Column: Don't tell me you're bored to death

Jul. 09, 2014 @ 09:32 AM

July holds the distinction of being National Anti-boredom Month, an unofficial declaration someone invented, mostly likely, because they were bored. When I discovered that month-long emphasis last week, I cringed remembering a previous reference to boredom brought up by one of our children.

To preface, I must say that an advantage of having adult children is that they keep parents humble. Their adult minds dredge the years of childhood history to remind us of parental mistakes and failings, things we’ve long since forgotten, offered in good humor of course -— well, most of the time. At a family gathering not long ago, one of our grandsons uttered the word “bored,” prompting our oldest son to tell about my rant over that particular word 20-some years ago.

The story goes that third daughter around the age of 8 years walked through the kitchen one summer day, and with a touch of drama sighed, “I’m bored.” To her credit she may have merely attempted to say something mature, like one of the girls in “The Parent Trap,” since she ordinarily found plenty to do with her time. Maybe I was hormonal, maybe I had too many snap beans to can or too many loads of laundry, but whatever the cause, I snapped.

“Bored! So, you’re bored! Well, I can think of plenty of things for you to do if you are bored!” I launched a verbal missile that exploded right in front of her. I used everything in the arsenal: first the customary when-I-was-growing-up part about having no time to be bored because we worked all the time. (That was an exaggeration.) Then I followed with the reminder that boredom was selfish because one could always do something for someone else if bored. The scariest point to the kids was the threat that household work made a sure cure for boredom. I’m certain that the daughter enduring the drill suddenly remembered a thousand things to do and ran away at that point.

I’ve had lots of time to re-think the whole boredom rant, one of many, I’m sure. Like most parents, my reactions are often based on my own upbringing, and my intolerance of boredom came directly from my own mama. She had treated me the same way. If we children were not working, we had to keep ourselves occupied. She did not plan our recreation, nor did she concern herself with our happiness in that respect. If we were miserable doing nothing, that was our own fault, not her business. Not exactly a soccer-mom mentality.

Because of our duty to “work” at playing, we became resourceful, as most all the kids I knew were. We built forts in the woods, became engineers constructing dams across the creek, played house, played games, played store, played cowboys and Indians, played race cars on our bicycles, read books, made a Flintstones town with flat rocks on a road bank, sewed doll clothes, learned to knit and embroider, picked wild strawberries, collected things, made things, took apart things. We stayed busy.

Current research in brain development gives my mama a thumbs-up for having her children interact with their environment and play on their own. In a most natural way we were building neural pathways in our brains necessary for functions in adult life. Because our kids came along before we could afford much technology, they also learned to be resourceful in play. For that I am thankful.

As you might expect, I’m of the opinion that kids need to play more these days, real hands-on playtime where they are free to invent and imagine and interact with their world. I realize it’s easier to stick children in front of a television or other screen, but in the long run kids’ internal processes may be deficient, things like focus, creativity and resourcefulness in figuring out things farther down the road in their learning experiences. The American Psychological Association provides extensive brain-based learning studies to that effect.

The last time he was here my 6-year-old grandson took kiddie scissors, poked holes in a Solo cup, and stuck little bunches of paper napkin in each hole—a random project, maybe, but he was creating something. Keep it up, buddy, plastic-cup engineer, build those brain connections and don’t ever be bored, I thought to myself.

So, I leave you with those thoughts during Anti-boredom Month! If you’re still reading, perhaps I haven’t, ahem . . . bored you.