Boredom – The Roots and Remedy

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Boredom – The Roots and Remedy

“I’m bored…” The phrase nearly every parent hears throughout the summer, and it seems that it does not matter how many activities, camps, groups or events your child is signed up for – the issue of boredom is constantly lurking around the corner of the next hour. Inevitably, it happens around day two of summer. Day one is filled with the joy of being unrestrained by school and homework. Day two is then filled with the despair of several months with ‘nothing to do’. In my own work with adolescents this is an issue that gets brought up consistently, and which is often contributed to a lack of ‘stuff’ to do. The answer to boredom has typically been to find more stuff to fill up the day with, which occassionally works in the short-term but invariably fails in the long. So what’s the deal? If boredom is due to a lack of activities to keep my attention, shouldn’t filling up the day with stuff aleviate it?
I want to consider a different paradigm for this issue. What if boredom is not about a lack of activity, but actually about a lack of connection?
Think about those times you get bored. How often does it take place with people you care for and who you are cared for by? How often do we get bored when we are emotionally connected with another person? Were you bored when you fell in love, made new friends, or travelled with old friends? I’d venture to say that you probably were not.
I know for myself that those times when I get bored are essentially those times when I feel alone, disconnected and detached. For instance, my family and I recently moved into a different house and we wanted to make some cosmetic changes before moving in all the furniture, putting up the decor, etc. In the past three weeks we’ve painted, trimmed, drywalled, sanded, and on and on. (Note: don’t take my advice on doing this all by yourself, that’s another issue for another blog. I’m what you might call someone who bites off far more than he can chew.) It’s important for you to know that I love this stuff. My first job was working for a contractor where I learned a lot about carpentry, painting and masonry. I get a lot of satisfaction from working with my hands. However, this didn’t stop the boredom. Our first big push was painting. I had about 10 friends come over at different times during a weekend and we painted a majority of the house in a 36 hour period. I was full of energy at this point. The next big push was to strip down popcorn, flatten and paint the ceilings. At this point my family went out of town for several days, my friends were all busy, and I was alone – and bored. Trust me, I had plenty to do. In fact, I had plenty to do that I thoroughly enjoyed doing, but I still got bored. I lost interest in the work. Rather than fixing the walls I found myself staring at them.  Instead of piling on more activity, I tried something different this time. I called a couple of good friends and spent some time just being with them. My boredom eased away and I found myself energized to finish repairing the ceilings. This is not just the case for extraverts like myself. We all (including introverts) need connection to others, although it may look different and come about in various ways.
You see, the root of boredom is not a lack of activity but a lack of true connection to others. Thus, the remedy for boredom is not more ‘stuff’ to do but more intimate connection with others. To understand what I mean by ‘intimate connection with others’ check out this post on intimacy.
I’d like you to ask your child how lonely they are the next time they whine about boredom. Rather than piling on some new event, sport, activity or camp, spend some time connecting with them. Help them get connected to people, not just activities.