Boredom Builds Friendships
If you do an Internet search for “boredom” and “kids,” you will get the distinct impression that these two entities should not coexist, that kids should never be bored. That explains the Pinterest articles, such as “200 Boredom Busters for Kids” and “25 Ways to Keep Kids Entertained.” Well, I call bluff. We’ve talked about the individual gifts that boredom brings to a developing soul. But there’s more! I say letting a slew of kids get good and bored together, without pacifying, distracting, or occupying them, is a profound gift to them all, because it allows real friendships to build.
I am of a generation whose childhood did not have much technology and an adulthood that is inundated with it. I went to college during what was still kind of the technological dark ages. I wish I could go back to this college life for just one day for the freedom we had to enjoy friendship, undistracted.
Yesterday I passed eight kids waiting for the middle school bus. Every single one of them was completely absorbed in his or her phone. Each of these kids was passing this “boring” moment waiting at a stoplight by entertaining him or herself with scrolling apps or playing games.
I think we’ve forgotten that friends – technology = a profound gift.
I know this is true for two reasons.
First, statistics prove it. Loneliness, depression, and anxiety are skyrocketing in the uber-busy, highly connected generation. Our teenagers are highly entertained and occupied but deeply unfulfilled. Our kids are telling us over and over again that they are lonely, that there is a friendship deficit.
Second, you can see it anecdotally. A friend of mine shared her insights after chaperoning an eighth-grade overnight field trip. The first day, all devices were confiscated. As you may imagine, there was weeping and withdrawal. The kids had no idea how to function. The chaperones did allow the kids to have their phones for 10 minutes at the end of each day, in which they could check in with parents, keep their “Snapchat stream” active, whatever. My friend observed that on the first day most students retrieved their phones for the allowed period. The second day, she noted, only about 10 students wanted the phones. On the third day, maybe one or two did. On the way home the kids begged, “No! Don’t give us back our phones! It’s way more fun without them!”
I think this incident is incredibly telling. And also sad. When you get rid of boredom, one casualty is friendship. A lot of stuff, meaningful stuff, happens in that unplanned, unfilled down time.
I will go a step further and say I really don’t think you can be a good friend without learning to be comfortable with boredom. Here is why: to be a true friend requires patience. It requires the ability to listen through a long story, to troubleshoot a problem that is not yours, to push through dislike of things you don’t feel like doing because someone you love does enjoy it. I agree that technology is incredible. But we must not forget that patience is a gift, because no true friendship exists without it.
So what do we do with this?
There is one wonderful step we can take, and that is to put screens away when we’re spending time with one another. If your kids are having a party, collect all the devices at the door. If the neighbor kids are playing together, make them ride bikes or make cookies instead of watching TV or playing video games. And if you’re playing a game as a family, put the devices away. If you go out to dinner, put the phones away. If you’re on a long car trip, I repeat, put the phones away. Be bored together! It’s painful and annoying and absolutely precious.
Taken from Let Them Be Kids by Jessica Smartt. Copyright 2020 by Jessica Smartt. Used with permission from www.thomasnelson.com.
Jessica Smartt is the author of Memory-Making Mom and Let Them Be Kids. She is a former English teacher turned homeschooling mama of three. A week after her first baby was born, she began her motherhood blog “Smartter” Each Day. Jessica and her husband live in beautiful North Carolina, where she loves hiking with kids (mostly), steaming coffee in the afternoon, family bike rides, and anything that’s ever been done to a potato.