The Gift of Boredom
- Thursday, May 03, 2012
A 10-year-old boy takes a mental survey of his “electronic entertainment” options in a matter of seconds. Uninterested, he snaps the power button to “off” and tosses the gadget onto the couch with an exasperated sigh. He leans forward and flips open a magazine on the coffee table in front of him. No good. Another sigh. He rises and looks out the window at his sled that is leaning against the tree and half-buried in snow. “Too much work,” he thinks.
As he saunters through the kitchen, he grabs a pretzel and moves past the cupboard where the family keeps all the board games. So yesterday. Ever since the computer had gone on the fritz earlier in the morning, this child had become a never-ending stream of sighs.
Wait for it. You knew it was only a matter of time.
He finally catches up with you in the laundry room. He schlumphs himself across the washing machine. “Mom ... ” (here it comes!) “I’m bored.”
Boom. There it is. Those dreaded words: the I’m-bored declaration signifying that your child’s brain is losing power, slowly fading, and is in immediate need of a quick injection of mental stimulation. When that happens, what does he do? He turns to you. Why? Because you’re the mom. You have ideas. You have solutions. You have an inexhaustible supply of interesting possibilities to save this child from a fate of a vanilla ice cream day in a world of fudge ripple possibilities.
Don’t get me wrong. Your child seeking mental stimulation is not a bad thing. I’d even argue that it’s good. A mind at rest ... frankly, should be asleep. So I agree with him. If he’s awake, something interesting should be going on in those brain cells. No argument there. But here’s the problem. Once a child makes that fearsome pronouncement, it seems to set off alarms in us: “Oh, no! Not the dreaded brain boredom. Whatever shall we do?” And we leap into action, coming up with a litany of possibilities to stem the tide of the rising boredom.
Many of us have bought into the relatively recent and trendy lie that good parenting involves providing an unending stream of interesting activities for our children: museums, craft projects, science experiments, music lessons. These are all good things, and I won’t tell you that you should not include such activities in your child’s life. But there’s another very important activity that you should regularly make sure your child is blessed to experience: boredom.
You heard me. There’s a wonderful thing that happens to a child when he is permitted a large window of unplanned time. First, he becomes bored, which he isn’t going to see as wonderful at all. Next, he will most likely whine, which you won’t see as wonderful at all. But then, after some time passes, if you let the boredom really take hold, the most amazing thing happens: his brain kicks into gear.
You can trust this next universal force: he will not permit himself to be bored forever. He eventually begins to utilize a weak and seldom worked muscle: his imagination. He creates his own interesting activity. Suddenly he’s making machines and devising situations and creating new games by using the power of his own mind and hands. That is ... he will if you don’t jump in and provide them with a mom-created activity.
If you feel compelled to step up and hand him something to do without letting him create his own interesting activity, you rob him of several things:
• The power of knowing that he need never, ever, ever be bored. It is not something that happens to him. Rather, it is something that he allows. And just as easily, he has the power to stop it.
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