It strikes terror into the heart of every mother, paralyzes the best of teachers, antagonizes even good-natured babysitters. It's a short expression that packs a lot of punch. No one wants to hear their children say those dreaded words, "I'm bored."
Although not limited to summer (some challenging Sundays spring to mind), this 10-week long vacation (To whom it may concern: Summer break is too long!) certainly lends itself to the frequent use of this annoying and counterproductive expression.
Dennis Prager suggests responding, "You're not bored -- you're boring." While I question his tactics (and would be surprised to learn that he ever had a positive reaction to this strategy), I certainly appreciate his point. The world is fascinating. There is always something new to see, something new to learn. With the infinite knowledge and opportunities available, how can our children complain they're bored? Granted, sometimes "I'm bored" just means "I know there are activities out there but I'm too lazy to find them. Can you do it for me?" Not exactly a more endearing sentiment. And sometimes it just means "I'm bored."
It's particularly frustrating after all the money we've lavished on summer camp, the latest computer games, the newest toys...
It drives a mother (father, sibling, nanny, neighbor two doors down) crazy! And yet I wonder if it's possible there's an explanation that takes the responsibility off our children, an explanation that we would not find so flattering. Is it possible that like so many other things, this is a lesson they've learned from us?
Do they see us flit from project to project, unable to sit down and really see something through to the end, excited by the vision and not the nitty gritty work? Or do they see us snapping up the latest fashions and appliances? Is our home constantly being redone to reflect some new decorating style? Do they notice our friends and acquaintances searching out more exotic trips in more unusual locales? Do they hear people complain that their private jet is not state of the art? (Yes, I have actually heard that!)
We live in world where many people are bored, where many adults don't know where to turn to satisfy their restless yearning. For a friend's birthday, my son and his buddies recently went to watch turtle racing. Need I say more?
If we want our children to stop whining "I'm bored" (the tone doesn't help), we need to communicate to them our own excitement in life. We need to share the fascination found in getting to know new people, in exploring nature, in delving into ideas.
If our children see us enthralled with everyday vistas and experiences, they will learn to do the same.
A friend of mine used to take his kids on outings to the local gourmet grocery store (I already hear mine groaning in the background!). He taught them to admire the colors and bounty of all the fruits and vegetables, not to mention the orderly arrangement.
We need to share the joy and awe of the ocean, a thunderstorm, a rose in bloom, a warm cookie from the oven (A good activity that involves preparation, cooking and cleaning – with the practical benefit of eating!), and a good book. We can show them the wonder of the library, a botanical garden, a train station, an airport. My kids were recently wowed by the polar bears in the Central Park Zoo, especially since they were moving around instead of sleeping, by the crowds in Manhattan, by the lights of Times Square.
Sometimes we need to point out the magic all around us. Mostly we need to experience it ourselves as well. If our children see us enthralled with everyday vistas and experiences, they will learn to do the same. Excitement is contagious (as are yawns of boredom).
If you follow this prescription, I can't promise you that you'll never hear "I'm bored" again, but you may no longer feel compelled to do something about it.