I have not named the feeling of “boredom” to my daughter yet. I dread the day when she ruefully yells that she’s bored of doing something or (worse) tells me that what I’m saying is boring! Gasp! It’s not that boredom is a bad word, but the expectations that come along with announcing your boredom, especially as a kid, seem to be that it’s time for someone else to entertain you. Or that you need more toys because all of yours are boring. Or that there isn’t enough on TV because what you’re watching is boring. I’m getting a little agitated just imagining all of these scenarios. Besides sounding pretty bratty, kids who pronounce their boredom are basically saying that they’re entitled to being excited or engaged by everything around them every minute of the day.
Parents play a big role in introducing this idea when we see our kids drifting or thinking or just sitting and immediately label this (perfectly normal) occurrence as boredom. We tell them they look bored. We ask why they are bored. We also put such a high value on the “fun” they could or should be having that anything besides fun is…well, boring. It’s either one or the other. No in betweens.
In reality, kids are preprogrammed not to be “bored.” They are naturally inquisitive, curious, watchful and eager to learn. How else do they learn to walk, talk or play games with other kids? If they could actually get bored from trying to figure out how to walk, we’d have a lot more teenagers in wheelchairs who decided that learning to walk was just too boring for them!
If you’ve ever watched the movie Babies, you may remember the “non-Western” babies who lived in rural, remote areas. They had relatively little to play with, little to make their environments “fun” (as you and I would think), but they seemed anything but bored. Boredom isn’t a product of not having enough to capture our attention. It is a by-product of our go-go-go society.
Our kids are inevitably going to get bored in their lives, but I want to caution us to refrain from a) calling their stillness boredom and b) working to fill “bored” voids with “fun.” Stillness is something that many of us wish we could achieve. If we witness it in our kids, let’s not drum it out of them by calling it a ‘dirty word’ when they’re young. They’re going to be alone with their thoughts for the rest of their lives (as are we all), so we should allow them some room to learn how to deal with boredom. Because for so many of us being alone with our thoughts is scary or <gulp> unproductive. And let’s also not teach them to expect manufactured fun at every turn. They are responsible for themselves. If they want to create some fun or join some ongoing fun, that’s awesome. But if we simply work to make a sparkly situation to distract them (and us!) from the possibility of boredom, we’re just teaching them to avoid quiet and reflection.
This is why, for the time being at least, I will still not call any of my daughters actions or behaviors ‘boredom.’ She’ll have plenty of time in her life to learn how distasteful we Americans find the state of boredom. I don’t need to clue in her just yet.