Bring Boredom Back
By Laura DiFatta
November 22, 2016
Jennifer Hagler Photography
By Buffy York
By Laura DiFatta
Boredom: It is a word that sends shivers down the spines of my kids. But the “B” word is a thing that I have learned to appreciate. I recently heard an expert on youth culture speak on the subject of raising kids in this culture. One of the most intriguing things he said was this: “Empathy and Compassion are developed in the brain during times of… boredom.”
A Benefit of Boredom
Wow! I’ve long thought that boredom was good for kids, but that is some solid encouragement! When our kids are bored, it doesn’t mean their brains are on pause. Their brains are actually actively processing and assimilating information and experiences, growing in empathy and compassion. More seeing from others’ viewpoints? More active caring moved by the needs of others? Yes, please.
A Blessing of Boredom
I’ve noticed that moments of boredom at my house are precursors to human interaction.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road for moms and dads. (You know what I’m saying, it’s easier to manage plugged-in kids. No guilt trip here. I get it.) You may have noticed this phenomenon too: shut off the devices and things get noisier, people start moving and talking and sometimes fussing. That’s ok! These moments are part of their necessary inter-relational learning. We parents get to speak into these moments when we allow them to happen. We actually get to be a part of and reinforce our kids’ developing empathy and compassion and their practicing behavior that is a blessing to others! It’s a beautiful (and sometimes messy) thing. But these moments are vital for healthy emotional and relational development. These are the moments they learn how to be polite, how to share, how to look someone in the eye when they are speaking, how to be helpful, how to negotiate and on and on. And if your kids are active learners like mine are, being bored will get them moving. And their brains will be processing even more!
A Boon of Boredom
Wisdom. The development of wisdom requires time for contemplation. Contemplation happens in moments of boredom/freedom to think. The definition of wisdom: “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge and good judgment (which is a sensible conclusion.) A person can know a lot of facts and be unwise. Wisdom is sensibly applying what you know. The aforementioned expert said that the millennial generation and younger have grown up with smartphones and easy access to technology has been a virtual firehose of 24/7 information coming at them.
My kids enjoy warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies. Of course, we love the sugar in a cookie recipe, but butter adds richness and balance to the flavor and it makes all of the other ingredients stick to form a nice dough. To have the best cookies you have to have all the ingredients. I like to think of wisdom as the butter of our lives and knowledge as the sugar/flour mixture. We love for our kids to have knowledge and to be smart, but they really need the necessary ingredient of wisdom in order to apply the knowledge they acquire in beneficial ways. This is where the older generational help is so needed— to help them process the vast amounts of information they are receiving in this age of technology.
Buck up! DO NOT BE AFRAID!
They need our help. They do. We not only have to interact with them over the content of what they are reading and watching via their best buddy- the smartphone, but we also have to be intentional in helping them unplug.
We have to do the sometimes hard work of helping them be bored.
(I know the fear of a child’s reaction is a factor for many parents. It’s amazing but true.) They will not die, even though they may act like they will. I have tested this theory with my two teens (our youngest does not have an iPad, etc.) They’ll be fine.
IDEAS: Start small: 30 minutes tech-free a day. Another idea we use and have found successful: Tech-free Sundays dawn to dark. Kids never looked forward to sundown so much. Remember: You’re not hurting, you’re helping.
Like eating their greens, our kids won’t see boredom the way we do: as a good thing for them. But that’s why we are the parents. They need us. We have to keep our eyes on the prize when the tantrums (and let’s face it, kids of ALL ages throw tantrums of some sort) make the hard seem too daunting. The prize: wise, compassionate, empathetic children who are interested in others and can confidently carry on an engaging conversation. Our effort starts freshly today and continues tomorrow and keeps on the next day… it’s worth it! Guard your child’s moments and don’t let boredom get stolen by a device. They need our help to get free and find balance.
Device Free, Relational Me:
One way I am going to help/bless my boys this Thanksgiving break is to give them time without their devices, (this is going on as I type these words. I’m so popular here right now!) I especially want them to be device/distraction-free when they are with relatives they rarely see.
I also plan to suggest conversation prompts for fun interactions that I have a feeling will bless their grandparents and them.
Here are some of the prompts:
“Tell me about your favorite childhood vacation or memory.”
“What is your favorite holiday food? Did you like it as a child?”
“What is your funniest holiday memory?”
Or perhaps what might be the favorite for a grandmother to hear: “Do you need help with anything?”
Or my personal favorite: “Papa, will you go outside with me?” Music to my ears.
Over the break perhaps you, too, need some stillness, a break from the information stream and a chance just to contemplate, process and enjoy some peace. And to reflect on your many blessings. One of my favorite verses of scripture speaks to this need:
“Be still (rest, reflect, calm yourself) and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
The implied blessing of the “being still” in this verse is remembering the awesomeness of God and that He is for us, intimately caring for our needs!
You are not alone. There is more than just this moment. There is more than just this world and its current events. You are loved eternally by the God who made you, who has given you a hope and a future and who holds all things together. I hope you will remember those truths for yourself and I hope that you will remind your kids of the same. May the blessing of boredom be yours this holiday season.