It has been said that boredom is the path to learning about one’s self.

So, what happens when an entire generation is never given the opportunity to be bored? Between overscheduling extracurriculars, parenting styles bordering on obsession, and our kids being locked into one kind of technology or another nearly all day long, genuine self-discovery doesn’t seem to have a chance.

True boredom (not the false kind induced by a short but jarring lack of screen time) is literally a lost artform, of the most important kind. When kids are so used to immediately being given anything and everything they want—far beyond legitimate needs—they never have a quiet moment to think about what they really need, how they truly feel, and who they actually want to become…let alone honestly go to work for any of those discoveries. They simply do not have the skillset to mold everyday life into a set of meaningful experiences that help lead to the emotional and cognitive health required for a lifetime of success.

With technology, and even parents, at our children’s constant beck and call, our kids believe they are owed things that generations past grew up without entirely. And right NOW. Whether that’s a limitless taxi service or an emotional tap-out by way of locking into a screen and ignoring reality for a length of time, it creates the same monster: entitlement.

Which then often leads to isolation, sadness, and depression.

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Ugh. I’m depressed just reporting on it.

So, let’s flip the problem on its ugly head and talk about ways to start undoing what has already been done.

Our kids need to relearn responsibility. Responsibility is empowering. It gives a sense of purpose. It helps instill the message that our worth is internal and innate, unchangeable by outside factors like popularity, grades, money, etc. And it starts to help shift an entitlement mindset into one of contribution and opportunity.

Small children naturally want to help—it’s how they learn about their world and what’s important to them. We take that away when we start to doing everything for them or excessively reward them for simple, necessary tasks like helping clean up after themselves or contributing to basic household maintenance. Once understood and practiced consistently, those skills tend to stick, or at least come back around at some point if learned in youth.

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Those skills also provide the groundwork for a value system based on internal rewards, as opposed to external. It’s imperative to learn to be motivated by the satisfaction we feel by working hard, contributing, and creating something of worth—even when no one else acknowledges it. That kind of rewards system is not only more, well, rewarding, but more stable than one based on anyone else’s or society as a whole’s ever-changing opinions and practices.

Another massive opportunity for us to grow as parents here is to help our kids delay gratification. And it’s going to be an uphill battle in this world replete with push-of-a-button and even mere voice command levels of instant service.

Delayed gratification means you’re able to function under stress—whether physical, emotional, or mental. We need stress to motivate us to act, for better or worse. Stress can make us quit or find a way to succeed, but the latter almost surely takes time and hard work, i.e. delayed gratification before reaping the reward of success.

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But with today’s technology, we are primed to get answers, service, emotional numbing—essentially anything we want, even if it’s not good for us—immediately, and it takes away the necessity of real learning and growth, as well as any constructive use of our executive functioning. Which is a really nice pathway into the world of addiction. Yikes.

So, it’s time for parents to widen the gap between a child’s, “I want,” and “I get.” No more setting aside your own life (to extremes) in order to serve your kids’ whims. No more handing over your phone to solve grocery store “boredom”. No more great reward for doing the bare minimum to contribute.

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Go ahead and replace some of those things with more emotional and intellectual conversations. Play more games together. Make and eat dinner as a family more often. Create more opportunities to connect. But, by all means, LET THEM GET BORED.

You might find that your kids become more willing to set aside old habits while the excitement of discovering new ones—and themselves—takes over.

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The Boredom Bag

School has been out for two weeks and I’m starting to hear the occasional, “There’s nothing to do!”