Remember those school-free days of summer you enjoyed as a child? I could not wait until summer arrived and I could relax during the long, lazy days of summer. I could swim, ride my bike, play with friends, go on a family vacation, sleep, and walk around town…the list seemed endless. Well, the list of possibilities seemed endless when summer began. Sometime in July, though, I began to get bored. My friends went on vacation at different times than I did. Riding my bike to the same old place day after day just lost its luster. Although I enjoy my sleep, you cannot sleep all the time. Besides, without air conditioning in the house it generally got too hot to enjoy sleep. That’s when I would hear it…the same old line every summer. I would approach my mother and say, “Mom, I’m bored.” She would look at me and smile before saying, “Well, find something to do.” That was not the answer I was looking for. I was hoping for a little relief…some direction…some sage advice that would direct me to the next exciting, over-the-top activity. But no, I’d just hear a simple, “Well, find something to do.”
As I look back, I realize what a great favor my mother did for me when she told me “find something to do.” She let me know that my boredom did not control me. I controlled it. It was under my power to be bored or not to be bored. Psychologists call the sense that “I have some control over events in my life” an internal locus on control. By throwing the responsibility for my boredom back on me rather than giving me something to do, my mother instilled an internal locus on control in me. This sense of control came in handy when I went to college. I knew that I had the control needed to manage my time. I could allow myself some boredom or I could find something to do. I did not have to rely on my peers for activities. I could decide for myself.
“Well, find something to do” also encouraged me to discover, get creative, and take some healthy risks. Sometimes I would do something unusual when allowed to “find something to do.” Maybe I could go for a bike ride, call a friend, mow the grass, go for a walk, or build mud pies. Many times, I chose to walk or ride my bike. In the process, I found interesting spiders, unusual leaves, and short cuts (adventures to a middle school child) to various places. I found my first record store while “finding something to do.” I learned how to “jump” my bike off a ramp and how to throw little green apples off the end of a stick. I found friends to ice skate with and I learned to skate backwards. I discovered what I could do, what I needed help with, and what I didn’t even want to try because my mother was kind enough to tell me to “find something to do.”
I also learned to entertain myself. I learned that I could have fun listening to music, playing music, reading, building, creating (I have to admit, my parents were less than happy with some of my creations—like the washtub bass I built), or just walking through the neighborhood watching people. I also learned that it is alright to be bored once in a while. Boredom did not kill me. In fact, boredom created the space for me to think and contemplate the world and the people in the world.
I realize we do not want to leave our children to their boredom all the time. But, boredom has its place…just as supervision and guidance do. Boredom encourages the development of many positive traits, like an internal locus of control, independent decision-making, discovery, time-management, and creativity. These traits come in handy when our children are faced with the peer pressures of high school and the sudden freedom of college. So, do your children a favor this summer. When they approach you to say, “I’m bored,” don’t tell them what to do. Don’t schedule their every waking moment. Simply reply by saying, “Excellent! Now you have a great opportunity to find something to do.”