Helping Teenagers Find the Beauty in Boredom
“I’m so bored.” This is what I heard from my twelve-year-old before leaving for work a few weeks ago. It was summer day number two for my youngest. NUMBER TWO, folks, and the boredom had already kicked in. With all of the cancellations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I had anticipated this – especially from my youngest, whose summer was supposed to be filled with camps and trips and youth group retreats. But now, summer for her looks downright bleak. In my daughter’s words, “This is going to be the most boring summer ever.”
Admittedly, I’ve had the same thought. For many parents, this will be a particularly challenging summer, and I’m guessing that most have already heard from teens and tweens regarding their terrible, awful, no good, very bad, boredom. For most kids, the sentence “I’m bored” is a cry for some kind of new of stimulation. And for most parents, the sentence is like nails on a chalkboard. So, our response is to try and fill their time.
I’d like to offer another approach to this common mantra that we will likely hear many times during the next several months. Consider, parents, that our kids’ boredom can actually be a good thing. Instead of allowing yourself to be weighed down by the pressure of filling days with new and exciting activities, allow a little boredom to happen. Here’s why this state can be good and even healthy for our kids both spiritually and intellectually.
Boredom Inspires Creativity
Sometimes, a little boredom can eventually turn into productivity and creativity. It’s good to have a few unique ideas in our back pocket to offer our kids when they express boredom. This could be a short list with suggestions like baking something, taking the dog for a walk while listening to music, or facetiming a friend. But the likely response to our ingenious parental suggestions will be: “Ugh. Those are boring too.”
So, propose they figure it out. I can happily report that the “figure it out” response during the quarantine resulted in a few creative, albeit a little odd, responses. My son, for example, baked for the first time. Ever. And while I was a little fearful (mostly for the state of my kitchen), what he made was delicious. It was sweet to see his smile as he shared his concoction. And boredom for my eldest resulted in a wall of our basement painted with unique shapes and colors. While she had my permission, I had to relent a bit to the fact that the end result may not look so great. But after hours of working on this little project, the wall was beautiful, and she discovered she liked painting (and is actually pretty good at it!). My youngest, however, won the top award for “figure it out” when she set up a board game with the dog. For over an hour, she and the animal played the game of LIFE, and according to my kid, the dog won. All these creative moments came from the push for them to think outside the box.
Now, it’s also true that while boredom can lead to creativity, it can also lead to destructive behavior. Boredom in kids is essentially pent-up energy of a sort, and it will be let out in some capacity. One of the ways we can help direct our kids in finding creative paths to soothe boredom is by setting an example of what this looks like. When you’re bored as a parent, how do you tend to fill the time? With your phone? Facebook? Maybe consider turning up the music and sing (maybe even dance a little). Or when you’re standing in line at the store, do you act like the wait is a painful nuisance? Perhaps start a game of twenty-questions with your kid. Our children learn by our example, so we may need to consider how to be a little more creative ourselves with the down time in our day.
There will be times when we fail to set a good example, and other times when our kids will find less than ideal ways to fight boredom (I have found my youngest trapped in the dog kennel because her brother was “bored”). But here’s what’s wonderful. There is grace. There is so much grace, mom and dad, and every morning the mercies of Jesus are new. So, when you fail, or when your day is filled with tension because the kids just can’t find something to do, raise up your hands and receive the grace and peace of the Lord. Ask Him for wisdom and strength, and He will give you what is needed to navigate through slow summer days.
Boredom Creates Room for Rest
Sometimes when boredom sets in, our kids are forced to just sit, and in a world that idolizes busy-ness, I think a little sitting is OK. I struggle greatly in setting a good example of what it looks like to rest; it seems there is always something to do. But some of the sweetest conversations with my senior during the last couple of months happened when she approached me, expressed boredom, and we just sat. Phones were away, the TV was off, and so we would chat or just sit and talk about the dog who was usually sprawled out across her lap. The stillness in these moments is memorable and restorative – for all of us.
In 1 Kings 19 God speaks to Elijah. The voice of the Almighty is not heard through a great windstorm or earthquake or fire, but it’s heard in stillness in the form of a whisper. As our kids grow and mature, the practice of doing “nothing” for a period of time is an invaluable lesson, and one that can ultimately strengthen their relationship with Jesus. Resting quietly without technology may initially be seen as something “boring,” but as we implement the practice into our daily lives, even for just a few moments a day, we have the opportunity to hear the whisper of Jesus in the stillness as he welcomes and receives our burdens and our joys. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are united completely to Him, and one of the greatest benefits of that union is the rest and restoration we have in Jesus. Model these restful moments for your kids and talk about the significance and even the beauty that can be found in the boring.