Boredom is a Precious Commodity

#1, #2 and I had breakfast yesterday at a local cafe that has outdoor seating. It was a beautiful morning, perfect for sitting outside, watching the birds and butterflies, and listening to people chat. At one table two women were talking while a little girl sat in a highchair playing with mom’s (?) iPhone. I’ve been there. I’ve wanted to talk to an adult. I’ve played all the finger games I can handle for the day. I’ve colored my last picture. I’ve [fill in the repetitive activity you can’t stand] all I can endure. I’ve given one of my progeny an electronic babysitter and been happy. But I’m not happy for having done it.

My discomfort stems not from some fear of how spending time in front of small electronic devices is bad for little progeny, or some belief that video games are the root of all violence and evil in our society. Instead, I worry that children today are simply not bored frequently enough.

We have convinced ourselves that kids need to be entertained all the time. Industries have rescued us and our children from ever suffering an idle moment. We think little of giving tiny people electronic gadgets, often disguised as learning games or educational videos. We have to have kits filled with activities. We schedule “playdates” for their free time. Perhaps out of envy, we have eliminated boredom from our children’s lives.

Boredom is wonderful. How many adults wouldn’t appreciate some time to be bored? To do nothing? As we age, life’s demands increasingly eradicate boredom. Family, friends, school, job, house all conspire to fill your time with tasks. Boredom, by contrast, is time you get to spend with your own thoughts, not the thoughts someone else forces on you.

Boredom also encourages creativity and observation. Sit for a few minutes on a bench. Soon you will notice people, birds, bugs, and plants. You will sense the breeze as it changes. You’ll hear noises, snatches of conversations, the sounds of people walking, a faint rushing as water flows down a gutter, or the stray cough. You might notice a small dedicatory plaque on the bench or the contractor’s mark embossed in the sidewalk cement.

#1, #2, and I sat silently while we waited for breakfast. Although I was enjoying the quiet time, I wondered briefly, “Are they bored?” When our food arrived, #1 and #2 chatted pleasantly about all the things we had seen—the “purple butterfly that tried to kiss me,” the “mangy bird in the bushes,” the “fast train” heading toward the city, and even “the little girl playing with her mom’s iPhone.” I guess they found something to do.