When Boredom Beats Mental Busywork

Posted on March 4, 2015 at 8:00 am

I love this tribute to boredom on car trips with children.  I well remember being in the back seat with my sisters, alternating games of GHOST and Botticelli with highway bingo and, yes, arguing with each other about who had to ride in the middle.  What will today’s children remember about family car trips?  Watching “Frozen” for the 17th time?  Playing video games?  Car trips can be tedious without media, but they can be the most precious family bonding time you will ever have.  And there is no greater gift you can give a child than the ability to be present in the world and find ways to use his or her imagination for entertainment.  And it is also good for them to learn that we watch movies to engage our minds, hearts, and spirits, not as a distraction from whatever is going on around us.

Antonia Malchick writes about her family’s device-free drive:

Even I was surprised by how well they adapted to the screen-free hours in the car. John took to drawing intricate pictures with hilarious narrative explanations. Alex tried to copy him, and then got bored and threw her stuffed dogs at him. He threw his stuffed Angry Birds back. They giggled and fought and stared out the windows a lot. And it wasn’t just them_I was noticeably more relaxed and calmer without constant access to Facebook; FOMO (“fear of missing out”) faded away and I got to pay attention to everything else I’d been missing out on.

South Dakota was hot, but it also has the Badlands, which they’ll remember instead of Caillou; they know that Illinois is where we passed wind farms and corn farms, not where they were playing Minecraft; that Billings, Montana, stinks of oil refinery and has approximately a million coal trains but it was also where_we only saw it because we were paying attention — we passed a train of open freight cars, each carrying a massive windmill blade.

Instead of memories of a crazy long car trip where they escaped the dullness in videos and games, they’ll have memories of a crazy long car trip where they formed a more complex relationship with each other and with me. They got a sense of the country, its vastness and variety, its future and past, and a sense of themselves at the same time, what their minds are capable of when allowed to roam in the deceptive bleakness of boredom. The perfect road trip.

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