When I talk with teenagers, who are using chemicals on a regular basis, one of the most common reasons they say they use is boredom.
“Matt,” they say, “There’s nothing to do in this town. What else are we supposed to do for fun?”
Allow me to translate this last quote into what I think they’re really telling us.
“Matt, we’ve grown up in a media and entertainment saturated culture. We never learned how to create our own fun. Using chemicals is a quick and easy way to have fun. We can entertain ourselves without having to be creative or plan ahead.”
Parents, remember when we were kids? Remember when we would run out of the house and hear someone yell behind us, “Just be back by dinnertime!”
The world was our oyster and the possibilities were endless. There were forts to be made, games to play, and friendships to be forged. From kick the can to hide and seek, our childhoods were a blur of scraped knees, frogs, toads and grass stains.
Many of the kids of this generation are different. This last winter, after a fresh snowfall, I drove through a residential neighborhood full of young families. It was well after school hours and there wasn’t one child out playing in it. I remember turning to my wife in amazement, “Where do you think all the kids are?”
With a shrug of her shoulders she said, “They’re probably inside playing video games.”
According to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation report, the average time children ages 8-18 spend outside of school each day with some form of electronic media is seven and a half hours, (www.kff.org). That is up from six hours a day that they recorded back in 1999. The report also noted that today’s youth are multitasking more and consuming ten and a half hours worth of media in the course of seven and a half actual hours.
The irony with these new statistics is that the youth who report a high level of media consumption are also 12% more bored than the youth who report light media use. This worries me. Youth today seem to be disconnecting from meaningful relationships and also from the ability to creatively think and find meaningful ways to have fun.
So what’s a parent to do Matt? Help them unplug and engage.
Today, more than ever, kids need help detaching from easy entertainment in order to dive into more meaningful and creative experiences.
Sound complicated? It’s not. Shut off the TV. Turn the iPod off. Shut the cell phone off. Put the iPad in a drawer. Close the laptop, take the ear buds out and shut off the mp3 player.
Find something for your child to do that will engage their problem solving or creative skills and then be willing to help them do it.
Sometimes thinking of creative activities isn’t so easy. To help, I would direct you to a free activity generator found at this website: http://www.parentfurther.com/resources/activity-generator
Just keep clicking on the, “give me another activity button” until you find one that might work for your family.
Parents, it’s okay and healthy to set limits on your child’s media consumption. It’s even better to go a step further and get involved in doing and planning activities with them that will have them interacting with the real world, real people or their imaginations.
Let’s help this “bored” generation discover that the answer to their boredom is in their imagination and just out their front door. They’ll thank us for it later.
Lakes Area Youth Service