The Courage to Be Bored
Kids and Video Screens
If I asked you what your teenage children are doing right now, you might
not know. But the New York Times and the Kaiser Family Foundation have a
pretty good idea.
According to a recent Kaiser study, if your teenager is awake and
isn't in school, he or she is staring at a screen a smart-phone, a computer, or
The authors claimed to have been "shocked" by the results.
Kaiser's researchers interviewed more than 2,000 kids between the
ages of eight and eighteen. They found that, on average, the participants in
the study spent seven and one-half hours a day using these devices! What's
more, that figure understates the amount of time American kids devote to
consuming media and other related activities.
For instance, it does not include time spent actually talking on these
smart-phones or sending and receiving messages. That adds another
one-and-a-half hours to the total. When you add time spent doing several
media-related things at once, that is multi-tasking, American kids spend the
equivalent of eleven hours a day tethered to an electronic device.
The authors were "stunned" because they believed that media
consumption among kids had already maxed out when they last measured it
in 2005. What didn't take into account, either then or now, is what drives the
heavy usage: dread of being bored.
As one 14-year-old told the Times, "I feel like my days would be
boring without" my smart phone. It's not only him. As New Testament scholar
Ben Witherington recently wrote, smart-phones "are seen as the cure for
This "boredom" is "in most cases...the state of mind of those who
lack imagination and therefore require all kinds of stimuli to prevent them
from losing interest in things, and even in life." That's why people, adults as
well as kids, are "constantly fiddling with their cellphone." The alternative to
all this fiddling is being alone with your own thoughts, which terrifies people
used to the constant stimulation provided by our media-saturated culture.
Happily, parents can help their kids to avoid this trap. The Kaiser
study found that parents can make rules limiting this kind of mindless media
consumption and that their children will follow them. It won't be easy but, then
again, swimming against the cultural tide never is.
Speaking of swimming against the tide, even more important than
rules and limits is teaching our children that we don't need constant
stimulation. On the contrary, being quiet and still is an essential part of the
Christian life. We are told "be still" so that we may learn who God is. God
spoke to Elijah in a still small voice.
Neuroscientists tell us that many, if not most, of our most creative and
productive moments come when we step back from all the stimulation and let
our minds be free. In other words, what many people call "boredom" is good
for us in ways that the constantly-stimulated can't begin to imagine.
We're not talking about letting our minds wander just anywhere. What
we're told to do is invest our life in a relationship with Christ. In His word, in
prayer, and in meditation.
Unplugging and stepping back for some time alone with God is yet
another reason for us to unplug our kids and ourselves and risk being bored.
For all the right reasons.
Copyright © 2002 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with
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