I was at a recent soccer game for my 11-year-old son on a bright sunny early fall day. All of the parents are lined up in a row, watching the game. One mom stood out as had two of her younger children with her watching the game. Only, the two younger siblings, maybe ages 6 and 4, were not watching the game at all.
While I get that it is hard to have younger kids dragged to game after game of their older siblings, I think we can still rethink this practice just a bit. Oh, trust me, as the mother of five children between the ages of 11 and 24, I have dragged many a younger sibling to the games, concerts, carnivals, open houses, scouting events, you name it, my kids were there supporting their older siblings. I’d use a variety of bribery myself. Snacks at the snack shops, a promise of a Slurpee afterward, electronics at home, and so on.
Perhaps, our modern use of digital screens to help our kids survive potential boredom is just the current way to keep our kids happy — or from having a meltdown at an event. It is a fine balance for sure, and a new world we are living in, navigating as parents this i-Everything generation.
Sometimes, though, I say, bring back boredom.
I’ve been noticing at church lately that parents are bringing i-pads and screens and allowing children to play on these electronic devices the entire service. Songs, announcements, the sermon, all of it. An hour and 15 minutes straight, kids not looking up once.
And, at a band concert for my 16-year-old twins, which we dragged our 11-year-old son to, there were two kids, about 6 and 8, in front of us with their parents, and those two kids played on their i-Pads and phones the entire concert.
I am sure in both of these incidences; the parents were just thinking preventative measures. As a way to be sure their kids would remain quiet, to keep them from acting out, to keep them from being bored.
Life can be messy, and it’s okay. Kids do act up, but let’s give them a chance.
And, the flip side as well is that value of teaching children to learn to listen once in a while, to perhaps glean something out of the concert or church service, to be actually present during the event.
And, if that is not enough, let’s just get to a basic tenant that is missing from parents, the idea of common courtesy. It’s important to teach your children that there are people behind them, who may also have little ones, who do not have electronic devices with them, whose parents may want their kids to actually listen to the concert or participate in the church service. What a distraction it becomes then when kids in front of you are clicking away on neon lit devices, when I have just told mine that they cannot do so themselves. I just have to say to my kids, when they see others with electronic devices, “We are not using ours here.”
We were visiting our dear friends in California, my college BFF Meri and her husband Ray; and we were enjoying fettuccine Alfredo and Rigatoni Bolognese, and other savory Italian fare at in their restaurant, Strizzis. And, over our conversation, I glanced toward the table next to us and saw a family seated. It looked multi-generational, with grandparents, parents and two children, early grade school, perhaps second and fourth grade.
While the adults carried on conversations, the two kids sat glued to their electronic devices, not looking up for a moment, not paying attention to a second of the adult conversation; nor were the adults trying to engage the young ones in any dialogue.
When I pointed this out to my friend Meri, she said they see this a lot in their restaurants.
She gave an example that her daughter, who served as a waitress in their family restaurant, shared with her. Her daughter talked about a time when she arrived to take the food orders at a table where a family sat; the children, busy with their electronic devices, pointed to what they wanted on the menu, not saying any other words; and later when my friends’ daughter delivered the ordered meals to the table, the kids never even looked up from their electronic devices but instead kept playing their games while inhaling their food.
No please, no thank you, no interaction with these kids.
Okay, I say bring back etiquette as well as boredom.
On a recent flight home from San Francisco where I visited the same friend Meri, this time to celebrate her 50th birthday. I was seated behind a lady and her grandson, who must have been not a day older than 3.
The little boy was adorable as he looked out the window, pressed all the buttons, asked questions about other buttons he could not reach, and smiled at me between our seats. The nice gentleman next to their seat struck up a conversation about having a son of his own about that age, and what a great age it is to be.
But then, once we were in the air and it was “safe” to do so, the grandma lady pulled out an electronic tablet and had her grandson begin playing neon-lit games. He was 3.
I get that this new generation will grow up with electronics and that they know more than we do and that it is good to understand technology and all of that. It is my world too. However, I really do think we need to re-evaluate how early and how often we are introducing this type of entertainment to our children and grandchildren. In this case, the kid was not even acting up or asking for the tablet. It was just offered.
We’ve been on family vacations where you look over at vans and they have TV’s for entertainment for the kids. I get that. I wouldn’t have one, but I get it. Who wants screaming, fighting, “he pulled my hair” and “stop hitting me” and “mom, when are we going to be there” road trips. Well, I do, as it builds a certain kind of memory. But some families have chosen to help ease the long hot days on family road trips by adding a television to the experience.
But, in your hometown, when it’s a 15-minute ride to the store? I was driving in town, and we live in a small town of 24,000 people and I looked to the side of me, and there all cozy in their shiny new suburban the kids were glued to the large, flat screen TV.
Now, again, I do not know the situation and maybe the kids were screaming in the car and the mom had a migraine or something, but the principal of the matter is still there.
I just know that as we introduce the fast of lane of the electronic life earlier and earlier into the lives of our children, the harder it is, and will be, for kids to sit still and just be.
It takes time and creativity to slow down, to unplug and get away from electronics, to allow our kids to just be without all the noise. I think we worry about entertaining our kids so much, or we anticipate the chaos that will ensue without electronics that we don’t even chance it any more.
I remember growing up, I was not allowed to say to my mom, “I’m bored,” because she’d find work for me to do around the house. The answer from my mom was just that, “Find something to do or I’ll find something for you.” And it was not electronics or TV.
I’d go read in my room or paint a picture or write a story or go to the park or play outside.
I love to see kids with sticks in their hands, as they turn them into swords. You see that on playgrounds. Or kids drawing in the sand at the beach or picking up an instrument. Or kids just hanging out in the backyard exploring or in cars on road trips making up car games, looking at license plates and trying to find all 50 states. Just being. In fact, it’s when we bring back boredom, and give them moments of quiet, they find things to do that are non-electronic.
The conversation that comes out of those kinds of moments is treasured. On our recent road trip to California, I gave each of my kids, as well as my German niece and nephew who were with us, a journal and they had a little contest looking to see who could find the most license plates from different states, and they would write them down in their journal.
It was a way for them to interact with one another while savoring and appreciating the area that surrounded them. To be present in the presence of others, and not looking down on their electronic devices like zombies. I am constantly teaching my kids that, reminding them of that.
Yes, it’s hard and it’s an uphill battle because so many parents are starting their kids earlier and earlier on electronics. I hear all the time, “Mom, so-and-so got an i-Phone and he is only 8-years-old,” or “So and so got an i-Pad, and it’s for learning games so it’s good.”
Yeah, I know, and that’s fine, but for now, I want to see you present in the moment, sans electronics.
And, maybe a little bored, but present none-the-less.