One of the things I am grateful for in our world today is the attention given to the loving nurture and care of children. We see more and more products being made, articles being written, and churches being built, with children in mind. We see mom’s and dad’s more intention than ever about the physical and social wellbeing of their children. These are all good things. When our kids have a need, we not only try to meet it, we anticipate it and try to meet that need before they ask. So when our kids say they are bored it is not a warning sign in them; it is a perceived deficiency in us. We didn’t anticipate the downtime they would experience and bring the devices or tools to occupy their minds to keep them from being bored. This wasn’t always the case. I grew up in the Jurassic period before cell phones, cable and video game systems. We got bored… a lot.
Andy Crouch has written an excellent new book that discusses the joy of boredom in the world of anti-boredom devices. His new book The Tech-Wise Family is a must buy for every family that struggles with screen time and bored children (so basically everyone). Andy says that:
The technology that promises to release us from boredom is actually making it worse— making us more prone to seek empty distractions than we have ever been. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get.
This rubs against the very grain of what we have been taught and indoctrinated with in the past 20 years, yet rings strangely true for those of us old enough to remember what it was like in the “Old Days”. We have an unspoken rule of thumb in our family. If our kids don’t say “I’m Bored” often, something is wrong. We start assessing our schedules. We evaluate screen time. Boredom is a warning sign and is actually the beginning to doing something meaningful rather than achieving the next level in a game that doesn’t matter.
Boredom is actually a crucial warning sign — as important in its own way as physical pain. It’s a sign that our capacity for wonder and delight, contemplation and attention, real play and fruitful work, has been dangerously depleted…. We now have the technology to be perpetually distracted from boredom, and thus we never realize how bored we really are.
The biggest thing we miss in raising our kids and anticipating their needs is that if they never experience the pain of boredom they never learn the virtues of patience, wisdom, and longsuffering through the mundane moments of this life that social media can not cure and does not cover. We must teach our kids how in the boring moments of life, we reflect, we remember, and we grow. It’s in the moments that are not filled with winning and happiness that we train our hearts to find it’s joy in Christ.
Those hours have been spent avoiding suffering — avoiding the suffering of our banal, boring modern world with its airport security lines and traffic jams and parking lots, but also avoiding the suffering of learning patience, wisdom, and virtue and putting them into practice.
The reality is that it is never too late to start to train your kids on what boredom actually is. To get them to come out from behind their backlit devices and enjoy the full light of a summer day. It’s not too late for us to put down our devices and join them in developing new ways to see the world, new talents to enrich our corner of the world and read new books to open our eyes to unseen places in the world. The less we cure our boredom and anticipate our children’s boredom the greater our capacities will be for seeing, enjoying and ultimately doing great things in the world we live in.
The good news is that the more often we resist the easy solution, the easier the solution will be to find— because our children (and we ourselves) will start to develop capacities to explore and discover that will make them less prone to be bored in the first place.
This is not an anti-technology rant as the means of which I am writing and you are reading is through backlit devices. The call I am making to myself first and to you second is to enjoy the gifts you have been given but not at the expense of the world we live in. Boredom should not be an indictment on your lack of “fun” factor. It should be the warning light that your kids need a greater capacity to see the beauty of the mundane and to find their joy in God.