Why are Children Bored?

The Little Bungalow where I grew up

I had a wonderful childhood in the sense that I grew up in a time when kids still had to actually go outside in order to have real fun. The freedom I was allowed as a child to explore and create new adventures partly led us to our adventure here at Our Little House.

The fact that so many of my friends and relatives children have posted that they’re “bored” as their status on their Facebook pages just made me sad this summer. And this  article in The Kansas City Star this week, by our own Living Large community member, Kathleen Winn, has had me reflecting on my own magical summer childhood memories and how childhood has changed so drastically in just a little over a generation.

My summers consisted of:

  • Catching tadpoles, frogs and turtles in the woods behind the high school. When I wasn’t doing that, I went there to write or read. This involved a walk up that hill and across a cornfield before hitting the woods.
  • Discovering a litter of kittens in the alley while walking to the store (a big brick turn of the century ‘general store’ with a meat counter). I boxed them all up and brought them home, but my mom made me take them back!
  • Sometimes just marveling at my mother’s expansive gardens watching the butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. We discovered honeysuckles really are sweet, dandelions left that yellow mark on your chin and 4-leaf clovers are very elusive.
  • Lying in the grass (preferably the neighbors, which was a much more lush and softer variety than ours) to watch the different shapes of clouds pass. At night, it was sitting on the patio, picking out the different constellations of stars.
  • Running and playing in the neighborhood until dusk when we would gather in someone’s front yard to catch fireflies. If our mothers didn’t come out on the stoops to call us home before, we were expected to be in by the time the streetlamps came on.

I know we don’t live in the same world as we did in the 1960s and 70s when I was growing up, or do we? This article in Psychology Today suggests that the chances of a child being abducted by a total stranger is less than 0.02 percent. Maybe it was the same when we were growing up, we just didn’t have the 24-hour news cycle and Amber Alerts.

I’ve wondered how I would handle a child here at Our Little House where the fear is not so much of stranger danger, but of natural dangers. Would I allow them to explore the woods and lake, and at what age?

Those dangers have always been present, and Mark Twain probably couldn’t have given us “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” or Wilson Rawls couldn’t have written “Where the Red Fern Grows” if they had been so sheltered as children (although both novels, even fiction is usually derived at least somewhat from personal experience).

Do we shelter our children unnecessarily and stunt their sense of wonder, imagination, creativity and ability to entertain themselves? Are we responsible for their boredom? What will their memories of their summers of childhood be?

What do you say, readers?

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42 Responses

  1. jan says:

    I feel sad for the kids too, stuck in the house in front of the tv from the time school lets out (2 pm)until their parents come home from work(6 or 7pm). I used to bike all over town, and walk all over to get to the movies, the park, we even had day camps in the summer at the local elementary playgrounds so that we could have semi organized games. and there was always a ball game in the neighborhood. In those days it was a community norm to ‘keep the kids out from underfoot of their mothers’. Today kids can’t get away from their parents.

    • kerri says:

      >>’keep the kids out from under­foot of their moth­ers’.<< That brings up another point, Jan. Things are much easier today for whoever is doing the cooking and housekeeping. Also, a lot more women work now. I wonder if part of it is that parents want their kids home when they're home as they don't get to spend as much time with them as our mothers did with us?

  2. dean says:

    lying in the grass. seems simple pleasure, but most kids today dont do this. they are afraid of the grass. dont get me started on the scary LONG grass…lol.

    • Kerri says:

      Are you trying to tell us you need to cut your grass, Dean!? 🙂 Seriously, that’s how kids are today. Anything to do with nature. Our niece came down here for a weekend and we couldn’t get her out of the house, she was afraid of bugs.

  3. I too remember fireflies, going to my uncle’s cottage at the lake…lots of bike rides and Sunday Night Disney.

    Stick ball, tennis ball cannons, sparklers, picking dandelions @ 5 cents ea from the neighbors yard. Nature camp and exploring the old gravel pit yards at the end of the street. We too had a curfew of street lite time.

  4. Becca says:

    At only 24 my childhood was not that long ago (mid to late 90’s) and I spent 95% of my time outside making up games and wondering through nature. Yes we had a computer, video games and cable, but those were reserved for really bad weather days if we tired of our board games or cards. I hope my children grow up in a safe environment so that they can roam outside like I did, and I believe it’s still possible depending on where you live.

    • Kerri says:

      It’s great to hear that you spent most of your childhood outdoors, Becca! I also hope your children are allowed to roam and play. 🙂

  5. Karen says:

    For clarification, inn my previous comment, I left out the work “community” after the word “immediate”.

  6. Karen says:

    First time I’ve visited your blog and love it. Our home is 1800 sf and still too big!

    As a child I probably complained as much as the next kid in the 70’s of being “bored”. My mother did not indulge my complaints and thought nothing of turning off the TV, which she did often. If we couldn’t find something to do other than complain she set up about mowing the lawn, cleaning the bathrooms, or helping her out in the vegetable garden. I wasn’t bored during the school year because I always had lots of homework. During the summer, I divided my time between to pool, art classes at the city museum, lots of chores, reading and riding my bicycle.

    As to the child snatching concern, my professional background suggests to me that my sisters and I were would have made unlikely victims because for us there was a strong boundary between adults and children and teenagers. My training and experience has taught me that children are no more at risk than they ever were and that the risk can be related(but not always by any means)how parents, the immediate, and the child perceives adult-child boundaries. Perpetrators are less likely to be strangers than to be people who are known to the child and family, sometimes very trusted. A lot has been written in the professional literature about the subject but I’m no longer in the field and don’t have any current citations but a Google search would probably be worth the time of parents who are concerned about the risk to their children.

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Karen, and I’m glad you like the blog! Your research verifies what I’ve suspected. Hope to “hear” from you again!

  7. Rae says:

    We spent our summers in New Jersey having the luxury of being bored-and from that boredom created our own fun. We left after breakfast to play in the woods, ride bikes, walk to the library(a mile and a half away). We created plays, played school,cowboys and Indians, colored, played jacks, lay in the grass finding pictures in the clouds, caught fireflies and japanese beetles, played with clay, did puzzles, played cards, paper dolls, created a circus, a farm and a zoo. Had a lemonade stand and a comic book stand. We checked in for meals, came in when it was dark. We were so lucky. We had a half dozen “parents” and dozens of friends. We played baseball, kickball, jumped rope, walked tightropes(rigged between two sawhorses), played Superman and lay on low roofs to watch the stars. The only time I remember being inside was to watch The Mickey Mouse Club and Saturday morning cartoons. We were in garages and carports when it rained but we didn’t stop playing. And we read constantly. When my children were small we lived in a neighborhood full of kids and they were all sent away to summer camp-usually sleep-away camp! The young ones who went to camp all day were too tired to play when they got home so my kids only had each other. The parents told me that if their kids stayed home they would get bored and bug them all day so they sent them to camp. My kids got to understand what a luxury it is to have time to be bored.

    • Kerri says:

      I never thought of it that way, that the fun and activities we created were out of fear of being bored! Thanks for sharing, Rae.

  8. Vida says:

    Wow all the childhoods I read about here sound wonderful! I grew up in Singapore in a very urban environment. Our outdoor activities were centered around swimming pools and biking in the neighborhood. Would have LOVED to fish in creeks or catch bugs and snakes but we simply had nowhere we could go for this. Kinda sad, huh? We still invented our own activities though. I remember writing and illustrating my own magazine, making tons of handicraft, organizing mini chess tournaments… indoor activities but we had fun as children do anyway. Can’t say I was ever bored.

    The village closest to me is a quiet fishing village on the sea and I love that the kids still go swimming, boating and biking on their own. The other day I saw three beautiful little golden haired girls about four to eight years old, walking hand in hand to the beach and I thought how delightful to live in a place where parents can have ease of mind to let their kids be kids. Sometimes we see kids out on their own in little boats, you can imagine the freedom and fun that they have, priceless summers that I am sure they will always remember.

    • Kerri says:

      Living in an urban environment definitely limits your exposure to the natural world. Were you able to attend parks and get out of the city sometimes, Vida?
      Your area sounds wonderful. It’s great when kids are allowed to just be kids. 🙂

      • Vida says:

        Sadly we could never truly leave our urban environment because the whole of Singapore is a big city. It is very green and has tons of trees and plants but it is all carefully landscaped. There are parks and even some nature reserves, but they are all very carefully controlled environments. Children are certainly not allowed to run around on their own for long periods of time. Nature in the tropics is quite different. You can never step off a footpath or trail in the jungle because it is so dense that you would lose your way immediately. Nature is thus perceived to be dangerous, threatening.

        The mentality also was/is that grass is “dirty”. On a recent visit I was surprised to see a lovely grassy area shaded by huge mango trees and NOT A SINGLE PERSON on the grass. Instead people would hurry through on a cement path, never looking at their surroundings, never stepping off the path. My husband and I took a short break under one of the trees and we drew a lot of surprised glances.

  9. olivia says:

    I, too, grew up in a time when children were allowed to roam freely. Summers were spent at Granny’s oceanside farm or my uncle’s cottage down the road. A lot of time was spent in the water – we all knew how to swim but I don’t recall adults hovering over us. We went out in boats without life jackets, ate clams and mussels from the shore that we roasted in the lid of an old garbage pail over a bonfire. We “helped” with the haying (!) and rode atop loaded hayricks despite being warned not to. The fields and woods and shore was our playground – we came home to eat when we were hungry and again when it got too dark to play outside any longer. Mind you, I live in Prince Edward Island, Canada, which is still a pretty safe place. The entire population of our whole province is about 140,000 and many of us are probably related either through blood or marriage somewhere along the line. neighbours still look out for each other and farmers sell their produce on the honour system – drop your money in a box and take what you want. My kids pretty much had all this freedom as well. No grandkids yet.

    • Kerri says:

      And we rode in cars without seat belts. I even stood on the seat in between my parents in their truck (not necessarily a good thing)! My husband’s family had been farming in our community for generations and his uncles had those boxes in their yards. We have a guy here who also does that with tomatoes each year. 🙂 Sounds like you live in a wonderful place, Olivia!

  10. My brother and I were raised by my grandmother on a farm in rural KY. We routinely left the house after breakfast and did not return until almost dark. We explored everything creeks, caves, barns, woods, tractors, junk cars and just about everything else you can imagine.

    We managed to get into mischief. We somehow shot out the window of the combine with a BB gun. I am still denying that one. And we did get hurt every now and then. Luckily there were no serious injuries. I remember vividly my brother falling off of a young steer we were trying to ride and hitting his head on the barn wall. His tooth went almost all the way through his lip. He was not hurt bad but blood was everywhere. We did our best to hide the injury because we had been told over and over not to ride the calves. We got in huge trouble, switched, but the worst punishment was we had to stay around the house for a day or so. We were never ever bored.

    It is so different today. I agree 100% with Kerri. I am not sure it is more dangerous today. In fact people just did not talk about bad things that happened. There may have been whispers but most negatives were kept quiet. We just hear more about each incident today.

    I am not sure if my grandmother was afraid or worried about us. If she did she never let on. She was always so excited to hear about our escapades each evening. I think today’s parents, me included, are more afraid. I honestly can not imagine turning my 10 year old son loose at 7:00 AM and not seeing him until dark. That is my own fear not his.

    My kids are very active but everything is organized, sports, sailing, camp…. I think the most amazing difference is kids do not play outside and with other kids. I can not imagine spending my summer in my room or watching TV. It seems like such a waste but I think they are really a result of our own fears.

    • Kerri says:

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Anthony. It’s great to have the perspective of a dad with little ones still at home! I remember those minor cuts and scrapes and even an occasional broken bone. I also remember getting into a little mischief, although probably not to the degree as a boy. As well, every mother on our block was everyone’s mother, so we weren’t safe. That didn’t keep my husband from stealing and stripping my bike once though (a crime for which he jokes he is still paying!) I just wonder what ingrains those fears in parents today from what our grandparents and parents experienced?

      • I am really not sure why we are more afraid today. I can only guess it is the 24 hour news cycle and the way bad news is amplified across multiple media channels. I do know the fears are real. Whether those fears are rational or not is another question.

        • Kerri says:

          I completely agree, Anthony, that makes sense. And you’re right, “bad” things just weren’t discussed back then, especially not around kids. My parents didn’t even ever argue in front of us!

  11. Trina Jeffery says:

    My family had 6 children. We had horses to ride and a cart so we road to the store. We also went into the woods and plaid most the day. In the afternoon we laid under the tree in our yard where it was cool. Parents didn’t used to tell us you can’t climb a tree or play in the creek. But my mother used to read to us the classics and others. But she encouraged our imagination. When we got bored my oldest brother would put on a show or work up some magic. Like making a box out of things he found around the house. He would magically change sand into diamonds (which was some broken windsheild glass) we thought he was magic. I think our parents encouraged us to figure it out ourselves which is part of thinking for ourselves which helps us out as adults. No days my granchildren sit and watch t.v. or video games. He doesn’t want to go out and trying to get him to is almost immpossible. We encourage his younger siblings to go out and do things and they love it. We need to teach children to do thing for themselves like making a sandwich or a glass of water for themselves.

    • Kerri says:

      It sounds as if you had a great childhood as well, Trina! I do think allowing children to explore, entertain themselves and have independent play encourages them to become self-sufficient, independent adults. Perhaps this is part of the reason there are so many late 20 & 30 somethings still living at home, or living off of the “allowance” their parents still give them.

  12. Heather says:

    I also remember walking to the little store to get something my mother needed to fix dinner, but by the time I got there, I’d forgotten what it was. So I brought home ice cream. I frequently took carrots to feed the neighbor’s horse, too.

    And in my tween years, I’d go to the park every night after dinner and meet up with my neighborhood friends.

    But now, I’m as stuck on the computer and TV as my 11-year-old grandson.

    • Kerri says:

      My mom always sent me to the store with a list, Heather, so I didn’t get to buy ice cream! 🙂 Those were the days of store accounts, so I didn’t even need to take money.
      So sad for your grandson that he doesn’t get to experience the life even close to Huck Finn.

  13. Kathleen Winn says:

    There were six kids in my family and there was no way my mother would have tolerated us hanging around inside the house all day during summer months. We were shooed outside as soon as the breakfast dishes were washed. We organized neighborhood softball games in the street, played army, dug holes in the backyard just to see how deep we could make them, caught bugs to examine them up close and like you Kerri, only came inside for a quick meal or after the streetlights came on.

    We never had cable TV when my kids were little (they still whine about having been terribly deprived.) It was not a matter of cost. I just didn’t want to have to monitor what they watched 24/7 and I didn’t even want them to know there was a channel that broadcast nothing but kids’ shows around the clock. On a typical Sunday afternoon, there was nothing on regular TV except golf, and maybe a sewing or cooking show- nothing that would attract a kid away from the outdoors.

    My daughters were allowed to roam the neighborhood, but we had common sense rules they had to follow for safety. They could ride their bikes to the local shopping area, once they were 11 years old, but only with at least one other friend along. They had to call me when they got there, and call me again when they were ready to start home. We live near a creek that runs through our neighborhood. They loved going there to play, but again, they weren’t allowed to go alone and they always took our very protective dog along with them.

    One of my biggest concerns about the way that kids now grow up, is that I wonder who will care about our state and national parks, our endangered species, our diminishing natural areas, if those are only something kids have seen on TV, but not experienced up close. I am seeing and reading more about the problem of kids not having adequate time to be outdoors. Hopefully, parents will begin to realize that time spent in the outdoors is as essential to the healthy development of their kids as a balanced diet.

    Thank you for referencing my article, Kerri! Great blog- thank you for posting!

    • Kerri says:

      Ah, yes, I always had my trusty German Shepherd, Smoky, with me all of the time. No one would have dared bother me when she was on guard. When I first came home from the hospital, legend has it she laid by my crib, only allowing my parents near (siblings, no). Of course, laws have changed now for dogs too. If living today, Smoky would have been declared a “dangerous dog” and probably would have been put down when she bit the kid from up the street on the butt when he threw rocks at her.
      I share your concern for our natural treasures, Kathleen.

      • Kathleen Winn says:

        I trusted our dog to protect the girls, more than I would have trusted a thirteen year old babysitter. He was not aggressive. But- there were a couple of times when they were playing in the creek and some older boys showed up. Licorice planted himself between the boys and my daughters and started barking- not attacking or running at the boys, but barking his head off. The girls told me that they didn’t think the boys meant any harm, but they quickly left! Good dog!

  14. Pamela Knight says:

    Fireflies, the stars, playing in Grandma back yard digging up snails, walking to the Library in Argentine, Finkelmeiers, Safeway and TG&Y. I love that Library, still do and I still visit there, it should be deemed as a historic landmark! These things bring back many wonderful memories for me and I miss it. Now I have grandchildren and will be teaching them these things and maybe they will be able to enjoy this rather then video games, cd’s, TV…I really think TV is a waste of time and mind! I would rather have a meaningful conversation with someone than bug out on the Boob Tube! Thanks for sharing Kerri! You are amazing!!!!

    • Kerri says:

      OMG, Pam, I do remember and miss Finkelmeir’s Bakery. That’s where all of our birthday cakes came from! I agree, the Argentine Library building is a treasure. You gave me another memory: Sheila England and I watering our lawn and catching worms after dark to sell to our dads for fishing! 🙂

  15. In our generation and before we created our own entertainment. We made many of our own choices and today the parents plan everything. Most of the
    kids want to chose for themselves; if they don’t. they become bored.

  16. V Schoenwald says:

    My childhood was filled with toads, frogs, bugs,finding critters, tadpoles, and all of the other creepy things that moms did not want in the house. I thought I was the freak…I now know that I am not the only one who did this, whew!I’m normal :*) I also helped my grandparents can and put food up for the whole family and worked in the garden on top of all the other chores I had to do.
    That said, I had to think about this, as at the time from about 10 until 18, my folks had a weekend cabin at a lake about 50 miles from home here, there I rambled around a hugh lake that was 23 miles long, I caught snakes, found all sorts of weird bugs, and grasshoppers that were 7-8 inches long,(homesteader) fished, ran around, and just hiked around a beautiful area of the Sandhills area of the state.
    I hunted with my dad, learned firearms safety from him,(he was a cop here),and think about the kids that shoot themselves or others, I was taught safety, very bluntly, and NEVER touched his weapons, or his firearms that he used on duty. I do not have children, but from what I have observed, children are not like when we were young, and the parents have little or no brains, and seem to be too busy with their careers,or are too stoned to worry about home and family. That is my observance from here on my end in my community, as we have a hugh drug problem here, with a estimate of over half of the population is on some type of drug or alcohol problem. I think that they are sheltered because of the outside world being so dangerous, and it is a shame as there is so much to do, I don’t have an answer, to such a monster problem and this is a small communtiy,(25,000) that has big city problems.

    • Kerri says:

      I love this discussion, V, each comment is sparking more memories. My aunt (who lives down the road from us now), lived in the mountains of KY when I was a kid. Visiting there was even more fun than my own neighborhood. I explored abandoned coal mines, went fishing in the pond up the road (and to everyone’s horror, brought home a coffee can full of crawfish I wanted to bring back to KS – also made to take those back to the pond!) and explored a very old 19th century cemetery (which opened questions about history and the Civil War). I agree that part of the problem lies in parents being too preoccupied with careers and the complexity of living today.

      • V Schoenwald says:

        Oh horrors, Kerri, you went in an abandoned coal mine!, Yikes, child abuse.
        This is another outside observance…It seems now, if children do outside things, like what we are talking about, the parents would be in a federal prison, with child abuse charges and the key thrown away. Again, my view and opinion.
        This depends again on the area where we all live. If the kids that live in the country or in rural areas do this, its ok, as this is the lifestyle and the way of life, if it is a city or urban kid, it is child abuse.

        • Kerri says:

          I’ve had the same observations. “Child endangerment” today was letting your kids explore the world when we were kids!

  17. Kerri says:

    Exactly, Jenny. I don’t know if it is overscheduled so much, especially in the summer (at least the kids I’m connected to on social media don’t seem to be booked much at all this summer), as it is that we’re so overprotective that they can’t leave the yards or be out of our sights for fear of something bad happening. I understand the stats for “stranger danger” is no consolation to the 0.02 percent of parents that have experienced that horrific loss. However, I think we’ve raised at least a generation of kids who were never given the chance to develop a sense of nature that leads to wonder, discovery, adventure and finally, self sufficiency. Making bread with grandma sounds like fun, a very nice memory indeed! 🙂

  18. Jenny says:

    Ahhh…fireflies. Definitely a reminder of childhood summers. We don’t have them here in Alaska, sadly. I think kids today are generally so overscheduled and entertained that they don’t know how to amuse themsleves. So much for the hours roaming the neighborhood in a pack on our bikes, playing kickball or softball in an empty lot, catching frogs by the creek, and reading in the hammock. Not to mention helping shell peas, hill potatoes, weed the flowers, and best of all, helping grandma bake bread.