Things sure have changed since you and I were kids. Back in the day we were lucky if we had an Easy Bake Oven or GI Joe to play with. Today? It’s almost as though a child is considered neglected if he or she doesn’t have a smart phone or tablet to play with. I once volunteered at the local shelter doing childcare and none of the children residing there wanted to play with me, even though that was why I was there, because I didn’t have a phone to let them play with. I cringe when I think about my children meeting a friend of mine and asking the dreaded questions: “What games do you have on your phone? Can I play Candy Crush?”
Do you remember what we did as children when out to dinner with our family? We talked. And we listened. And we stared at the people around us. And we got bored. And that was okay. Listen, I am not saying that we likely didn’t have a tantrum now and again or that food did not end up on the floor sometimes, but at least we weren’t glued to screens like little zombies in high chairs and booster seats.
There is nothing that I find more unnerving than seeing a couple of yuppie parents setting up a tablet at the local chain restaurant and having their little one stare at it for the duration of the meal. Trust me, none of us are perfect parents. We all make mistakes. And we all understand that having a zoned out kid in front of a screen is much more appealing than one that is throwing a fit. However, if we insist on constantly stimulating our children’s minds then they will never learn how to sit still and be quiet. And believe it or not, doing so (at the same time) is a dying art.
I don’t have an issue with providing your children with things to do and keeping them entertained. I’m not saying not to play with your kids or make them laugh and smile. However, it becomes a problem when we are meant to feel as though this should be our problem 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As parents, we wear many different hats and have various responsibilities. Being your child’s on call entertainer should not be one of them. If we teach our children that this is the case then we are doing them a major disservice as we will not always be there to cater to their every need and desire. Please help me in setting more realistic expectations for our kids. We all deserve it.
Don’t even get me started on play dates and sleepovers. When I was younger and I had a friend over to play we did just that – we played. We played outside, we played dress-up, we played house. We didn’t need to be entertained because we entertained ourselves. We did that for hours and only bothered my parents when we were hungry. These days? It’s almost as though our kids and their playmates expect detailed, fun-filled itineraries. Do you know what I think about that? That it’s absolutely absurd.
I am also sick of competing with my children’s friend’s parents. “Mom, can we pretty please go to the skate park and then to the movies and then to the new arcade that opened up and then out for frozen yogurt?” Ben’s mom let us do all those things and more when I was at his house the other day.” I don’t know about Ben’s mom but I don’t have the resources (read: time, money, or desire) to chauffeur my kids and their friends to twelve different activities all in the span of one afternoon.
Think about all the fun you had as a kid just hanging out at the park with your friends, playing in the tree house in your neighbor’s backyard, or building a fort. Don’t even get me started on the lazy summer days that I would enjoy curled up with a nice book (Sweet Valley High, anyone?)
Have you ever had an ingenious idea come to you as you were lazing around? Or solve that problem that had been bugging you all week? It isn’t a freaky coincidence. Sometimes our brains simply need a little down time. That means that our kids’ brains do too. Being bored allows our creative juices to flow and can even increase our happiness.
Another thing that I have learned as a parent is the importance of making chores fun. It’s important to teach them (i.e. trick) them early into thinking that helping out around the house is something that they should want to do. For instance, instead of punishing your child for something that they did wrong by making them clean up their pile of toys, make it into a game. Time them to see how fast they can tidy of their room or put away the dishes (be a little careful with this one as knives and a timer can be pretty dangerous).
The bottom line is that, although our kids might be bored some of the time, it is totally okay (and even beneficial!). So relax and let your kids do the same. Next time you feel the need to plan a day filled with activities you don’t want to do, say screw it. Simply have fun and spend the day at home with your kids and family and don’t feel obligated to stick to a schedule. Allow your kids to wander (under your watch, of course) and just let them explore. Teaching your children that it is acceptable to be bored will (hopefully) increase their chances of becoming well-rounded adults.