A Parent’s Worst Enemy: The Gnawing Boredom of Summer

4 minute read

Darlena Cunha is a contributor to TIME

“Mom, I’m so bored. Are we doing anything fun today?”

This question is usually launched at me in the morning, before I’ve even had my coffee, from my children’s bedroom, before they’ve even gotten their little feet on the floor.

Summer is brutal and grueling by its mid-point, and families around the U.S. suffer the consequences of expecting elementary-grade children to entertain themselves for two and a half months.

While I appreciate on an intellectual level psychologists telling me to allow my children to be bored, in my day-to-day life, I can do nothing but laugh in the face of such advice and frantically search the Internet for more summer-camp options.

There was a time when boredom could have helped children discover what truly interested them. When I was a kid, if we became a nuisance to my parents, they booted us outside. Often that freedom to roam ended up with us laying on our backs in the yard bemoaning our existence, but other times we scampered into the woods behind our house, or went to pester the neighborhood kids.

We were allowed to do that by our parents. And our parents were allowed to do that by society. These days, leaving children to their own devices outside could result in a Child Protective Services visit. People get nervous when they see 7-year-olds playing by themselves.

In order for boredom to create self-sufficient children, we would need an entirely different system and society than the one we currently have. Giving kids room to explore and come up with ideas on their own without fear of restriction is impossible in a culture that expects parents to be right on top of them whatever they do.

If I am to allow my children to be bored, that means we have to do it in the house—near the television and their tablets and my computer and my phone. Be honest, parents, how many whining pleas do you have to hear before you give in and let them stick their face in “Temple Run” for an hour? That’s what boredom leads to these days.

Plus, it’s nothing short of hypocritical to force our kids to figure out something to do that doesn’t involve technology. When was the last time any of us were bored for more than five minutes without checking social media, flipping on Netflix or playing a video game?

But I also fail to see how making the long, hot summer days more enjoyable for my kids by allowing them to socialize with their peers doing productive activities is a bad thing.

Our suggestions for productive activities may actually help them become self-reliant adults more than boredom ever will because they add those ideas and categories to their lexicon. Just because I often give them the first step doesn’t mean they don’t take it from there and hone their imaginative skills. And I deal with a lot less whining this way.

The bottom line is: it’s not fair to expect young children to figure out how to deal with their boredom when most full-fledged adults never have to face boredom, either. And it’s not fair to give kids nothing to do when we’ve stifled their natural environment but not allowing them to find something to do outside the four walls of their home.

Psychologists telling parents to let kids be bored amounts to no more than just another parent-shaming tactic. We’ve been told for years that we need to help our kids get outside experiences and socialization. We need to help our kids understand rules and hierarchies of authority and schedules and time and appropriate activities. We need to do all this, and always be watching them, and keeping them school-ready come September, and giving them special parental attention. But apparently we also have to ignore them and let them be bored, as long as they stay within our earshot.

Not everyone has the bandwidth to redirect unhappy, bored kids for hours a day. I’ll take mine to the park, thank you very much. And I won’t feel bad about it.

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