The Death of Boredom or Bored to Death?

I worry about my grandchildren, specifically, and our youngest generation of students, generally, and their overall inability to accept boredom into their lives.{{more}} Without boredom, how will they think?

When I was a child, my mother and father expected me to rake, shovel, dust, and do a whole host of very boring things. Yet, while I did these chores, my mind was active. As a duster, I remember ‘staging’ commercials in my mind. I could dramatically wave my hands and adlib about my streak-free shine and Pledge’s ability to bring out the natural beauty of the wood.

As I got older, I used the boring times, such as walking home from field hockey practice or washing dishes at Friendlies, to problem-solve the ‘major’ issues in my young life. I ran scenarios; I pre-scripted upcoming events (as in, I’ll say this, and then he’ll say that, and then I’ll say…); I made plans, both for the weekend … and for the future.

Even now, when I’m driving home to Massachusetts or gardening in the backyard, my mind is active. Boredom is important to my mental processes. Boredom is where I reminisce about the past and sift through new opportunities, ideas, and solutions. Boredom leads to a clear mind. A clear mind leads to creativity.

The problem I see in my beloved and beautiful grandchildren is their desire to fill every moment with activity and their complete uneasiness with ‘boredom.’

If we are early to the movie and the previews haven’t started, if we’re riding the escalator in the mall, or even standing in the kitchen, waiting for the toast to pop up, they are texting or playing a quick game of ‘Draw Something’ on their phones. In the back seat of the car, they have headsets on, cutting them off from both conversation and observation.

They call it multi-tasking, but they watch TV and are on their computers or cell phones at the same time making even TV-watching less cerebral (if that’s possible!), because they aren’t processing either the facial expressions or the dialogue. If you ask them a thought question about the show, they respond, ‘I don’t know. Why?’ as if thinking about the story-line was absurd.

I love them dearly, but I worry that I never ever hear them complain ‘I’m bored;’ and as a result, I never ever get to say, ‘Well, think of something to do.’

For more information about kids, creativity, and boredom, check out these on-line resources:

Aha! Parenting’s “Why Boredom is Good for Your Child”

Essential Kids’ “The Battle to Let Them Be Bored”

Lynn McMullin is the Orange superintendent of schools.