The other night, my family and I went out for dinner. In addition to the big screen televisions placed in various positions, my kids were distracted by a boy around 5 or 6 at the next table over who played games on his tablet the whole time.
Last Sunday at church, there was an antsy toddler in the row across from ours. My husband went to find him a coloring book and crayons to keep occupied, and by the time he came back the little boy’s parents had given him one of their iPhones.
Technology is a big part of this next generation of kids we’re raising. My children can’t remember a time when there weren’t smart phones or social media.
And it can be a wonderful tool. Our nine-year-old has an iPad that he uses to create drawings, writing assignments, and projects for school, as well as reads his Bible on. My six-year-old daughter loves the interactive Bible app for kids and all the games that test her math and reading skills on her own tablet.
The problem is that we’re defaulting to its use for entertaining and appeasing our children.
We’ve created an artificial world of fun for our kids, where there are no dull moments. The moment it becomes quiet or they complain they’re “bored”, we run to entertain them again.
And we believe this is our parenting duty.
I used to think I was a bad mother if I didn’t spend hours playing with my children every day. I felt consumed with guilt for “leaving them to their own devices” more often than not. While I certainly did not neglect my children, I believed I wasn’t loving them if I didn’t keep them stimulated every minute of the day.
Benefits of Boredom for Kids
There must be a balance between play and work in your home. As the parent, you should model to your children that work is important and necessary. You cannot always be the entertainment director when there is housework, laundry, and cooking to be done.
Even when they do see us making work a priority, our kids tend to live in this whole other world. They have their “fun“ world, void of responsibility, and we have our “work” world.
Not having been trained through a routine of chores, monotonous as they are, our kids simply can’t handle the smallest requests or stressors. Their internal strength isn’t great enough to match the external pressure.
They end up complaining and resisting tasks because they’ve been conditioned to think that the main goal in life is fun and entertainment.
Endless fun creates an escape from reality for our kids, because compared to virtual reality, everyday life is well… boring. Even youth groups and children’s ministries are now packed with high energy, fast paced lessons and events to keep kids’ attention. These entertaining and exciting programs usually leave a lot of depth to be desired, however.
This inability to process lower levels of stimulation leaves kids vulnerable to falling apart under any kind of challenge.
Children need to feel bored in order to learn how to delay gratification and become resourceful and imaginative. That boy at the restaurant could have benefitted from learning the simple enjoyment of conversation if he wasn’t glued to a screen the entire meal.
Your goal isn’t to make them happy
By providing a ready-made way to overcome boredom, we are depriving our kids of the ability to wrestle through problems and come up with solutions on their own.
Unfortunately, we’ve become experts at distracting our children from their uncomfortable feelings. Technology is just our preferred methodology.
It seems that whenever they’re sad, frustrated, or disappointed, we rush into save them like a super hero.
I caught myself doing it just the other day. My daughter was upset that she had accidentally broken one of her favorite headbands. I immediately started telling her about all the other ones she has that she can still wear and showing her how we could possibly fix it. And the more I talked, the more upset she became.
I kept trying to make her happy, instead of just giving her a hug, acknowledging her disappointment, and letting her feel that sadness.
When we swoop in to regulate their emotions, our kids don’t learn how to do it themselves. They end up having to control external factors around them in order calm themselves down or deal with stress.
The Bible has something to say about enduring hardships. James 1:2-4 says
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
This suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character. We’re not doing our kids any favors when we allow them to bypass this process.
Instead, we’re in danger of raising kids who crack under the slightest pressure. Who walk away from their faith the moment things get too hard, because they see God as only good when “good” things happen to them.
We should be coming alongside them in their struggles and disappointments and saying, “Hey, I know this life is hard but there is someone who came to help us through it. And He promised ‘In this life you will have trouble but take heart; I have overcome the world.'”
Jesus also said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” When we constantly rescue our kids from boredom and other unpleasantries, we hinder them from coming to their Savior.
Why would they depend on Christ if we’re always saving them? Why would they rest in Him, if technology always provides a means of escape from harsh reality?
God can use the hard moments in our kids’ lives to teach them lessons they wouldn’t have learned otherwise. He will reveal Himself to them through situations that aren’t artificially designed. And through their unhappiness here with this world, they will understand He is the real source of joy.
So let them be bored. Let them fail. And lead them to the One who can truly ease their burdens.