Kids today: we already know that their FaceWii and their MyStation are making them fat and destroying their ability to form lasting relationships — but are they also failing to learn the value of boredom?
Nigel Farndale of the Telegraph thinks so. He writes,
Children nowadays have more toys to distract them than ever before – toys that are more sophisticated. This suggests they are bored because they are over- rather than under-stimulated. For with choice comes restlessness, a nagging feeling that there might be something better to play with, or something on television they are missing, if only they were not wasting their precious time playing with toys. But when they turn the television on, they hop constantly between the hundreds of channels available, so there is no rest for their minds there either.
Farndale is hardly the first to claim that today's children are glutted with entertainment, nor is he the first to extol the virtues of just staring into space (I hear this did wonders for Kaspar Hauser). However, he does have other kidstodayologists beat when it comes to extolling the Gallant-y wholesomeness of his own children's upbringing:
One letter-writer suggested that children who declare themselves bored should be given disagreeable jobs, such as weeding or cleaning silver. They are on to something with this, but again, like the reading, such a salve to boredom should not be treated as a punishment. Our children love peeling vegetables, raking leaves and mowing lawns.
I hate to be an impertinent, disrespectful Generation-Y-er, but: yeah fucking right. Maybe Farndale's brood pitch in more willingly than most, but writing the sentence "our children love peeling vegetables" is pretty much a recipe for teenage rebellion. And I'm surprised Farndale hasn't encountered any of the many adults whose absolute least favorite chore is the one they were assigned in childhood — especially if their parents claimed it was "fun."
I'm not convinced that kids today are worse at dealing with boredom than they used to be — my mom was telling me to develop my "inner resources" back in 1989. But I do agree with Farndale that toys are cooler than ever, and that this has done nothing to stop children from whining that there's nothing to do. Farndale's solution — "leave him or her alone in a room with a large cardboard box" — isn't a bad one, although in my experience it works better with cats. But maybe, just as kids need to accept boredom, adults need to accept that kids will complain of being bored.
Like other forms of boundary-pushing, kids protesting their lack of scintillating entertainment may be a way of negotiating their relationship with their parents and their own emerging identities. What they're saying is true — no matter how awesome your toys are, much of childhood is kind of boring. You have a lot of leisure time but you haven't really learned how to use it yet, and you don't have the freedom to do all the things you want. "I'm bored" may really mean "help me learn what to do with myself," and a bored child is probably crying out less for a potato peeler than for some sense of who he or she is. Parents who can foster such a sense may be rewarded with fewer requests for a Wii.