Why You Should Stage an Entertainment Strike

This post is a Tuesday Tip.

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By the beginning of October, our house had become a war zone. Oppositional kids, sibling rivalries, constant irritability and tears. My wife and I put our heads together—a couple of psychologists assessing the situation.

As it turns out, we realized our kids were constantly hung over.

Better Than Widescreen?

Photo Credit: Glenn Brown (Creative Commons)

The amount of “screen time” (i.e., television cartoons, computer games, Wii, iPod apps) had insidiously increased. They were like drunks, starting with a beer here and there and finally putting down a case per day. Whenever a screen was turned off, they went into instant withdrawal. Hooked on external stimulation and excitement, dealing with ordinary life was like detoxing.

And detoxing can get ugly.

So, we declared October “No Screens Month.”

It was touch and go for a while, but I’m happy to report they all survived.

But most importantly, they’ve had to relearn what to do with their boredom. Old favorite toys re-emerged. My boys have discovered how to make machine gun noises with their mouths again, and my daughter has simply discovered the joy of her own voice. In fact, she doesn’t ever stop using it.

They’re even sleeping better. Why? Because part of falling asleep is learning to be bored. To exist in that space without external stimulation and simply wait for sleep to take you.

I don’t think my family is alone in this. In my clinical practice, I work with many adolescents who believe they shouldn’t have to be bored. For the next generation of adults, boring tasks are considered to be unnecessary and oppressive. And it will undermine their ability to thrive in this world.

Because even the most wildly exciting lives have their fair share of boring, monotonous moments. Boredom is simply a part of living. An important part of living.

And we need to learn how to live it well. Here’s how:

  1. Declare an entertainment strike. Within your four walls, decide what things your family routinely uses to escape its boredom. Declare a strike of a particular length. A day, a week, or a month.
  2. Identify the tasks you find most boring and monotonous. Decide now you are going to begin enjoying them, whatever it requires.
  3. Choose your boredom. On the UnTangled Facebook page, doing laundry was one of the most often identified dreaded-boring task, so let’s start there. Plan to take twice as long on the laundry than you usually do. Go slowly.
  4. Be mindful. Allow the task to engage all of your senses. Smell the sweet mixture of fabric softener and warm cloth. Notice the range of colors represented, watch the mixture of light and shadows on the wrinkled cloth. Feel the warmth of the clothes on your hands as you fold them. Notice the various textures. Listen to the ripple of the sheets as you flick them flat, or the snap of a towel, or the rustle of the pile. Taste…okay, don’t taste. As your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to the task.
  5. Be grateful. As you find yourself increasingly open to the boredom, notice the things for which you are grateful in this moment. Something about the task. Or the good things that doing this task enables you to have in your life. Or any other reason for thanksgiving that comes to mind.
  6. Do it all over again tomorrow! 

When we are able to bring our attention mindfully to our boredom, to enter into it and anticipate riches beneath the surface, we will almost always end up in a place of gratitude. And that kind of boredom is rich, indeed.

Questions: What keeps you and your family entertained? How do find ways to limit them and learn to enjoy the rest of life? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

TUESDAY TIP DISCLAIMER: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.