Summer's Essential Dose of Boredom

When I visited the refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border or slum communities in India, I was struck by the gleeful way children played. Using an old bicycle wheel and a stick, for example, or a pile of pebbles, they invented countless games and pastimes. When we returned to life in an American suburb, I was shocked by the absence of play. Where were the kids, anyway? David Elkind’s The Hurried Child posited that they were being shuttled from one adult-organized activity to the next. When they were at home, they didn’t play — they were entertained by other adult-generated activities. Kids in western cultures were forgetting how to play.

Play is defined as “activities bringing amusement or enjoyment, especially the spontaneous activity of young children or young animals.” The intrinsic spontaneity of play is what stimulates a young person’s imagination. Without any adult input, kids must come up with amusement or enjoyment. Benign, distant parental vigilance steers them away from harmful activities (i.e., “when children are bored, they tease the cat”), but provides little or no direction. Our children need an unhurried pace of life, freedom from adult manipulation, and a fair amount of boredom to give their imaginations scope for growth.

So the next time your kids whine, "I'm bo-o-o-red," see it as a sign of good parenting and resist the urge to intervene. A dose of extreme boredom might be exactly what they need ... but keep an eye on the cat.

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