It is summer and inevitably at some point my kids will tell me they are bored. In fact I have had numerous conversations with other parents about how to keep kids busy when they are out of school. "What camps are you signing your kids up for?" "What activities are you doing this summer?"
I am reading a book on parenting, more specifically how our kids' brains are wired. The author suggests that it is a good thing for our kids to get bored. While it is true that kids can get into trouble if they are too bored, over scheduling our kids in order to keep the boredom at bay creates a whole new set of problems. Po Bronson, in the book "Nurture Shock" suggests that kids need to get bored and learn creative ways to resolve their boredom. They need to problem solve, create, initiate with people. He talks about two different types of boredom--situational and more pervasive boredom in everything. While the latter might be a problem the former is actually a good thing.
So this summer when your kids say to you "I'm bored"-celebrate. This is a chance for them to create, to problem solve, to figure out their desires and what they want to do and to try to make it happen. It isn't our responsibility to keep our kids entertained. I'm not saying camps and activities are bad (our eldest is away at his first week long camp as I write this). But I am saying that unstructured time and boredom may actually be a good thing!
I read a CNN article this morning "Why the Old Way of Parenting No Longer Works." The author of the article reviews a book published in 2016 called "The Collapse in Parenting." I have to confess I skimmed the article but the general gist was that the old way of fear based, control and punishment doesn't work. Mostly because it isn't teaching our kids self control. Yes yes yes. To honk my own horn that is a lot of what I talk about in my parenting book "Presence-Based Parenting". We need our kids to learn to make their own decisions, and deal with the consequences of their actions (with age appropriate safety put in place). AND the younger they can do that the better because the consequences in middle school are easier to deal with then in college.
Part of why we take away our kids consequences is because we care so much about their performance. I hear the craziest things on the sidelines of my kid's various sports.
"We pay our son a $1 for every touchdown." (1st and 2nd grade flag football game)
"You scored so many goals you deserve a sleepover with your friends."
"You just scored your first goal--you've earned an ice cream cone after the game."
"Ref that was clearly a hand ball in the penalty box. Pay attention." (1st and 2nd grade soccer)
I've been thinking about the difference between teaching our kids responsibility versus trying to get them to perform well. I don't think that they have to be juxtaposed. But in the last few months I have run into repeated situations where parents are trying to cover for their child's lack of responsibility in order to make sure they perform well.
Let me explain. When a kid forgets something, is behind on a project, doesn't understand something and there are grades on the line or an image to protect, I've found parents want to step in and fix it. OR when a kid has good grades, is performing well in sports, we as parents pick up their slack in terms of chores, or even their relational skills. I've had parents say to me that while they don't like their son's behavior there isn't much they can do about it. But they didn't take that approach when it came to making sure he was in the best classes, getting enough playing time and getting on the best teams. For the areas where their kid is being graded or tested they make sure he is excelling. For the more invisible areas, how he uses his cell phone, how he treats his friends, that is "something they can't do much about."
We want our kids to perform well. And to do so we parents take responsibility away from them or do things for them to boost their performance. But in the process we aren't empowering our kids to problem solve, learn from their mistakes, be team players, navigate conflict. I recognize that grade and sports matter from a certain perspective, mainly to get our kids into good colleges. But what is wrong with a system that requires our kids to start performing and perfecting at such a young age, resulting in generations that don't learn to fail, to put others needs before their own and to clean up their own messes?
We are rewarding our kids based on their performance, their individual performance. It isn't that we can't celebrate our kids: but win or lose, score or miss, I want my kids to know I'm proud of them. I want them to pass the ball, play as a team, try their best. Everyone knows the kids who won't pass, who think they are better than the rest and so try to win the game themselves. And then the parents reward them. But in terms of a life long understanding of their worth, their importance, their significance, I think we are sending a message that you are more special when you perform well and that the messes (relational, physical, social, emotional) you make along the way don't matter, someone else will clean them up for you. And maybe in the process of teaching our kids responsibility they will find things, subjects, people and places that they care enough about to pursue with passion and excellence. They will learn to love well, learn well, to fail and get back up again.