, what they want to do, whereas computers, iphones and most toys of today tell them what to do and not to think about it.
Well my son hates being told what to do, and although he’s been allowed to experiment with a few computer games, he’s come to the conclusion that they don’t leave much room for him to make the rules. His sisters don’t like him to make the rules either. But his imagination does. His stuffed toys do.
He still might not be too impressed with my “Yay for boredom” attitude and he’s a little confused when I say, “Hey squint you eyes and watch the light dance”. But he’s getting there.
And I still will join in a game every once and awhile, as long as his amusement isn’t depending on me to play. I’ll join in for my own amusement knowing he is strong and smart enough to create his own.