The gift of boredom

Summer vacation is not even a week old, but I am already bracing myself for that phrase every parent dreads to hear. At some point my son will come to me and say, “I’m bored.” I’m bored is really a shorter way of saying, “I think it is completely unreasonable for you to limit the number of hours I can watch television and play video games.”

If his mother and I would allow it, my son would become another piece of furniture in front of the television. We would just have to brush the cobwebs off him occasionally as he streamed endless episodes of cartoons. At first I tried to get him to watch documentaries. I could see some value in watching a show about a scientist who is trying to interpret whale songs so we can communicate with these gentle giants.

I wonder if there is a pre-teen whale song that means, “I’m bored.” Dolphins never look bored, but whales don’t look like they have as much fun.

All my son wants to watch are shows about boys whose older sisters perform science experiments on them or someone who acquired superpowers after being exposed to radiation. So far those shows are reserved for cartoons rather than documentaries.

I tried responding to his complaint of boredom by telling him there were two bathrooms that could be cleaned.

"Dad, I’m serious. I’m really bored,” he said in a tone that suggested boredom is as serious as appendicitis.

“Clean bathrooms are a serious thing too,” I responded.

He looked at me for a few seconds trying to figure out if I was serious, then, huffed off to another room. Despite what the various social media memes suggest, doling out chores to fight boredom has not proven an effective strategy in our household.

The strategy that has worked best for me is the, “Boredom Is a Gift,” approach. My son will open with the, “Dad, I’m bored,” gambit.

“No more electronics today,” I counter, blocking his opening.

“What is there to do?” he asks for his next move.

“We’ve got a big back yard, and you have lots of stuff in your room,” I respond, beginning the middle game in the boredom chess match.

“I don’t feel like playing with any of my toys,” he replies.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” I say to start the endgame.

If he wants to try to stretch out the endgame for a while, he might sit on the sofa and sigh heavily. At this point I know I’ve won.

Boredom is not the natural state of a child. In their natural environment, they can only remain bored for a short time. Even if they have no toys, they will find a box or even a rock for entertainment. It’s simply a matter of bracing yourself to hold out for a few minutes until the gift of boredom forces them to become creative. So, I’m bracing myself to endure those few minutes of heavy sighs when the first, “I’m bored,” of the summer comes.

RJ Johnson

I have been a priest for 16 years.  I spent the first four years in Minnesota and Wisconsin, six years on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, before becoming the pastor at Advent Episcopal Church in Westlake in 2010.  If anyone would find it interesting I have a son and daughter, which I refer to as a matched set, a wife, a dog, and a cat.

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Volume 7, Issue 12, Posted 9:29 AM, 06.16.2015