I Resign as Director of Entertainment

iggyI drove from Marrickville to Maitland yesterday accompanied by Mademoiselle Headstrong and Captain Chatterbox, who has just learned, with lightning speed, how to play Uno. In the car, he (whose actual name is “Sam” for those of you who aren’t aware) took it upon himself to instruct his sister. Oh how I laughed when, at the end of a game, Mademoiselle Headstrong in all innocence shouted, “Let’s play it again, Sam!”
Captain Chatterbox, who will turn seven later this year, has reached the point in his literacy journey whereby he can and does lie in bed and read chapter books to himself for pleasure. This delights me on two fronts: one, because literature has enriched my life in so many ways, both tangible and intangible; two, because ensuring our children have the capacity to entertain and overcome boredom themselves is an essential skill that parents do not develop in their children at the risk of their own sanity and their child’s ability to function in the big wide world without relying on mummy and daddy.

“It is every man’s duty to assume the moral responsibility for his own boredom.” Samuel Johnson

This is a screen-heavy era in which children seem to be born knowing how to “swipe” a device, in which avalanches of inexpensive discs and books and toys are given to our children no longer just for birthdays and Christmas but with pointless frequency, in which parents are run ragged ferrying their darlings to “enriching” activity after “enriching” activity, in which children’s requests / demands for attention, stimulation and direction are met in an instant, regardless of what the adults are doing, in the name of “good parenting” and “taking an interest in your child’s life” and “reassuring them that they are in a secure, loving environment” …

Fuck, I’m exhausted just writing that.

And the irony in all this is the more stimulation the lower the boredom threshold.

Look, do not misunderstand me – I am as guilty of all of the above as the next well-meaning yet misguided, misled parent. So, I have decided to attempt something radical: I am just going to leave my children alone. By this I do not mean I am planning to leave them at home while I pop out to the pub (as tempting as this notion frequently is). I mean I am not going to automatically respond with suggestions about what to do when they complain about being bored.

Boredom allows the child to reach a recurrent sense of emptiness out of which his real desire can crystallise.” Adam Phillips

Many studies have demonstrated that the mental state of “boredom” is actually fertile ground for the seeds of imagination, innovation and originality to germinate and begin to flourish. By denying children the chance to sit, stare blankly, daydream, reflect, we also deny them so much opportunity to develop resourcefulness, not to mention the ability to self-regulate their behaviour.

“Children need wild, unlimited hours, but this time is in short supply for many, who are diarised into wall-to-wall activities, scheduled from the moment they wake until the minute they sleep, every hour accounted for by parents whose actions are prompted by the fear their child may fall behind in the rat race that begins in the nursery. Loving their child, not wanting them to be lifelong losers, parents push them to achieve through effective time-use. Society instils a fear of the future that can be appeased only by sacrificing present play and idleness, and children feel the effects in stress and depression.”*

Of course I want my children to have friends, learning opportunities, to be able to swim, to engage in sports or music or dance, to see movies, to be technology-literate as well as loving good old-fashioned books. But I also want them to understand the beauty of solitude, of being able to sit with oneself contentedly, of silence. What a rare thing that is these days …

PS – Watch this thought-provoking piece from SBS about The School With No Rules


2 responses to “I Resign as Director of Entertainment

  1. Pingback: It’s All Greek To Them | marrickville maman·

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