As a quick Google search revealed, there are a slew of Internet articles about how to handle boredom in your teens this summer. They suggest organizing your young person’s time, making sure they get up everyday, and limiting “screen time.” Though we can understand the concern that teens will curl up in their bedrooms with the blinds down, watching TV all summer, all these suggestions deal only with surface issues. Our culture has a long way to go when it comes to delving into what boredom really is for a teen and what it could mean for them.
1. Ask and listen.
We at Open Doors have noticed that “I’m bored” can actually mean a lot of things. Think about how boredom feels. It can feel restless and discontent — or it can feel lethargic or even despairing. If we can help our teens explore that, we can find the deeper truth underneath.
For instance, complaining about being bored often means is that a teen is looking for connection with a person they care about. They may be feeling disenchanted with the world and need help finding their inner spark again. They may mean that they have lots of half-formed ideas about their next direction, but they need help sorting them out. And many teens are remembering the playfulness of their younger days, and wishing for a way to recapture it. Only when you know the deeper need underneath the complaint can you work towards a solution that really fits.
Also, keep in mind that what a parent is seeing may not be what the teen is experiencing. If the same video game has been on for hours, check in and see what it means. The teen may be really enjoying the challenge and the chance to immerse herself in it. Or she may be feeling disconnected and unsure what else to do. Ask with an open mind, and listen carefully to the response to make sure you understand.
If you don’t feel able to connect with your teen in this way, that’s okay. Many parents were not treated with this kind of respect when they were young, and they find it hard to do so with their own kids. At Open Doors, we may be able to help with our Summer Art Program. No art experience is required, and your teen can participate as much or as little as they’d like. We can help them connect and sort things out — not to mention having a lot of fun along the way.
2. Be open to exploration.
For a parent, it can feel so different when a teen who was up early every day for school and activities starts sleeping later into the sunshine hours. But exploring a new sleep schedule can mean exploring the feeling up being up at night, when the world is quiet and the night sky invites reflection. It can mean the kind of intense half-awake dreaming that comes with dozing in the sunlight from the window. Our culture doesn’t value the rich inner life that can be explored by spending some time just “vegging,” but it’s there, and exploring it is an important part of teen development.
Our Summer Program has flexible hours so that night owls can sleep in and still connect with others in a gentle space that honors their journey.
3. Don’t compare.
It can be easy to comment, loudly, that the neighbor’s teens seem to be industriously running their own lawn mowing business, and hey, they’re not bored. Resist the urge. Every teen has his or her own journey, and you have no idea what’s going on behind-the-scenes in that neighbor’s home.
If you find yourself tempted to compare, re-focus on connecting, exploring, and playing.
4. Be playful.
As we mentioned in the first tip, many teens feel torn about growing up. That’s a natural part of the process, and it encourages us to bring the best aspects of childhood — playfulness, spontaneity, laughter, creativity, and our honest emotions — into our more adult lives. Model your own playfulness, and look for ways to support playfulness in your teen — whether she is with friends, family, or engaged in an activity. Play is such a revitalizing part of life.
At the Open Doors Summer Art Program, we look for ways to bring play and creativity into community life. We believe that a lot of adults would be more fulfilled if they found ways to integrate the childlike into their lives, and so we use all kinds of art as a medium for helping our young adults do so.
This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.