When I was a kid I spent a lot of time alone. I was an only child and grew up in a rural area. My elementary school was a private Christian school that was about 30 minutes away from my house so, being without a car, I didn’t really see my school friends outside of school or the occasional sleepover or birthday party. I had a best friend who lived across the street and we played together often, but still there were large chunks of time when I was on my own.
The thing is, I don’t really remember being lonely. Not as a child. (Now, when I was a teenager it was a different story, but that’s for another time.) I played with my dolls and my action figures. I built forts in the woods. I wrote stories. I made up songs and performances and then charged my parents a nickel to come see me perform (see, even a child knows that artists can’t live on exposure!), I read a ton of books.
Every night, when I was trying to fall asleep, I would make up and tell myself elaborate stories in which I was the dashing hero. I was a lot of things; quirky, odd, creative, a “tomboy”, but one thing I wasn’t was bored.
Now, I’m sure I occasionally complained of boredom (what kid doesn’t) but generally I could find ways to fill up my time. And I was forced to. I had no video games, no screens. The internet didn’t exist for me. And my parents were unconcerned with my amusement. They both had jobs and worked long hours. They kept the household running. We did things as a family, sure, and they played games with me, but they definitely did not act as my personal event planners. Playdates were not a thing that was set up (not really). And if I complained too often of being bored there’s a good chance I would find myself with a list of not at all easy (or fun) chores.
This isn’t one of those “oh the good old days before the children were spoiled by everything posts” but it is a reflection on how my childhood shaped me to be the artist (and man) I am today. Those early experiences taught me that if I wanted to do something I could figure out how to do it. That I could make my own fun. That I could make art.
Those experiences taught me how to entertain myself, how to be comfortable with my own brain and way of thinking. They taught me to know myself both as a human and as a creative. And they forced me to create. When you’re alone as often as I was if you don’t figure out how to create then you go a little nuts.
I am concerned about how over-scheduled kids are these days. How they have massive amounts of homework starting very very young. How they dart from activity to activity to activity to homework to a too late bedtime without enough time to rest, to relax, and yes, to get bored. I worry about kids who are never told to find something to do on their own. (Granted, I also worried about the kids who are left mostly unsupervised and allowed to get away with anything.)
I think boredom in kids is really important. Downtime, rest. Time for the creative juices to kick in. Time for kids to figure out who they are, apart from their friends and their teachers and everyone else who is constantly exerting pressure on them.
So let the kids and teens be bored. Give them an entire weekend without anything scheduled. Limit them to one after school or weekend activity for a season. Let them hang out in a room with a stack of construction paper, some elmers glue, some markers, and some cardboard. You might be surprised at what they create. You might find out something new about your kid. But more importantly they’ll find out something new about themselves.