• Boredom – the universal dilemma of summer

    by Gary Huerta

    It’s that time of year. The season when hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of kids around this country of ours utter two words that terrify parents.

    “I’m bored.”

    If my calculations are correct, the initial onslaught of this phrase has already begun to trickle out of children’s mouths with mind-numbing regularity. And as much as we parents try to find activities like summer day camp, music lessons and our 15th trip to the zoo, we’re helpless to stop these two words from torturing us from now until Labor Day.

    Of course, the Fourth of July provides a brief respite, especially if you live in an area where “safe and sane” fireworks are legal. Nothing thrills the progeny of America more than the opportunity to blow shit up under the supervision of drunk, inattentive adults. That said, strapping numerous roman candles and sparklers together and lighting them simultaneously only occupies offspring for a few days, or until the gunpowder supplies are exhausted. Once the bright and shiny objects are nothing more than a cloud of smoke, the onslaught begins anew.

    “I’m bored.”

    It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. Kryptonite. The ultimate thorn in the side.

    To those of us with insanely busy lives, boredom seems like the ultimate luxury. Every day as I head down the freeway towards the mayhem and madness of my day job, I think of how glorious it would be to bask in the luxury of boredom. To wake up and not know exactly what to do with my day…or the next…for an entire summer! I sometimes picture myself on an empty beach with a stack of good books, a Camelback filled with margaritas and no cell phone reception. I’d get up at my leisure, stumble down to the shoreline and let the incoming tide wet my toes. Or maybe I’d just sit and think about stumbling down to the shoreline for a while longer.

    Slurp. Glug. Zzz.

    Ah, boredom. Of course, to achieve this state of nothingness, I’d need a clone to go to my Fortune 100 job so that my paychecks will continue to arrive. I will also require someone to do my laundry, pay my bills, clean my house, watch my kids, and feed my turtle so I can preoccupy myself with the rigors of slacking. Oh yeah, someone is also going to need to shop for margarita mix – after all, how else is my hydration system going to remain topped off while I am doing nothing, nada, zippo under the shade of my striped umbrella?

    And since it’s nothing more than a fantasy, “Where are my three cabana girls? I need Coppertone rubbed on my back, dammit!”

    Personally, I think kids get bored because they don’t know how good they’ve got it. But it’s not their fault. It’s a right of passage. I probably told my mom I was bored several thousand times between kindergarten and 6th grade. And admit it, you probably said it a few times, too.

    Being bored is the childhood equivalent of death and taxes. It’s unavoidable. So too is the inevitable role reversal. One minute you’re the kid rolling his eyes at every stupid suggestion of how to fill your time. Then, in a flash, you’re the parent, trying to convince your child that your suggestions aren’t stupid while he or she stares back at you with utter contempt.

    How about cleaning your room? Putting away the peanut butter and jelly you left out? Seeing how long you can hide before I find you? Side note: This last one was always a favorite suggestion of my mother’s, although for some reason she never found me. Go figure.

    Oh well, at least those momentary conflicts between young and old are guaranteed to fill two minutes of their time.

    Now, what to do about the next 75 days? From personal experience, I know telling your kids to “Go out and find something to do” can lead to real trouble. Every time my mom requested I find ways to occupy myself, it usually led to me getting into trouble.

    In the summer of 1972, I decided it might be fun to wander into the supermarket and help myself to a squirt gun and some Lemonheads. I was immediately apprehended and summarily grounded for a month, thus giving me nothing to do but make life miserable for my mother/prison guard. I was ultimately released from custody two weeks early after setting the world record for saying, “I’m bored.”

    When left to my own devices on other occasions, I would usually end up in the home of one of my friend’s homes – the ones whose parents both worked. If there’s one thing worse than an unsupervised child, it’s five or six of them. My mom stayed at home, so this foray into the adult-free home was always quite the adventure. We snuck cigarettes, played spin the bottle, watched TV and ate crap until our bellies ached. There was always one kid who wanted to take his clothes off and run around naked. For the record, I was never that kid. Our mischief was nothing like the cough syrup drinking, bath salt sniffing escapades of today’s youth, but we were unproductive nevertheless.

    I remember one particular instance when I played a game called, “Heroin Freak” with a friend named Binky. He’d take a rubber band, put it on his arm, use a spoon and mime filling a needle with something and shooting it into a vein. He’d then collapse on his back and pretend he couldn’t move for 10 seconds. Then I’d do it, even though I had no idea what I was doing. Hell, I didn’t even know what heroin was.

    Only many years later did I put two and two together and surmise his accurate portrayal of a heroin high converted to a game may have been an imitation of something he was seeing in his environment – perhaps from his older brother.

    With that experience forever and vividly burned into my memory, there’s no way I’m going to tell my kids to go out and find something to do when they say they’re bored.

    So what’s the answer? I have no idea.

    Try as we might, I think it is impossible to keep children from saying, “I’m bored,” at least two or three hundred times between June and September. We have a pool and boredom still reigns supreme, for God’s sake!

    The insane thing about this struggle is how much more today’s kids have to occupy their time. That said, this argument always fails, even though every generation has tried to use it. Our grandparents had nothing but a can to kick. Our parents only had board games and trolley cars to hop on. We endured with nothing but Little Rascals and Three Stooges reruns. Among other things, our kids have: 3D games on the Wii, iPods, iPads, Skype, and their cell phones – the latter of which may be used to text you with insightful messages like, “I’m bored.”

    In the end, when all is said and done, parents will never find the ultimate cure for summer boredom. It’s been an ongoing rite of passage for generations and will most likely continue until apes rise up and take over the planet. For all we know this could be a universal condition – an element as necessary as oxygen for a species to survive. There could be little blue kids on some distant planet driving their parent’s nuts in the exact same way.

    “I am bored,” said Meep, the blue alien.

    “Why don’t you use the teleporter and travel back three million years?” replied his mom.

    “Aw. That’s all there ever is to do,” sighed Meep, slithering away in disgust, his two heads hanging low.

    Parents everywhere look at kids through the jaded filter of their grown-up lives, where there’s never enough time to get anything done, and wonder how in the hell anyone can have the gall to say they’re bored. And as we rant and rave like lunatics about how great it would be to have enough time to reacquaint ourselves with boredom, our kids look right back at us with an equal amount of curiosity. At least for a few minutes.

    And then they’re bored again.

    • I think if you let them be bored they will find something to do. Just ignore the comments and they will find something. We always did. Our parents didn’t tolerate us saying we were bored. Our lives were filled with adventures and street play and this was in the 50’s and 60’s pre anything sedentary like the games of today. Thank goodness I had boys who loved sports so they were outside almost all summer when not at sport camps.Also, if the parents of today stopped helicoptering their kids they might actually prove they have imagination and can actually find something to do.Old school in some ways so much better.

      • Kelvin

      • July 8, 2012 at 8:02 pm
      • Reply

      You’re so right, Gary. Kids are uttering those words coast to coast. We all wish we had that luxury.

      Growing up, me and my brothers couldn’t say we were bored in my house. If we said we were bored we would end up washing the car, mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, clearing rocks out of the yard, cleaning our rooms, vacuuming, cleaning the garage, hosing off the driveway and a zillion other things. Being bored was definitely a luxury. My parents grew up poor in East Texas in big families where there was always work to do just to live. Me and my brothers quickly found ways to fill our time and not utter those words.

      • Gary

      • July 9, 2012 at 10:56 am
      • Reply


      As I pointed out, just letting kids be bored in the hopes they will find something to do isn’t always the best course of action. I used my own experiences as example.

      Unfortunately, it’s a vastly different world from when you or I were children and there are so many unproductive things kids can find, especially in urban areas. We live in a very nice neighborhood and would like to think our friends are good parents but that doesn’t mean every one in the city or surrounding area has the same parenting skills or values.

      There are some pretty bizarre things out there – I can tell you from personal experience, we almost lost our son because his peer group was not a good group of kids. By the time we found out what was really going on, we had a huge problem on our hands. Our son is now in school out of state, partially because he lacked supervision, or “helicoptering” to use your word.

      This is all too common in homes these days. You have dual income families where teens are left to their own devices much of the time. It doesn’t take much for a kid to become distracted. I’ve seen it. I know it. I’ve lived it.

      Today’s parents are further handcuffed by societal changes. Like I said, we live in an upscale neighborhood. But it doesn’t matter. It’s incredibly difficult to send kids out to “find something to do” as you say, when one sees how many sexual predators and other bizarre individuals are out there. This is a real concern – much greater than ever. I remember when I was a kid we used to ride our bikes and play very far away from home. It is sad, truly tragic, that as a parent I have to carefully consider whether or not my 11 year old daughter should be out on the street when there is a chance she could simply vanish.

      This is not paranoid thinking. It’s reality. I’d be the happiest guy in the world if “Old School” were still a possibility. I’d love to think my kids could go out and find things to do without worrying about all the ways they could get hurt or worse. I’m not even an overprotective parent. I’m just rooted in the reality of what can and has gone wrong.

      Sadly, it’s a different world.

    • Yes, I’m very familiar with this but my Grandson, now 7 years old, tells me that if I want to make him happy “I can find something that will arouse his interest”. True, it is a different world.

    • Gary, just FYI, the statistics on abductions is actually less than we were kids (I am 63) but more pronounced in the media because of the internet. These are very random acts. My kids (41, 39) walked home from school. A guy called 5 of them over to see his puppy they went and saw a dick instead. They ran home. This shit happens, But it is so truly rare. Look at the statistics, they are lower but just talked about more because of media.
      Also, if kids say they are bored put them to work, dusting, cleaning , sweeping, cleaning bathrooms. They will quickly find something to do. Also, there is a happy medium between helicoptering and not doing anything. I worked full time, my husband at the time worked full time. We still knew all our kids friends and called parents to verify whereabouts. We also as a neighborhood reported if we saw neighbors kids where they shouldn’t have been (7/11). They survived and so did we, My kids were nowhere near perfect but I knew about it. Nothing caught me by surprise. I was on to them before they could blink and make up a story. I also let them know regardless of what trouble they got into I would stand by them. But they had to tell the truth. I was blessed, it worked but not without some trial (literally) and figuratively. I hope your son is doing well now and can see some perspective. I still firmly believe I am their parent first and not a friend in the classic way.

    • Donald, your grandson needs to find his own passion. You can guide but starting early it is within his soul, body and mind to find it himself. A passion is found when one seeks not when one is lead to something. Just my 2 cents.

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