When I was growing up, days seemed just a little bit longer, an hour at the dinner table felt like four as we all sat at the table together as family, waiting for everyone to be done to be excused. Summers were endless days of playing outside until it finally turned dark, the ice cream man had come and gone and we had collected all the fireflies we could find.
School days were spent mainly at a desk, staring up a board, with a disruption for the weekly music, art or gym class. After school some of us might have had a sport or two, but for the most part, weekends were dance class and town soccer or softball, as afterschool was time for homework, a neighborhood kickball game or a bike ride around the block until dinner time.
Life for the most part was slower. We had very little to distract us, or over stimulate our senses. Television was limited as well. We had a few channels, 7, 11, 5, 9 and 13 and if your family was lucky enough to have a cable box, you might have gotten a few extra programming choices such as the NJ channel or MTV! When we would go out to eat, we would communicate with each other, or work together with our parents on a game of napkin tic-tac-toe or color in the pictures on the child’s placemat menu. We never spent the night eating and texting or playing games on our phones or iPad.
Our parents never answered a call during dinner at the table, texted work colleagues, or interrupted a family conversation by saying “just a second, it’s my turn to go on my Words With Friends Account.” If something big was happening in the world at large, or something big was happening in our world, whether it be a family vacation, issue with homework, or problem with a neighbor’s cat, we spoke about it as a family during dinner, on the car ride to school, or during the nighttime tuck in when we asked our mom or dad to sit with us for just one more minute.
I realized that life was faster, so much more challenging and unfocused for my children on a family vacation drive to Canada. My husband and I were staring out the window admiring all of the incredible scenery. The mountains were covered in snow, the tree tops reached into a cold, icy blue sky, the sun danced off vast frozen lakes in the distance and when I called to my daughter and said look out the window at this incredible view, she said, “take a picture and post it on Instagram… that way I can see it later after I finish my game.” What had happened to the world, I wondered, and how sad I felt that my children had lost the joy of being bored in the back of car with your parents when all you had to keep you busy was looking for license plates and admiring the scenery.
Being bored as a child usually happened after an hour or two of being home on a rainy or snowy day, or while on an extended car ride with our parents. However, that boredom forced us to use something our kids don’t have to readily employ anymore… imagination. Now, my kids are bored two minutes after their iPad or phone loses power, and what do they do next? I know what they don’t do… they don’t look out the window losing themselves in a daydream, or take all the pillows off the couch to build a fort. They don’t go outside and gather up the neighborhood kids for a basketball game in the driveway, or take an old box and turn it into a racecar, hamster house, or home for a pet rock. They sit there, with the look of defeat and hopelessness in their eyes, wondering what to do now. How can I make it through the next few hours totally unplugged? Until, finally a glimmer of hope is seen in their eyes and a smile returns to their faces when they realize they have a spare charger in the desk drawer. “Thank goodness, I can go back to taking pictures of myself contorting my face, send smiley faces and cartoons of myself to all of my friends and watch a few episodes of the newest Netflix series.
The days, weeks and summers fly by much more quickly for our children, because they are never have down time. They never have the blessing of being bored. Our kids spend hours texting people who they call their best friends, but wouldn’t dare actually pick up the phone to speak with them as texting is just so much easier, and if I’m talking on the phone, I can’t play the Kim Kardashian Game, Online Shop, and post pictures of my feet on Instagram all at the same time.
So what do we do, as parents who also fall into the same over stimulated world of texts, dinner time calls, emails, rings and dings? We give our kids and ourselves a gift. Put the technology away during dinner time. Fill the time with conversation and laughter instead.
Collect the phones and I-pads during family car rides, for perhaps an hour and fill the time with games, songs, 20 questions perhaps. And on the next snowy day, when that iPad or iPhone runs out of juice, give your kids the best gift of all… the gift of boredom. Let them use their imaginations to fill the time. Encourage a family board game or a sleigh ride, and if you really feel adventurous, just pull the pillows off the couch, grab some old sheets and build away!