Summer Boredom Can Be Good For Children

Helena Rodriguez

I don’t know how many times this summer my daughter Laura has called me at work with breaking news. The kind that warrants, in her mind, a press conference with a blue curtain in the background, a cluster of information-starved news reporters, a crawl line on CNN and the whole shebang.
At least, that’s what I was prone to think each time I picked up the receiver and she declared those two dreaded words of summer that are enough to send some parents into a panic attack.
“I’m bored.”
Well, stop the presses. Bring in the emergency rescue crews. Shut down the New York Stock Exchange. Stop Planet Earth from its rotational track. A young teenager in Portales, New Mexico, is dying of boredom.
When these news flashes began coming my way a few summers ago, I did what any sound-minded, somewhat over-protective, over-worried parent would do. I totally freaked.
Fast forward now to the summer of 2003.
Laura: “Mom, I’m bored!”
Me: “That’s nice, dear. It’s good for you. Go back to being bored sweetie.”
Laura: “But mom…”
Me: “Read a book. I highly recommend Rudolfo Anaya. How about the Bible? Start a project. Think of a new invention.”
I shudder to think what would have happened if Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin or the Wright Brothers were kept busy being shuttled back and forth from soccer practices, summer camps, dance, music and karate lessons.
I shudder to think what track my life would have taken had I not been bored that one summer day I stumbled across a Rudolfo Anaya book lying around the house. I had always enjoyed reading Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Boxcar Children books and was teased for being a bookworm. But when I opened up Anaya’s book and saw that he was writing about things I was familiar with — La Llorona, making tamales, attending velorios — I decided I could be a writer, too.
I read somewhere recently that it’s good for children to be bored. “Down time” is healthy. Now there’s a news alert.
On the other hand, too much boredom isn’t good either. My sisters and I spent many summer days watching “Gilligan’s Island” and “Brady Bunch” episodes and throwing apples at kids in my grandma’s neighborhood. Our best summers were attending summer recreation programs, learning theater and taking field trips. But I wouldn’t trade some of that down time in between either.
I’m also a strong advocate for quiet time. I like to have my quiet time in the evenings. That’s when I read, meditate, think, dream and have light-hearted, sometimes deep, serious conversations with my daughter. It bothers me that many of our lives today are too noisy, constantly being bombarded by continuous television and music. Some children even go to bed and wake up listening to a radio or TV. They have become their baby sitters. As a result many children seem to be afraid of silence. Afraid of sitting still. Afraid of being bored. But it may be just what they need before the frantic pace of school sets in again in a few weeks.
It may be hard to make time for “down time,” but it’s important. It’s during these quiet times that children can learn to think for themselves and perhaps hear the voice of God inside guiding them. That’s hard to do when our lives are so noisy. We adults could also benefit from time away from cell phones, work and worries.