For many parents the worst phrase that could come out of their adolescent’s mouth is, “I’m Bored”. This phrase can push the parent fear buttons of “entitlement”, “laziness”, “ungratefulness” or “failure-to-launch”. These buttons when pushed tend to produce feelings of failure, inadequacy, and helplessness.
The problem of Boredom
Richard Winter described the problem of boredom in his book “Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment”. He views it as an issue of over-stimulation rather than under-stimulation. He argued that we live in a culture in which “to be entertained” is the highest value. This desire creates an incessant need for novelty and excitement. The problem, however, is that life is full of routine, mundane, and repetitive tasks that must be accomplished.
Types of Boredom
Winter defines two types of boredom, the first is a temporary boredom that is the result of repetitive tasks. The second, is an on-going pervasive sense of boredom that results from having nothing to do that one likes. I think it is this second more pervasive type of boredom that is most problematic for today’s adolescents. It is a sense that no matter what is happening there is just nothing in life to enjoy. The perspective that life cannot be enjoyed unless it is always entertaining, exciting, or extreme creates a sense that “my life is not good enough”. Thankfully Winter offers 6 ways to combat this pervasive sense of boredom
The Boredom Busters
Remember the Big Picture:
Recall that even the most mundane tasks (doing the dishes, mowing the lawn) are wonderful gifts. Not everyone has the ability or the means to pursue these tasks. Additionally, these tasks can create a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, capability, and resourcefulness.
Stop and Smell the Roses:
Living in a culture of constant entertainment has caused us to lose sight of the marvel and grandeur of the simple things around us. We are so busy looking for “extreme” experiences that we miss out on the incredible beauty of the flowers in our yard, the baby birds in our trees, and the stars in the sky. Stop to smell the roses by intentionally noticing the small details of the world around you. I wrote about several ways to practice this skill in a post on mindfulness found here.
Winter quotes philosopher Rene Descartes’ description of wonder as an “intense intellectual interest”. We live in a time in which a massive amount of information is available at the click of a mouse. Although incredibly convenient we may lose the experience and pursuit of curiosity. Remain curious by seeking to understand the inner experience of the people in your life. The inner world of people can never be fully contained in a book or webpage. Relationships, therefore, offer an inexhaustible mine for our curiosity. Learn more about how to do this by reading this post I wrote on listening well.
Active Engagement rather than Passive Expectation
A culture of entertainment has turned us into passive consumers. We sit back and wait to be entertained. Anything that requires effort is passed over for something less challenging. Challenge however creates engagement. When a task entails just the right amount of challenge it creates a wonderful sense of excitement, accomplishment, and competence. This active engagement heightens a sense of purpose and passion that leaves little room for boredom.
Ultimately, boredom is a mindset. It is a perspective that develops in a culture that values constant entertainment, excitement, and leisure. Unfortunately life is not all excitement and pleasure. Life is full of routine and mundane tasks. Remembering the big picture, stopping to smell the roses, cultivating wonder, and actively engaging are ways to combat the life of boredom.
What do you do when your children say, “I’m bored”? leave a comment below.