Sunday, July 15, 2012

Free Time Does Not Equal Boredom

A few days ago I posted this on my facebook page.  While most people seemed to agree with me (it got many likes and was shared several times) someone else suggested that teenagers need entertainment from time to time.  A bored teenager is just trouble waiting to happen, apparently. 

This got me thinking back to my own teen years.  I lived on an air force base, well away from anything resembling a city.  There was a movie theatre there, and we had "Teen Town" dances once a week, but there were no other organized activities for us. Yet somehow, I never suffered from boredom.

My friends basically hung out at my place most evenings. We would listen to AM radio and just talk.  Other than that, we would go for walks and ride our bikes to a nearby beach. We would attend school dances that happened occasionally throughout the year. That was a bigger deal than teen town as we tended to get dressed up for the school dances. We weren't bored. We were enjoying each other's company.

Kids today are over scheduled.  Both parents have to work these days, just to make ends meet, so the kids are commonly shuffled off to day care at a very early age.  Then they find themselves in Kindergarten a few years later.  In my day you were at least 5 before you were in this sort of regimented environment.  Today's kids have scheduled times to do things at a much earlier age, and when they don't have a scheduled activity to take part in, they no longer seem to know what to do with themselves.

I think unscheduled time is extremely good for all of us. It gives us time to dream and experiment and even invent. We're all capable of amusing ourselves if someone doesn't give us the notion, at a very early age, that we have to be entertained by something outside of ourselves.

Things have changed over the past few generations.  There was no TV in my mother's day. I heard stories of her digging her fingers deep into the wool on sheep as she tried to ride on them.  She had a pet crow who could talk, and her dog used to go to school with her, and even lay at her feet in the classroom.  They played Cowboys and Indians with real BB guns.  She even shot her own mother with one once.  My Nana was playing with the kids and they were quiet so long that she thought they were gone and so she stood up from behind the rock where she had been hiding and POW!

In my own childhood we amused ourselves by putting on theatrical productions for my grandmother when she visited.  We even created a Circus a couple of times, complete with a parade, a gypsy fortune teller and games where you dropped pennies into a tub of water. Participants could win candy prizes if they managed to get one into a submerged cup. We were even fortunate enough to have a friend whose father had a cotton candy machine, and he would cooperate with us when we had a circus..  When we were not busy with big productions like that, we created a mail system where we wrote and delivered each other little notes. There was no e-mail or texting back then, of course, but the idea was the same.  We played in the woods and built forts and climbed trees, and if we wanted some extra money we knocked on doors and offered to clean people's basement windows. We played marbles and games like Red Rover and  hopscotch. We played Cowboys and Indians too, but we had cap pistols.  And when we did get a pellet gun, we were told not to shoot at anything live.  TV was something new and there were only a few channels back then. We were outside until the sun when down and we never looked to our parents to find us something to do. They would have found us some chores.

My own kids also spent time outside with their friends. They had a more defined boundary than I did, but they were still out there someplace, out of sight and often in the woods.  They didn't play Cowboys and Indians anymore. It was more like a game of war or something.  They were still shooting at one another, but since not all kids were allowed to have even  toy guns anymore, some of them just picked up a stick and pretended.  There were major arguements about whether the imaginary bullets hit the intended targets or not. This generation grew up with TV so sometimes it was hard to get the cartoons turned off and get them moving on weekends. There was swimming lessons in the summer, and things like soccer, bowling and karate were also available, but not everyone took part, and if they did, they usually only got involved in one or two things.

Today we seldom see a child outdoors, let alone unsupervised.  Not only are children now shepherded to and from school, they are always indoors, or under the watchful eye of some adult. There are all kinds of organized sports and other activities for them to take part in, and most of them know more about how to operate a multitudes of electronic devices that fascinate them to the point that they hardly move at all.  School is out now, and while the streets and woods would have been full of kids in past generations, it is eerily quiet out there now.

I feel sorry for today's children. They don't get the same chance to run and play freely as we did. They don't get to make up games and find innovative ways to amuse themselves. They rely on adults and electronic devices to keep them busy.  I'm thankful my own grandchildren have a cottage to go to, where they can explore nature and daydream from time to time. 

There have been many great inventors in this country. Our modern life would not be what it is if it had not been for them. But if our current crop of children do not get some unscheduled time to explore their world and have time to dream, they will never be able to work out how to do the things they dream of.  These are our future inventors. They need time and freedom to become creative.   I'd like to see today's adults take a step back, and let that happen. 

If kids have a chance to learn to amuse themselves when they are little, they continue to be able to do that throughout their lives.  Intelligent people are not usually bored , but I sure see how that might happen if a mind isn't given the chance to experience some unscheduled time and learn what might be done with it from an early age onward.

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