MY CHILDREN ARE BORED. They tell me this all the time. They are bored with their toys, with their rooms, with their books. They sit on the couch and fret and they complain to me. “Daddy, I’m so bored.” They’re so bored even the alluring shine of a smartphone screen excites nothing in them. They are more jaded and weary than a Las Vegas lounge singer. Not one of them is a teenager. Yet the world for them has already lost its vibrancy. There is nothing left to do. They’re bored.
“Daddy, I’m bored,” says the middle one, groaning in the kitchen. “What can I do?”
“I don’t know. Read a book.”
“Why not go and play with the neighbors?”
“They’re boring too.”
“Oh well. I’m sure you’ll think of something to do.”
“But I’m bored.”
And so it goes around. I am frustrated with my children, but I am not the only one. Many articles have appeared in recent years discussing the exact same dialogues. Not only are my children bored, it seems. Other children are bored. A whole generation of children is bored. They have been entertained and occupied for their entire lives. With activities, with applications. So when that brutal moment arrives when nothing is being offered for them to do or to watch or to consume, they fall into despair. They are bored. They are like baby chicks crying to be fed from the nest, and we are like anxious and irritable mother and father birds tiring of feeding them worms. It’s time for them to leave the nest, at least mentally, and to think of something to do by themselves. But they won’t leave. They tweet and twitter and flap their wings, convulsing with helplessness. “Help us, help! Help us! WE’RE SO BORED.”
My own childhood was not the stuff of magic — pretty ordinary as I see it — but I don’t recall being bored whenever a free moment arrived. Instead, I saw it as an opportunity to get something done. I always had little projects going on, for as long as I can remember. I was building a castle with blocks. Or setting up a battle with toy soldiers. I recall my grandfather coming over to visit once to help my father assemble a swing set. As they worked, I sat in my sandbox, creating a parking garage for my toy cars. It was multi-leveled, with different routes in and out. Pretty ingenious for a garage made out of sand. Nobody told me to make one either. I just decided to do it myself.
Recently, I went for a walk with my two older daughters near the famous lighthouse in Montauk, New York. If you want to know where Montauk is, I will tell you. You drive two hours east of New York City, through the famous Hamptons — those quaint beach communities where Paul McCartney and Jay-Z own beachfront homes — and then through miles of desolate and sandy pine barrens, until you finally reach the windy point.
We decided to walk around the lighthouse, which went well, although one slipped on the stones and skinned her knee, and the other one spent half of the time taking selfies of herself with the lighthouse in the background. On the way back, we got lost. The area around the lighthouse was fenced off, and so we had to find a path through the woods, which were lush and thick, with vines hanging, creating a canopy that hid the light. It was jungle cave dark there in the woods, and I recognized many plants: the wild raspberry bushes, the suspended honeysuckle flowers. I knew which plants were edible, which ones were poisonous. I knew, because I used to play in the woods when I was a boy. I went into the woods with other children, other children who taught me which berries to eat. Nobody’s parents ever came in the woods, and none of them sent us to the woods.
We just went.
That instinct — to just do something, anything, to satisfy one’s inner curiosity — seems to be lacking in my children and others like them, who expect entertainment to be delivered with the touch of a button. This is not a critique of modern youth, but it does worry me from time to time. Yet, I should be fair. This is not always the case. Sometimes they are quite creative on their own. They dress themselves up, or invent interesting games. “Let’s play Valge Daam,” one declares, and they vanish into the cellar to pretend. I can hear them act out the various roles and I feel so proud in these moments. By that time, they’ve become so disenchanted with life, they forget they were bored to begin with.