If you grew up in a family like mine in the nineties, long car trips were not filled with iPads loaded with movies or cell phones linked to friends. If you were lucky, you got an Adventures in Odyssey tape popped into the tape deck and an actual, paper activity book to color.
I spent a lot of time staring out the window at cows, trees, and fields—feeling bored.
It turns out that all that staring and daydreaming were good for me. Studies show that we come up with our most brilliant ideas when we are doing the most boring thing. One group of participants came up with the most creative ideas after reading a phone book. Yawn, but yay.
This is what I want for my daughter. Not to read phone books, necessarily, but to feel a sense of need that comes from boredom.
I do not want her to be like so many men and women who have a hard time standing in line in the grocery store without texting and checking social media. I don’t want her to be like so many of us who feel the addictive itch to look at our phones at stoplights. I want her to have the opportunity to get good and bored to allow her mind to wander in line, at a red light, and on 24-hour car trips.
British psychologist Sandi Mann says when we are bored, we naturally look for something to counteract that boredom. This is when the smarts develop.
“We might go off in our heads to try and find that stimulation by our minds wandering, daydreaming and you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit in the subconscious which allows sort of different connections to take place,” Mann said.
Cyborg anthropologist Amber Case said in her TED talk that several psychological effects of all this information overloading concern her: “One I’m really worried about is that people aren’t taking time for mental reflection anymore, and that they aren’t slowing down and stopping.”
Case also said a lack of slowing down disrupts our development of self. “[W]hen you have no external input, that is a time when there is a creation of self, when you can do long-term planning, when you can try and figure out who you really are.”
That is terrifying to me. Without boredom, we cannot develop who we are.
Take this to a spiritual level, and it gets even more disconcerting: If we never stop to allow ourselves to feel conviction, to reflect on our days, or to simply feel our need for God, how do we ever grow as individuals? We will have successfully numbed ourselves from all the uncomfortable parts of life, and perhaps subconsciously believe, “That addictive habit I have? Meh. Don’t worry about it.” We could miss out on righting a wrong, or mishear our very calling in life, because we don’t like to feel the discomfort that leads to such wisdom.
“God blesses those who realize their need for him.” We need to feel our need to open our awareness to our need for a Need-Meeter.
So what to do? It begins with me. I need to set an example of dealing with boredom well by starting my day with “exchanging whispers with the Savior before shouts with the world.” This means not checking email and social media to wake me up, but instead allowing coffee (for real) and Jesus to get my engine running. This sounds so cliché, but hearing from God before positive or negative messages from humans honestly set the tone for my entire day.
Setting an example also means when I am playing with my daughter—even when this playtime is, honestly, boring—I put my phone in another room. I do not jump up to get a text or even a call. The sender won’t die. I won’t either. And allowing me this bored/playing space offers me time to pray for my daughter, pray for my friends, or to think of something brilliant. It also shows my daughter that she is more important than my screen.
Going first in a non-screen addicted life also means I do not grab my phone in line, I do not check it at stoplights, I do not stare at it during long (or short) rides in the car. I train my hands, my mind, and my heart to stop consuming and start abiding.
Leading well will include praying too. And oh, I will need it.
God, help me to be strong when my daughter asks for a cell phone at age six. Lord, sustain me when tantrums come from car-ride boredom. Help me to be like you, who wisely does not rip me out of my discomfort, but allows me to feel the depth of my need so I actually grow.
Jesus, please help. I want to mimic your parenting of me as I parent her—even if it leads to both of our uncomfortable boredom.