There are lots of two-word combos that pack an almost disproportionate amount of power. As a lover of language, I am intrigued by a number of possibilities.
- Think big.
- Stand up.
- Time flies.
- Heart health.
- Forever love.
- Take action.
- Make memories.
- Think different.
- See success.
- Finally bedtime.
These are all good examples of strong two-word phrases yet not one can come close to packing as much power as this one. Ready?
(Of course to get the full impact try hearing them pronounced like this: ‘I’m bo-ooo-r-ud.’ It is a sound that is particularly chilling for parents.)
It may be unwise of me to raise questions about what it means to be bored: it’s not something I’ve often experienced. One of the reasons? I’m chronically curious. When I decided to revisit old blog posts about kids, parents and boredom, I tripped and fell into a rabbit hole. It’s name? “Reading about boredom.” And guess what? It was interesting. I wasn’t the least little bit bored.
To Study Boredom
Apparently the topic of boredom also appeals to social science researchers. As with many research topics, the initial struggle was with definitions. The articles I read described boredom as an emotional or psychological state that can arise when a person doesn’t have an especially engaging task or activity before them, is stuck in a “tedious time period,” or lacks interest in their surroundings.
I also learned the term “boredom proneness” and that there is a Boredom Proneness Scale. So, while many of us tend to minimize boredom as trivial, researchers have correlated it with depression and other significant life issues.
Additionally, researchers tell us there are three types of boredom:
- circumstances are preventing us from doing something we want to do
- we are obligated to do something we don’t want to do
- there are factors that prevent us from being fully engaged in the task at hand
Ennui Among the Animals or Boredom at the Zoo
As I continued to think about the topic, I realized that animals get bored, too. Our dogs, ranging in age from a baby to a senior citizen, love to go to training. They love the five hour round trip. Nobody (except the human) gets to stay in for the entire class, but each dog gets enough mental stimulation to make for a very quiet, sleepy ride home.
Not to be outdone by engaged pet owners everywhere, the National Zoo now gives donors the opportunity to provide keepers with discretionary funds for added enrichment items ranging from food to toys and special scents for their charges.
I believe a high level of inborn curiosity vaccinated me against becoming boredom prone. To me, when that “meh” vibe starts to creep in, it’s a signal that my creativity needs slightly different time and space. It encourages me to check in with myself and my HALT: hungry, angry, lonely,tired. It’s a nudge to try stuff.
I guess that reaction is part of what makes me wonder why so many parents believe that boredom is bad for kids and it’s their job to ‘fix’ it. If we respond like cruise ship activities directors on steroids what are we doing for the kids? What do they take away from our behavior? What example are we setting?
Am I exaggerating? Just think about the number of times that, upon hearing this particular set of ‘magic words,’ you’ve seen parents leap into action. Like exhausted super heroes, they quickly shuffle through their repertoire of activities, snacks, electronic devices, and other entertainment to find the one special remedy that will most quickly put an end to the dreaded condition called boredom.
We all know that actions can undermine and contradict both words and good intentions. Attempts to alleviate another’s discomfort can be interpreted as thoughtful and kind and Boredom-Rescue behavior is no exception. All behavior can send powerful (and sometimes unintended) messages; intervening in our kids’ boredom could be interpreted as:
- You deserve to be passively entertained
- Your uncomfortable feelings are very important
- Uncomfortable feelings should be avoided at all costs
- Someone or something outside of you is responsible for fixing your feelings
And even if those aren’t their take-away messages, how much thought have you given to what happens to your kids when you’re not around to entertain them? If we build our schedules and priorities around filling, enriching, and stimulating their every waking moment, how will the young ‘uns manage being in a group or in a classroom setting? Or alone?
Oddly enough, I started working on this post before Covid-19 hit our shores. As people gradually start to understand how such diseases spread, they are taking responsibility for their portion of herd immunity by self-quarantining. And, in the course of staying home, some of them are feeling bored. That might not be a bad thing.
Quiet Minds, Open Minds
I’m a huge fan of new ideas and experiences. Novelty is great for brain health which, in turn, benefits us physically and emotionally. We live in an amazing time with no shortage of things to learn and do and think about and try. And, given the opportunity, we will discover our passions and interests. Maybe there will be powerful new interests. But in the course of pursuing those opportunities, we will need to manage more than a few uncomfortable feelings along the way. So will our kids. But to seize those opportunities we will need to make sure our hearts and minds are quiet and open enough to recognize and seize those opportunities.