Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Advocating Boredom


When I was little I was forbidden to say these two words: I'm bored. Those two words, while mundane, drove my mother crazy.  I would get a lecture: What do you mean you're bored! You have all those books and a video game system (Atari back then and later the original Nintendo)! You have friends you can play with and that computer thing your dad bought you (Yes, and original Commodore 64)!
I was always left to my own devices which usually included exploring the woods, roaming around the railroad tracks, watching some TV, and, if really desperate, cleaning my room. My mother put me in sports like baseball and soccer and martial arts, but never really made it an issue because somewhere in her she knew the real truth: Boredom is a good thing.

Perhaps this is just an extension of yesterday's post about enjoying my downtime.  Facebook was alive with a thousand different posts from students and adults who, in an ice storm, found themselves with three unexpected days off.  If they were trapped at their houses because of road conditions they were experiencing cabin fever, but if they were in town and couldn't get their usual hangouts they were bored.  Even though they were in front of computers, on Facebook, probably texting on their phones, and watching TV/listening to music/playing video games at the same time. From this I've learned that parents have not taught their children the appreciation for boredom, which might be why they are so wrapped up in their online world.
When I was little I was forbidden to say these two words: I'm bored. Those two words while mundane drove my mother crazy.  I would get a lecture: What do you mean you're bored! You have all those books and a video game system (Atari back then and later the original Nintendo)! You have friends you can play with and that computer thing your dad bought you (Yes, and original Commodore 64)!
I was always left to my own devices which usually included exploring the woods, roaming around the railroad tracks, watching some TV, and if really desperate cleaning my room. My mother put me in sports like baseball and soccer and martial arts, but never really made it an issue because somewhere in her she knew the real truth: Boredom is a good thing.
The New York Times posted an article this morning: Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction.  It talks about how technology is influencing youth's ability to prioritize in school because it is constantly disctracted by all the online stimulation. While the article was good, I about clicked away from it half way through because the top half is all what we've heard before: Children are distracted by their homework because of Facebook. Children are distracted by video games. Children are distracted by TV.  ETC> ETC. Not until you reach the lower half of the article does a different truth start to come out.  Our children are overbooked. Are children need downtime that is not wrapped up in homework, sports, books, Facebook, and socializing.  Our children need boredom.
There are other small bits of realization if you read deep enough into this article:
  1. We are at an educational revolution where every child has the potential to discover their talents at a much earlier age.
  2. The school system is not set up to teach to those talents, but with places like Hutchison Institute of Technology in Fairbanks, Alaska are a step in the right direction.
  3. This "necessity" for cell phones are based on OUR FEARS as parents.  I didn't have a cell phone as a child and I wondered into the woods by myself all the time.  I biked into the city on roads without sidewalks. I went swimming in a lake with no lifeguard on my own. When in the city I only went places with my cousins who were a year older and a year younger, but we knew how to take care of ourselves and each other.
  4. Advanced placement classes should not necessarily be the goal if they don't fit in with our children's true talents.
Let's be real.  Cell phones are status symbols.  People oooh and aww about my new i-phone all the time and I like it.  I read off people's Facebook status's to the kids as they're playing video games because it's a non-invasive way of being involved in their lives.  I post at 2am when I'm bored, but don't want to go to sleep.  And yes I'm distracted by the online world.  But I also know a stopping point when boredom and mundane things like ironing can help calm the mind.
Let your kids be bored.  It's healthy.

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