My father taught me many things as a kid, but one of the most practical pieces of advice was this: Take a book with you wherever you go, and you will never be bored. It earned some pretty interesting remarks. Once, as a family, we were in a movie theater waiting for the film to start. We generally got there early to obtain good seats, which meant a lot of waiting. This was back in the days before theaters played stuff prior to the movie, and before cell phones and handheld electronic entertainment devices. My dad, two sisters and I were all sitting in the theater reading books. A couple of guys came in and goggled at us.
“Why are they all reading?”
“Maybe they think the movie will be boring.” (This in particular makes me laugh. Do they think we’d keep reading in the dark?)
In high school and college every time someone saw me reading a book they immediately asked what class the book was for, as if reading could not be a source of enjoyment or entertainment. Books make for very good portable entertainment, even more so now with tablets, smartphones and e-readers. Even though there are a plethora of books available solely for the purpose of entertainment, many people view books as “intellectual.” If you want to relax on the weekend and read a book all day there’s no stigma associated with it. If you want to relax on the weekend and play games all day you’re viewed as an immature person who is simply wasting their time. My point here is not to start a debate between what form of entertainment is better (all forms have their advantages and disadvantages), but simply to establish that books are a manufactured form of entertainment.
Which brings me at long last to my main question: Are we losing the ability to entertain ourselves?
People decry electronic devices for being impersonal and creating walls between people. I’ve seen numerous articles online in the past that make an argument to this effect: People use their smartphones all the time! Now instead of starting up a conversation with the person next to them at the airport/in line/at the restaurant they just play with their phone. Society is changing for the worse!
While parts of this may be true, my argument is that I’ve always been able to do that, albeit with a book instead of a smartphone. I just got interrupted more when I was reading (people feel free to just randomly talk to you even if you’re clearly engrossed in a good book). Back to my question. Are you able to entertain yourself with nothing?
I’ll admit that I’ve always been able to do so. As a kid I had a very active imagination. Time outs didn’t work on me, because I was perfectly happy to just sit there and day-dream. I remember being bored in elementary school sometimes, and doing things like fiddling with my pen. I became adept at twirling it by hand. I took off my watch and imagined it was a snake and had it talk to erasers or whatever else was on my desk. I doodled.
One of my main worries about too much television, tablet, etc. for my kids, aside from the usual “Disney princesses will warp my daughter,” is that they’ll be unable to entertain themselves if no premade entertainment devices are available. I’m probably worrying for nothing. After all, movies and TV provided me tons of fuel for my imagination. But we also had a lot less “packaged” entertainment when I was a kid, at least at my grandparents’ houses. We did watch TV at those places, but mostly I remember roller skating, playing board games, dressing up, and doing crafts. My mom’s parents took us for a lot of walks (at least until my grandfather’s knee gave out). We walked across the street to the graveyard and looked at all the statues. We drove up to Oak Glen. We went to the L.A. Arboretum to feed the fish and ducks.
But even if we didn’t go anywhere or have anything in particular to do, we found stuff. We played hide and seek, or tag, or overturned rocks to look for bugs, or picked fruit, or hopped the fence at the local school to use their jungle gym, or just ran around like idiots.
My husband is really concerned about how much TV and Kindle use V gets at home. She came back from the grandparents completely detoxed (she had watched stuff with them, but didn’t ask for her habitual shows when she came home). Her first day back she didn’t have any electronic entertainment. It’s rapidly gone back to normal, though I do try to minimize it as much as I can. Electronic entertainment is my only break, if you can call it a break at all. I couldn’t write this at all if V wasn’t watching movies on the Kindle.
Ironically, my husband has no qualms about electronic entertainment in the car. We’re currently looking for a larger vehicle, and he really wants a van with built-in screens for the kids. This seems a bit overkill to me, as we already have three tablets between us and he just bought a special back up charger and mini WIFI server for streaming movies in the car. Recently some of our friends took a long trip to the Southwest with their two kids. They saw the meteor crater and a bunch of dinosaur museums. My husband asked what they used to keep the kids entertained in the car. Apparently they used no electronic devices whatsoever, which means they probably used the stuff my parents had: coloring books, travel games, car games, music, conversation, etc. I had argued for doing the same thing with our children, but we make frequent 6.5 hour drives and I quickly started resorting to the Kindle. Toddlers have very short attention spans. Maybe when V is their age I can work in more alternate forms of entertainment.
Perhaps I’m worrying for nothing. Kids will be kids and maybe nothing can stop them from finding endless sources of entertainment (providing they’re not confined to a car seat). Then again, I am a mom and worrying is in my job description.