Maggie A's Meanderings




 Mar 1, 2015

The Importance of Being Bored (in Childrearing)

In the days before smartphones, tablets and handheld video games, my generation was taught a lesson that proved very useful when we became adults. It was a lesson in how to endure being bored........

It was our parents who decided what TV program would be watched and what station the car radio was set on. If you didn't like what was on TV, you could leave the room. But kids were stuck with listening to what was on the car radio even if it was old people's music. You could make maybe one complaint about the radio and then you had to shut up.

Shutting up was something we learned a lot about. Now it wasn't as bad as when Laura Ingalls Wilder described her husband's Civil War era childhood in the book Little Farmer Boy where "children should be seen and not heard" and so were not permitted to speak at the family dinner table. Because for us speaking at the family dinner table was where we learned a lot of our manners like not saying "I want" or "Give me" to our parents, but to ask for something saying "Please" and to say "Thank you" when you got it and in my family we learned to always, always, always say "Thank you" to our mother for preparing the meal even if it all it was was a bowl of canned soup. But even though we could speak at the family dinner table, there were other times when we learned to shut up and not fuss.

I can remember accompanying my parent(s) when they were visiting friends. If the friends had children your age, it wasn't bad. You would be sent to play with the kids. But often there weren't any kids at the home. Then you had to just sit while the adults talked. If you were lucky they might give you a magazine or book to page through. But usually you just had to sit either in the same room with the grown-ups or in another room by yourselves. You couldn't interrupt them constantly asking for stuff or jumping into the conversation with whatever came into your head at the moment. You couldn't squirm or fuss. You sure didn't get into a fight with your sibling when your parents were visiting their friends. No. The grown-ups were talking and you had to be quiet. Misbehaving wasn't indulged. We learned that the world didn't revolve around us and how we felt at that moment. We learned that adults had a separate world and when they were in it, you had to respect that ----- no matter how bored you were. I can remember one visit where I spent it counting the buttons in the living room upholstery over and over again as my mother talked in the kitchen. And in other homes, I did a lot of quiet studying of their decors as that was the only thing to look at.

We learned when you visited a sick person in the hospital you were supposed to greet the sick person then sit quietly as the adults talked about medical stuff you didn't understand. We learned that the sick person was allowed to complain (a lot), but you weren't.

We also learned to sit through droning church services because back then there weren't "family" church services designed to keep children amused. There was only the adult church service and was it ever boring. There might be a separate room for mothers with crying babies and if you were a toddler there might be a play area, but if you were school aged, you just had to sit there and take it, even if it was Sunday there was no school and you'd rather be outside playing because it was a beautiful day. (
I don't include school when it comes to enduring boredom with forced grace. Even we had ways of dealing with boredom in school: passing notes, sending signals, reading, doodling & drawing, etc. none of which we were supposed to be doing.)

The culmination of all this enduring of boredom was the family car trip. Despite movies where the trips are portrayed as a humorous nightmare of endless "Are we there yet?," "He touched me," fighting and kicking the back of the seat, the reality was different. Yes, there was the occasional "Are we there yet?" or "How much longer?" but, believe me, it was only occasional. The first backseat fight resulted in the parental foot coming down and rules established for the rest of the trip. (The one in my family was "No part of your body can cross this" as my father drew an imaginary line across the seat.) You might start the trip with a puzzle book or a book to read or maybe there'd be a game of looking for something but that would soon become tedious. So we would sit behaving ourselves in the back seat for hour after hour doing nothing but watching the miles roll by.

But that lesson in enduring boredom is a lesson that this generation of children is not being taught. Instead, car radios are set to the children's music. They've got a plethora of personal electronics (phones, tablets, MP3 players, games, etc) to keep them occupied at all times. If the adults are talking, the kids are on their electronics. And if they get tired of it, they're free to interrupt the adults and let them know. When visiting a sick person in the hospital, the parent has two stacks of stuff: one for the invalid and one to keep the kid busy. Children are learning that the world does revolve around them and what they're feeling ----- especially if they're feeling bored which must be prevented at all costs.

And "Why not?" you ask. Well, because life isn't always going like that. Eventually, those children are going to become grown-ups. And grown-ups, like it or not, have to put up with being bored. Your boss isn't going to care if you're bored. If you're bored in a business meeting, you can't pull out your phone and start watching a TV show. You have to sit there and take it. Think about all the situations in your adult life when you've been bored stiff: meetings, speeches, religious ceremonies, meals with people you don't like, etc. You could handle those and sit there acting like you're supposed to because you had the self-control from learning how to handle being temporarily bored as a child.

But today's children haven't learned how to handle being bored. They're used to a constant stream of entertaining input. And I think the adult world where they're expected to do what they're supposed to do and not be entertained at all times is going to come as an unpleasant and unwelcome surprise to those children.

bored person

For more my take on childrearing, there's 
"When You Think God's Light Shines Out of Your Kid's Asshole.........You're Raising a Brat (And Why It's Not Doing Your Kid Any Favors)" and "Truly Odd Parents: Parents Who Take a Hard Job and Make It Harder,"

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