Smart phones make excellent babysitters: TV, games, hang-out with friends, 24/7 social media – no need to leave the house. No need for expensive day trips. No need for family meals in noisy restaurants. No need to drive here, there and everywhere in pursuit of entertainment for the kids. Nope, they have it all, right there on their smart phone, or your smart phone if they’re not old enough to own one. Nanny McPhee embodied in a shiny hand sized device. Put aside fears of brain fry for now. Un-frazzled summer holidays is the name of the game. If only it were so easy…
There’s always a faint whiff of panic at the school gates as July draws the curtains on the educational year. The kids of course are beside themselves at the prospect of six weeks of blissful, endless days of summer freedom. The wide-eyed, grey expressions on parents’ faces are writ large with the fear of trying to fill so many long hours with ‘things to do’. How on earth do you keep the mini-monkeys occupied and out of harm’s way from morning to night, day after day after day, without them glued to smart phones? Imagine this. You turn off the Wi-Fi. Induce blank-screen boredom. Then what? Tantrums and cries of mistreatment, begging, tears, more begging. A torturous half-hour probably and then gradually, as the emptiness offers no quick-fix, their little minds start to get creative. In the olden days, when I was a kid, we had a drawer of odds n sods. Empty boxes, bits of coloured paper, a roll of string, glue. Stuff that now goes in the recycle bin. Back then parents didn’t lay on a cavalcade of entertainment, clowns, fiestas, festivals, play dates and sports camps. So in the absence of anything else, that drawer turned into a world of possibilities.
We dreamed up cities out of cardboard and sticky tape, we imagined worlds and we played there. We made pictures and sofa cushion-camps and we took our imaginations on intrepid adventures.
Our minds stretched outwards and upwards and side-wards like great wads of chewing gum. Boredom brought out the best in us. Of course parents mostly have to continue juggling work and childcare through the holidays and fear that boredom leads to trouble, forces them to create intricate schedules of activity for the little mites. But are we shutting down kid’s creativity when we fill every empty moment? Why not give them crevices and ravines of time, and the contents of the recycle bin, for their minds to explore? Their creative muscles will grow and your mind will relax. Why not bring back boredom.
Chiropractors, osteopaths and back surgeons must be rubbing their hands in glee at the sight of a whole young generation hunched over their screens, round shoulders, tight neck, nerve pain lying dormant in their hands ready for later. When parents do manage to peel their youngsters off their devices and thrust them towards any kind of physical activity, the benefits we know are manifold. Fit bodies make fit minds. It is easy to throw a ton of money if you have it at sports camps, or such like, that eat up weeks at a time. There is a school-centric rhythm to the schedules. Drop off the kids with their lunch boxes and several hours later they reappear tired and body activated. It certainly works. But where is the wilderness, the wildness, the lost-in-space sense of exploration. I’m from the 70s generation who survived lack of seat belts, passive smoking, power cuts and drunken driving. The flip side was we were a spin off from the 60s hippy vibe, and getting physical as kids meant being let loose to roam. Summer holidays were a mish-mash of pitching a tent in a field, building camps, swimming in the river.
Running was just part of getting from a to b and the same went for cycling. We live in a more safety conscious world now and kids’ activities questionably need a higher level of supervision and boundaries. But if you look into a school playground- a safe, contained space with fences around, you’ll see something magical happening. With nothing much provided, kids run around, jump, skip, interact, create make believe games, chase, hide, build things out of nothing. Let that spill out into the holidays. Give them the ‘boredom’ boundaries of a landscape and see what they do with it. It might be a park, or a field, a riverside, a forest, a hill, a town square or a village green. In our town square there are three spouts of water fountain springing out of the ground. The little kids are fascinated by it; curious to see how it just spurts through the concrete paving slabs, loving that they can run through it in summer, splash about in it in wellies on a rainy day and skid across it’s flat surface when it’s frozen. Time and space are springboards for the imagination and when you give kids that, their bodies will follow.
The Native American Indians, or First People, teach their children about silence. Not to be afraid of it but to use it to listen intently, to observe minutely. They learn to see and hear beyond the superficial. In this way children learn to pick up on the nuances of communication beyond words; they learn to read people. In silence they learn to hear their own thoughts and feelings. They learn to take notice of their natural instincts and intuitions. They learn how to trust themselves and to understand what matters to them most. Silence needn’t be a scary place where insecurities rattle heavy chains. When we teach kids about silence we give them the keys to their inner world where they aren’t haunted by demons, because they know it is a safe place; because we have shown them it is somewhere to sit and be themselves. A place to dream and take timeout. A place to imagine great futures. It becomes a place where they can retreat to work out their worries, not a place where their worries fester like fungus. When we don’t learn about silence, we become afraid of the space in our heads and it starts to bubble with the negative chatter of our inner critic. Instead when we teach our kids to turn off their phones and tend to their silent gardens they reap the benefit of mindful and meditative moments in their day. Give them boredom so that they may have time for silence. Rested and restored they will bounce back with renewed energy, laughter, chatter and creativity. May the school holidays be filled with pockets of serenity and silence, both for you and for your kids.
Silence, Space, Time and Boredom; small but precious gifts for our kids’ minds, bodies and souls.
Lou Hamilton is a Creative Well-Being Coach and Creator & Author of Brave New Girl – How to be Fearless published by Orion Spring. Brave New Guy is waiting in the wings.
Illustration by Lou Hamilton