Modern parenting is an exercise in experimentation.
Really. I did that shit.
Until today, I maintained a policy of allowing her free access to use her electronic devices in whatever way she wished for as long as she wished. There is no censorship here, no parental controls. My mother used to take shit that she deemed inappropriate away from me when I was a kid. I still remember how that feels.
But a very real problem was starting to develop.
I originally envisioned my daughter using communication devices to more deeply engage her world — to find out about the places that she travels to, to connected with other people, to learn about . . . well, anything. That’s how I use these things, and I didn’t really take into account that she would use them differently.
Petra, who is now almost eight, would sit on her tablet for hours and hours — indefinitely until another force acted upon her — completely engrossed in this Harry Potter, elves and dumble dwarfs and midgets shit.
I understand that I am not going to approve of the media that my kids consume — that’s a given of the human species — and if this was the end of it then I wouldn’t have much of a point. I could only sigh and lament the fact that my kid was choosing to waste time in her life with low brow fantasy.
But that wasn’t the end of it.
It was almost like she was addicted to the stuff. While she was on her tablet she would be fine. But as soon as she was off it she’d complain about everything being boring. “It’s so boring . . .” This went on for a long time, and the complaints would be to the point that they’d make everyone else slightly more miserable. It was as if the stimulation of the world paled in comparison to the stimulatory fix that she was getting from what she was doing on her tablet.
She was losing interest in engaging the world around her.
She was just expecting to sit back and be entertained in whatever situation she was in.
She wasn’t learning how to take what was in front of her, dive in, and make something of it.
I believe she was missing an important lesson of childhood.
I grew up in the countryside between Rochester and Buffalo, New York. There was really nothing to do out there. It was boring, for real. But I don’t ever remember being bored. There was always something to mess with, something to make up, something to try to build — and this was shit that we had to devise ourselves from the ground up. We had a big field to work with, and that was about it. We were driven to create something out of fear of being bored.
Boredom is perhaps the ultimate driver of creativity.
There is a reason why throughout human history there were two types of people who regularly created great things: rich people and poor people. The working and middle classes . . . not so much.
There is a real value to boredom. The human mind just can’t handle it, and its natural defense against it is to create something.
How my daughter was utilizing her tablet was killing that creativity urge by buffing out the boredom reaction.
So I tried something new — all modern parenting is an exercise in experimentation — and on day one her tablet ended up being replaced by a pen. Yes, a random pen she found laying around somewhere. She found herself so bored that she turned that pen into a gun, a marching baton, a . . .
It reminded me of my childhood.
(Did I just tell a version of my father’s “Appreciate what you have, kid, because when I was your age all I had to play with was a wooden block” story?)