Kids and Screens: The Lost Art of Boredom

The trendy motherhood opinion these days is to fight against the technology invading our homes and overtaking our children’s attention spans. Even CEOs of major tech companies are sending their kids to screen-free schools. I get it. Our children represent the future. And, yes, it’s terrifying how quickly values, creativity, even skills like reading and penmanship are rapidly declining amongst them. I mean, they’re not even bothering to teach cursive in schools anymore!
No one in our future will receive a tear-stained love letter in beautiful scrawling cursive. Sniff.
Instead, you will receive a text with a <3 or a kissy-faced imogi. ROFLMAO? Shudder.

I like the idyllic concept of keeping our kids screen-free when they’re young because they will be sucked into technology in some form or fashion for the rest of their lives. I like the idea of letting them get BORED. Letting them be forced to pick up those blocks and build a magical castle. Letting them find the Sword in the Stone in stuck uncooked spaghetti on the oven. Because from the dark soil of boredom grows lush creativity.

HOWEVER!! While I love this idea of reclaiming the lost art of boredom, it is quite difficult to do sometimes. Especially for me, someone who also enjoys watching television. I grew up on the typical ‘80s cartoon line-up. Looney Tunes. Fraggle Rock. Smurfs. Care Bears. Jem. You name it. None of it was educational. None of it was high quality. All of it was a rotting pile of brain candy. And my tv watching didn’t stop there. I mean, my Schwarzenegger-loving mom even let me watch Predator when I was 10, for Pete’s sake! Talk about inappropriate. Thanks, mom! Muahhh.

At least I learned the value of a good mud mask in dark times.

But here’s the thing. Yes, I grew up on too much TV. But I also remember playing outside every day using a vivid imagination. In our gnarled, oak-filled yard I made tree houses, forts, and an Olympics obstacle course. I battled neighbor spies and evil brother robots. I grew gardens and fake-baked strawberry shortcakes and read Nancy Drew mysteries. I wrote prescriptions for squirrels and attempted to put casts on cats. I saved baby birds that unfortunately didn’t need saving. And my gaggle of barbies were directed with plot twists and subplots that easily could have rivaled Hitchcock had I not decided to move forward with the 3rd grade.  I was shockingly creative and adventurous for being inundated with technology.

AND DO YOU KNOW WHY? (Cue the drum roll.)

Because my mom ALSO turned off the TV and tossed my precious whining ass out the door. She guided our Arnie-inspired hiking adventures on our camping trips. And she was extremely creative with us kids. We blindly recoiled at grape-eyeballs during our annual Halloween bashes (while she cackled in the background). We proudly held our live goldfish prize after finishing her homemade carnival gauntlet at my brother’s circus birthday party. Her beloved treasure hunts were so much fun that I even appreciated them on my 17th birthday when I was at my most ungrateful and moms were at their most uncool. Who else could get 20 juniors to run around town searching for buried treasure? She was the quintessential Pinterest mom of the ’80s. Okay, maybe after discounting her love of movies chocked full of machismo…

So what’s different today than in generations past? Why are our kids obsessing over their iPads, turning into entitled little zombies, and neglecting to learn how to properly read, write, and RESPECT each other? For one, technology is so much more accessible than in the past. Don’t they say an iPhone replaces something like 23+ devices? It’s pretty easy to get dependent on that little sucker, I myself included.

But mainly, I dare say it, folks, it’s simply because of US. We are the ones who are failing here, not them. We aren’t saying “no” enough. We’re not kicking our kids outside and letting them make up their own adventures. We’re caving. We’re lazy. Or we’re tired. And we’re just as obsessed with technology as they are (no judgment–my husband is that guy below). Whatever the reason, we’re simply not letting them get bored. And it’s up to us as parents to balance this new influx of technology with other forms of creative entertainment.

Teenage Family Using Gadgets Whilst Eating Breakfast Together In Kitchen
Attack of the iZombies!

So yeah, let them watch 30 minutes of Peppa Pig while you cook dinner. Hell, I can’t get those damn Frozen songs out of my head. Do whatever it takes to attempt sanity. BUT ALSO remember to turn off the TV. Limit that screen time. And if they whine? Tough shit. Take a hike with them. Read a cool book. Bake cookies. Do something –anything– with your kid(s).

It’s ALSO okay to kick their precious whining asses out the door for a while. I promise CPS won’t come. Point out that glitter glue. Remind them of books and blocks. And then let them be. Set them free. Let them embrace the lost art of boredom once in a while. Because boredom can be beautiful. Boredom breeds brilliance WHEN they are given the tools to explore, imagine, create.

It’s as simple as the MacGyver principle: All things being equal, finding an adventure in a rubber band, a paper clip, and a cape is priceless.

Look. I’m by NO means perfect. This post is more of a reminder for me than anyone. My toddler asks to watch TV or play on my iPad and I sometimes cave. Sometimes I’m relieved. Other times, I redirect her to our latest book obsession, her beloved broom, or her Schleick animals. I set her free to figure it out. I’m sure it will get much harder as they grow older and more aware. But until then, my goal is to keep screen-time just another (lower priority) option in the myriad things to do in life. No better, no worse. Don’t deny. Try not to encourage. Keep it in moderation.

There are a million reasons I can foresee screwing up my kid’s psyche, manners, social interactions, and learning abilities. And two million others I can’t. Learning from my own past, a little bit of screen time in the grand scheme of things isn’t a deal-breaker for me. Especially knowing we’re going to be woodland fairies in search of our chickadee friends this afternoon.


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