Lately my kids and I have been spending a lot of time in the waiting room.
It hasn’t been easy.
Last week, halfway through yet another 90-minute waiting room session, my eight-year-old looked up at me and said I’m bored. Lucy’s a spunky kid (if we’re being polite about it) and she didn’t say it so much as a statement of fact but as a challenge: a what are you gonna do about it, Mom?
Poor girl. She wanted sympathy, or some ideas on how to occupy her time, or at the very least, yet another snack. I feel bad about our accumulating waiting room hours, which, though temporary, are taxing.
A big part of me wanted to jump in and fix it for her. But I’m reading Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation, which is all about the value of real-time human interaction in a digital age. So instead of a Honey, how can I help? she got a swift You’ll be fine. And when she protested that she hated being bored, I told her everyone needs to be bored sometimes. Boredom is good for you.
Lucy looked up, clearly surprised, but I put my head back down and kept reading my book.
(There probably was a better strategy, but oh well.)
It’s not just my 8-year-old who’s complaining about boredom. According to Turkle, it’s the greatest fear of 18-24 year-olds, who are accustomed to a constant stream of stimulation from their digital devices that keeps their frontal lobes occupied and eliminates any need for them to be alone with their thoughts.
Technology makes it easy to avoid boredom and anxiety, but that’s not actually a good thing. Kids need to be bored. Grown-ups need to to experience boredom, too.
Lucy doesn’t know or care why I want her to be bored; she just thinks I’m being unsympathetic. She’s still learning to appreciate the value of quiet moments. She hasn’t heard Erickson’s theory that children need “stillness” to find their identity. She doesn’t know that boredom is directly linked to creativity.
And yet when I look at my child, I see the good things that happen when she takes some time to herself, with just her own thoughts for company. The fruits of those hours are obvious.
Lucy doesn’t yet know that solitude lets you hear your own thoughts, or that the ability to sit with one’s thoughts is a gift, and a skill that needs cultivating. She’s still learning how boredom is not a curse, but a cue—a sign that you need to recharge, or that you’re learning something, or that it’s time to turn to your own imagination for comfort, for a change.
She can’t yet articulate that these things are important, but I see what happens when she spends time alone—and what happens when she doesn’t escape her 3 siblings for a bit—and I see its value.
And so I let Lucy to be bored, and I kept reading my book.
When I looked up a little while later, Lucy was sitting in the chair, staring at the ceiling.
You still bored? I said.
I’m not exactly bored, she said. I’m thinking.
I didn’t say anything. I just nodded, and returned to my book, silently thanking Sherry Turkle.
Books mentioned in this post: