May 19, 2017

"Psychologists recommend children be bored in the summer."

The headline kind of misses the point.
“Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy,” says Lyn Fry, a child psychologist in London with a focus on education. “If parents spend all their time filling up their child’s spare time, then the child’s never going to learn to do this for themselves.”...

In 1993, psychoanalyst Adam Phillips wrote that the “capacity to be bored can be a developmental achievement for the child.” Boredom is a chance to contemplate life, rather than rushing through it.... “It is one of the most oppressive demands of adults that the child should be interested, rather than take time to find what interests him. Boredom is integral to the process of taking one’s time,” added Phillips.
Did your parents make great efforts to provide you with things to do over the summer? If you have kids: Did you generate lots of activities for your kids (or think you should)? Were you, as a child, admired for showing interest in things your parents pointed you toward? If you have kids: Do you express admiration for them when they show interest in the activities you provide for them? Do you ever stop and think they should get bored? 

61 comments:

dreams said...

I grew up on a farm and I remember this girl from the city who was visiting a neighbor for a couple of weeks in the summer and one day she was at our house and she said something about how boring it was and didn't we get bored. Sometimes we got bored but we usually found something to do, I think she was more bored than us.

Graham Powell said...

All I know is that these days there are summer (day) camps where you can learn to make video games or robots. That sounds like a lot more fun that the summer camps we had when I was a kid.

Larry J said...

God forbid that any child should ever be bored. Seriously, we were pretty much left on our own during the summer. Today, that would be called "free range" but back then, it was called "normal". We had some chores to do (I started mowing the lawn when I was 9) but they seldom took very long. The rest of the time, we found ways to entertain ourselves. I did the same for my stepsons. My youngest stepson and his wife keep their two boys constantly engaged in one activity after another. Music lessons, karate, swimming lessons, etc. The older one is more laid back, but then he also has less money to spend on such things.

Fernandinande said...

Here's a couple of kids "contemplating life" while they run a spinning machine.

Virtually Unknown said...

I would fill the time by stepping on old people's lawns.

exiledonmainstreet said...

My mom was not interested in whether I was bored or not. She wanted the kids outside and we could have spent the day sitting on the curb poking tar bubbles in the street for all she cared. But there were so many kids in the neighborhood that finding something to do was not an issue. Bike-riding, playing Red Rover or softball, exploring the "woods" in the park near our house, lounging in a hammock with a Nancy Drew book - lots to fill those summer days and the only requirement was to be back home before the street lights were on.

I really feel for today's kids who are hustled from one adult-supervised activity to another.

MountainMan said...

During the summer when I was young my mother would get us up early, just like a school day, feed us breakfast, we'd get dressed, then out the door. We only came home briefly for lunch, then back out and home about 6:00 for dinner. We did all kinds of things: swimming, baseball, basketball, or tennis at the nearby park; ride bikes all over town; go the library and get books for the summer reading program; build forts and play war in the nearby woods; grab scrap lumber and plywood from nearby housing construction and build stuff. I can remember only one time going to YMCA day camp for a week. We were on our own, all day every day. Never, ever bored. It was a wonderful childhood. Of course, very few mothers worked in those days so we knew nothing of day care, babysitters, etc. Mom was always there if we needed her.

Anonymous said...

If I said I was bored as a kid, my mother found an extra chore for me to do. So I soon learned to find my own pastimes! I do the same thing with my 6-year-old (my oldest) now. Especially if there is good weather, and once a child can read, there is never a reason to be bored! I'm one of the few mothers I know who doesn't plan much during the summer -- my kids have a week of swimming lessons and a week or Vacation Bible School -- but that's it. Other than that they make their own fun. --Jessica

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

I've had conversations with many of my fellow boomers over the years, confirming that we were largely left to wander around, especially in the summer. Some kids had organized sports or music, with adult supervision, but parents I knew all hoped that kids would gather with other kids and amuse themselves. Surely everyone knew the kids would sometimes get bored, but this was something for them to deal with. Parents making time for edifying activities, that would help us in the future? This certainly wasn't unheard of, but it was very different from "hovering."

exhelodrvr1 said...

Children should be given unscheduled time and space where they have to come up with things to do on their own. In today's world, that needs to include limitations on TV, smart phone, and computer activity.

gspencer said...

Towards Summer's end I would begin to look forward to the re-starting of school, though I usually would have to keep that thought to myself. Many a day passed (it seemed "many" at the time, though in retrospect it wouldn't have been that many) when a group of us would mope around, on a cloud-filled, but not rainy, day, usually in mid-afternoon, complaining, "There's nothing to do." Then, after 20-30 minutes, we'd get on our bikes, go somewhere, and find something to do.

It's my impression that such Summer days are not common today if for no other reason than the digital invasion.

William said...

People here are forgetful of rainy afternoons where time and boredom were infinite and excruciating.

Kate said...

Umm. Alright, I'll admit it. We unschooled our children, who are now adults. You don't tell your kids what they'll learn, they tell you. The entire theory of unschool is that a child -- a human being -- is never bored when left to pursue their own interests. It's countercultural, and a LOT of people will tell you you're an idiot if you follow this method.

tcrosse said...

Kierkegaard wrote that boredom was the root of all evil.

The Cracker Emcee said...

My summers were like exiled and MM's. I still remember sometimes feeling a a sense of wonder on summer evenings because I had done so many different things that day that it seemed to have gone on forever. Now I only get that feeling at work.

CStanley said...

I'm for balance- provide some structure and opportunity and then some blank spaces for the kids to fill in.

The old idealized version of free range kids isn't possible for most of us anymore, so no use beating up parents who can't use that approach.

My kids go to the local outdoor YMCA camp which is a contained version of the old free range. Large wooded complex on a lake, contained and with some supervision so they're safe, but they run around and swim and make stuff all day. It's also where all the other kids go, so if I kept them home there would be no other kids around in the neighborhood for them to hang out with.

exhelodrvr1 said...

"People here are forgetful of rainy afternoons where time and boredom were infinite and excruciating."

Books. Board games. Setting up intricate toy soldier battlefields on your bedroom floor with Lincoln logs and Legos. Putting on a raincoat and walking to the library.

dreams said...

I can remember when I was kid the rural small towns in the summer where you would see the kids out walking around going to somewhere or whatever but now when I drive back to those small towns, I don't see any kids out and about.

MadisonMan said...

Growing up, I'm sure I was bored at times. This occurred most frequently on car trips. One can only play so much of the Alphabet Game, searching for that elusive Quaker State Motor Oil sign -- I think I eventually knew where they all were within 100 miles of home.

It didn't help that I was unable to read in the car -- motion sickness.

The bigger question is: Why should I listen to Psychologists in this matter?

Birches said...

I've signed my kids up for track this summer, which is two days a week for an hour and a half. Track is the least structured (and least expensive) activity I can find. My son really wants to play baseball, but it's two practices a week and Saturday games---we'd never get to go camping. I don't like being tied to a schedule during the summer. If my kids complain about boredom I will give them some work. My oldest two will also have piano lessons, but they will ride their bikes there on their own and I won't mind if they linger a little on the way home. My spouse and I decided they were old enough to visit the pool on their own, which means they will probably be there every afternoon while my little ones are napping.

Wilbur said...

In the summer, if the chores were done, I was out the door by 8:00 and knocking on neighbors' doors to get their kids out too. Days filled with no-adult baseball, bike riding, pond swimming, playing war, scrapping with each other but friends soon after - it was anything but boring.

When it rained, we just "messed around" and did "stuff" inside.

No one ever heard of a summer camp in any form. When I heard about them in adulthood, they sounded like what we did for free and without adult supervision. And that sounded great, too.

Virtually Unknown said...

I remember one of my schoolmates drowned in the river, we went fishing there the next day, unsupervised, of course.

Here I am, still alive.

Wilbur said...

dreams said...
I can remember when I was kid the rural small towns in the summer where you would see the kids out walking around going to somewhere or whatever but now when I drive back to those small towns, I don't see any kids out and about.


I noticed that about 25-30 years ago. I stopped seeing kids playing pick-up-sides baseball or for that matter playing outside generally.

Peter said...

So long as charge remains in the cellphone, one need never be bored. But what does one do after the battery expires if/when there's no place to charge it?

Many adults seem to have a low boredom threshold, to the point where sitting alone with one's one thoughts becomes unendurable after just a few minutes. Has it always been like this and, if not, does it matter?

Virtually Unknown said...

Fishing was better when it was raining.

cubanbob said...

I don't see the need to promote boredom in childhood. It is a relatively brief period of one's life, there is plenty of time in one's adulthood for boredom.

Sarah Rolph said...

We did things as a family or with other families (our parents had a circle of friends with kids roughly our ages) -- big vacations to Yosemite or Sequoia, cookouts at parks or at someone's house, outings to the mountains or the beach. On the Fourth of July there was always a cookout and our tradition was to make ice cream in an old-fashioned ice-cream maker. The rest of the time we were in charge of our own summer activities. We would ride our bikes for miles, play hide and seek, climb trees, go to the park, etc. It was normal to just go to someone's house and ask if they could come out and play. Ever once in a while our parents would drive us some place, like the community pool, which was too far to walk, but mostly we were on foot or on bikes. We lived in a few different places. In Sierra Madre, we lived in a canyon and had a vacant lot next door where I spent a lot of time by myself pretending to be a pioneer, doing vaguely nature-oriented things like grinding up plants with rocks. The smells come back to me as I type that. When we lived near the ocean we would "go down to the rocks" which meant walking to the shoreline and hanging out there. The only rule was to be home by dinnertime, which was at 6.

Thinking back, it all seems like such fun, but we often complained of being bored. One of our cures for that was to write down all the activities we could think of, each on a small slip of paper, then put them all in a coffee can and draw one out. If you didn't feel like doing whatever it was, that would usually jog your memory into thinking of something you did feel like doing.

When my brother had kids, he made a point of living in a neighborhood with lots of other kids, but things had already changed; he was considered odd for letting his kids roam free, and they were considered odd for spur-of-the-moment invitations to come out and play.

mccullough said...

Cherry bombs, cigarettes, and Playboy magazines

Wade Calvert said...

Yes, we occupy as much of our kids summertime as possible with day camps and other organized activities. However, our motivation is not to keep them from being bored. It's to keep us sane. kids that are bored are nightmares to deal with.

Mike said...

Boredom is so underrated nowadays. Summer days are long and one doesn't always have activities to fill the hours. These are the times you lie on your back watching the sun traverse the sky in a clockwise manner.

Ann Althouse said...

"One can only play so much of the Alphabet Game, searching for that elusive Quaker State Motor Oil sign -- I think I eventually knew where they all were within 100 miles of home."

I looked for antiques and liquor.

We used to laugh ourselves silly over the question whether the x shaped creases on the back of my father's neck could be used for the letter x.

That was back before cars had headrests.

Freeman Hunt said...

Don't give them screens, and they come up with plenty of things on their own.

exiledonmainstreet said...


"I looked for antiques and liquor."

License plates. We kept track, hoping to see spot license plates from all 50 states. I remember my excitement when I spotted the ever-elusive Delaware tag on a car in southwestern Wisconsin. It was like a bird watcher getting a glimpse of the rare scarlet-throated honey thrusher.

We kept hoping but we never saw a Hawaii or Alaska or Rhode Island one.

Tari said...

My younger son's school lets the boys have unstructured free time in the afternoons. School ends at 3:20 but we don't have to pick our sons up until 5 or 5:30 if we don't want to. Teachers are around; they keep an eye on things but don't direct activity. Electronics aren't allowed on school grounds so the boys make their own fun. It's really a re-creation of what neighborhood life was like 30+ years ago. Some older boys have sports practice, depending on the season, and some boys have tutoring appointments or music lessons after school. But otherwise, the boys wander around the grounds (they aren't allowed in classrooms after school) and play with one another. They climb trees, build forts, have hole-digging contests, play cards, swing on the rope swing, whack each other with bamboo "swords" they make themselves - you name it. When it rains, they do all the same things while jumping in puddles and covering themselves with mud. It's amazing, and they are NEVER, EVER "bored".

exiledonmainstreet said...

I used to wonder why some states had the county of the owner listed on the license plate. Did people in Florida and Georgia have to be reminded of what county they lived in?

Mike said...

I used to tell my kids, "You aren't allowed to be bored. Even if you're doing nothing you can use your brain to think about things." This was probably a derivative of the fact that as a youngster I was careful never to say, "I'm bored," because my mother had an endless list of things she would suggest I do if I couldn't find something on my own.

Tom said...

I was born in 1975 and was an only child. Son of a fire fighter and starving artist and lived in a working class town in Northern KY. My summers were mostly made up of going to the pool and playing with my friends in the huge woods behind my house. As we got older, we'd play pick up sports down the park or at the pool (basketball, whiffle ball, football, etc.). I usually had 2 weeks of "enrichment activities" during the summer. These were things like Space Camp, college programs for kids, and I did three summers of archeological digs. My parents didn't go out looking for these activities -- I usually approached them and, if we could afford it, I was able to go. I had to mow a lot of lawns to help pay for the costs of these activities as well.

In HS, football started taking up the second half of summer. We'd lift weights and workout on our own for the first half of the summer and then head to conditioning and two-a-day practices toward the end of July. Again, these were my choices, not my parents.

Our parents let us figure out what we were going to do. My entire childhood, I was out of the house after breakfast and then would head out with my friends for some adventure, returning when it got dark or just after streetlights. I remember reading books like Tom Sawyer and a lot of my childhood looked like a more modern version of that ideal. My mom's job was to make sure my knees were bandaged and there was some sort of food in the house. Otherwise, what I did or didn't do was largely up to me and my friends.

BTW, I'm a CEO now and run a successful consulting company and I pretty much still set my own schedule and my own points of focus.

dda6ga dda6ga said...

Another NSS article, got to publish you know...

Tom said...

Something else that was interesting. I would head out for the day to see my friends and I had to go knock on their doors to even see if they were there. Or they had to come by and knock on my door. That's how we would round everyone up.

We only played video games on rainy days. But it was fun to grow up with Atari and Nintendo. Getting the see the entire arc of video games, from pong (which we had) to Playstation 3 has been pretty cool. But that was what was reserved for bad weather days, not as the main activity.

tim maguire said...

We go to some effort in our house to make sure our daughter is not catered to for entertainment. At least not all the time. It's no great revelation that boredom is important, especially for the imagination.

But it can be hard. There's a lot of whining, especially at first. As with many of these modern indulgences, they are for the parents as much as for the kids.

Karen of Texas said...

When my children were young:

"Mommmm, I'm bored!!"

"Hi, Bored. Nice to meet you. I'm mom."

They figured it out.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Driving across Iowa was always good for the 99 counties license plate game. You'd spot one and my father would tell you the county seat, like other people can name state capitols.

Polk - Des Moines
Des Moines - Burlington
Webster - Fort Dodge
Hamilton - Webster City
Story - Nevada (not Ames like you might think, and don't pronounce it like the state)

This game could go on all day. And once you learn it, it's impossible to drive around Iowa without playing it.

Inga said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Inga said...

Summers were rarely boring growing up in Milwaukee's outskirts. Our alleys were so new they weren't paved yet and one of them had a brook running through it, to splash in. Games of kick ball in the street, catching fireflies in the evening, looking for caterpillars, playing dolls with the neighbor girls, there were 9 girls in that family. Going to the library on really hot days, getting a popsickle on the way home and then reading those books in the cool of the rec room in the basement. Begging to go to a matinee at the movie theater, we walked there. Sitting on the back porch watching summer storms roll in. We didn't dare complain about being bored, our parents would've found something for us to clean, or fold. Kids starting going indoors when their parents called them or street lights came on. "Star light star bright.." I recall games of "I spy with my little eye.." on road trips.

My grandkids have some scheduled activities, lessons, but spend a good deal of time outside on the water, as they stay at their lake home during the summer. Grandson takes sailing lessons and just bought his own one man little sailboat with money he saved up from birthdays and chores. Rainy days are boring to them and they make forts of blankets and chairs, just like we did as kids. Lots of art supplies, as well as the electronic devices, sigh, keep them occupied. My daughter has her younger children read book series, like the Little House series, or Anne of Green Gables or some from the more modern children's book writers. There are less children in the immediate vicinity, so there are often friends over or they visit friends, lots of driving them around for their mom.

Inga said...

Ah yes and swimming in the neighborhood park's pool, which was quite often on hot days.

Inga said...

"Something else that was interesting. I would head out for the day to see my friends and I had to go knock on their doors to even see if they were there. Or they had to come by and knock on my door. That's how we would round everyone up."

I'm so old that I recall neighborhood kids standing outside the screen door yelling "Call for ______ "!

Inga said...

My own children did a great deal of playing outside also, there was less unsupervised time outside though as news reports of child abductions and such started becoming more frequent. My own kids were not allowed off the block and had to let me know whose house they were going to. There was less walking to places as there were no longer in walking distance. There was less scheduled activities and lessons as there are today, but they always had one such scheduled activity/ lesson per summer. Moms did more carpooling and driving kids to skating rinks, movies, the mall, etc. My kids spent a good deal of time at their grandparents also, as I worked. Grandpa was good about taking them to the park.

rhhardin said...

Girls use the time developing skill in passive aggression.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

This reminds me of Dave Barry fondling recalling summertime activities such as coloring his entire stomach with a ballpoint pen.

Lewis Wetzel said...

Do psychologists really believe this? Is this what is taught to young wannabe psychologists?
“Your role as a parent is to prepare children to take their place in society. Being an adult means occupying yourself and filling up your leisure time in a way that will make you happy . . .”

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Summertime isn't easy these days in the Pants household.

We live on the surface of the sun so playing outdoors isn't really much of an option, and even if I threw them out there anyway, A. there are no other kids outside and B. someone will call the cops on me and I don't need that hassle. (It's happened twice before.)

I do my best to limit screen time and to let them get bored enough to pick up one of the thousands of books in this house. I can't keep them all in camps all summer because it's too expensive. When they start projects and so forth it's hard to keep the messes from driving me up the wall (I need order way too much to have had five kids, but here we are). They want to be in the kitchen constantly which means I spend the entire day cleaning up after them. To top it off my husband works from home so they need to occasionally shut their loud mouths and not barge in every five seconds while he's on conference calls in the home office.

Our solution last summer was to designate the upstairs as the kid zone (all five have their own bedrooms plus there's a media area and a bathroom so it's plenty of space) and they have to keep all their clutter up there, and I basically leave it alone except for a required weekly tidy. They have to have permission to use the downstairs as it's adult zone (office, kitchen, formal dining room, our bedroom, family room that is centrally located and no one else wants to hear that TV blaring). The kitchen is only available to them during three short daily scheduled windows.

Inga said...

Pants, I feel your pain regarding a mess in the kitchen. I was happy that my mom was willing to do baking with the kids when they visited, I absolutely hated those damn rolled cookies and the floury mess they made.

Daniel Richwine said...

I think it's kind of crazy to want your kids to be bored. It's like telling them you have all of this delicious food they could eat but you're going to get bread and water because that's what I had as a kid, and you need to be like me.
I think about the ones I love and how to make them happy. Life's hard enough without putting artificial obstacles in front of your kids. I plan stuff and let them have unstructured time, and even still they get bored. I can't imagine actually planning on making my kids bored to satisfy some pop psych theory.

Birches said...

School ends at 3:20 but we don't have to pick our sons up until 5 or 5:30 if we don't want to. Teachers are around; they keep an eye on things but don't direct activity.

Sounds like the school has a "Free Range Kids" advocate. Good for them.

readering said...

I did always look forward to the start of the school year in September.

Tari said...

Birches, in a way, yes. The school is run entirely by men, and they spend a lot of time letting the boys revel in being boys. The education is pretty classical, and they talk a lot with the boys about being gentlemen, being respectful, etc - but at the same time they want the boys to be themselves. The boys really sense what's going on as well. Sometimes it's confusing to hear teenage boys who wear ties all day and refer to each other in class as "Mr. Jones" and "Mr. Smith" talk about how free they are - but they are free. They are consistently given a chance to make their own choices, because making choices is a skill that needs practice. If we hem our kids in too much, they never make decisions for themselves, and consequently they never learn how to do so. Maybe that's why it's important to be "bored" from time to time - because when you're bored you make choices about how to fix that. Those choices reflect who you really are (and help you figure out who that is), and they provide practice for the decisions you'll make later in life.

William Chadwick said...

Wait, what?! Oh . . . I thought it said "Psychologists recommend that children be BONED in the summer," not "bored." Well, that's different, isn't it? Never mind.

Rick Turley said...

exiledonmainstreet said...

"My mom was not interested in whether I was bored or not. She wanted the kids outside and we could have spent the day sitting on the curb poking tar bubbles in the street for all she cared. But there were so many kids in the neighborhood that finding something to do was not an issue."

As a child of the late Fifties, early Sixties my suburban upbringing was much like this with more sports and playing "army." Making rocket bombs of caps, matchheads, and spent CO2 cartridges was also much in fashion. Reading Nancy Drew, not so much.

Speaking of Nancy Drew, was watch a Fraiser episode the other night and there was this repartee:

Frasier: Good for you, Roz! You know, I dabbled in juvenile fiction
myself. Yes, Niles and I when we were boys wrote a series
of stories together in which we were the heroes. Along the
lines of a "Hardy Boys" or a "Nancy Drew"...

Roz: "The Nancy Boys"?

urbane legend said...

exiledonmainstreet said...
I used to wonder why some states had the county of the owner listed on the license plate. Did people in Florida and Georgia have to be reminded of what county they lived in?

It is FL and GA. How do you expect us to find our way home? None of us own a self-driving Tesla.

Craig Howard said...

"Hi, Bored. Nice to meet you. I'm mom."

Heh.

Five kids in unison as Dad walked out the door: "Where ya' goin?"

Dad: "Craaaaazy."

Bad Lieutenant said...

Dream Song 14
By John Berryman
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,

who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.

John Berryman, Dream Song 14 from The Dream Songs.