Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"I'm Bored!" Today's Kids and the Dearth of Activity in Their Lives

You can’t go anywhere in this village without hearing about a terrible problem that exists and that is compromising the future of young minds. It is talked about incessantly at parties, at the playgrounds, and in the gourmet shops in town. It’s the age-old problem that TEENS DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO IN THE SUBURBS.

I didn’t realize what an epidemic this was or how detrimental it was to our children’s psyches. To combat this horrible situation, the village board proposed the idea of a “teen center,” location to be determined, to be constructed somewhere in the village. This teen center would show movies, have ping pong tables, host discussion groups (ostensibly to talk about one’s feelings, I’m guessing), and be a place where kids could get together in a safe, controlled environment. All of this was received with open arms from adults until the discussion progressed to where this teen center would exist. At that point, it because a classic case of suburban NIMBY or “Not in My Backyard,” which happens with just about everything in this village.

One of the suggested sites was a village-owned building that is right across the street from my house. I didn’t have a problem with it being there because the building is generally unused and to my thinking, no self-respecting teen was going to hang out in a teen center anyway. There are far more interesting things to do than play village-endorsed ping pong when you could be out wandering the streets with your fake I.D. looking for action, which from what I understand, is what many teens do on a weekend night.

The problem with a teen center, in my opinion, is that the kids who actually need a teen center, the real mischief makers, aren’t going to go anywhere near such a place unless it is to make mischief. Mark my words: the teen center will be populated by the good teens and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it doesn’t solve the problem that parents seem to think exists in small towns everywhere which is that many kids have nothing to do. As a result, they get into trouble.

I have pondered this idea of “generation whatever”—heck, what generation are we on anyway?—being forced into a life devoid of intellectual endeavors and/or fun activities and then created a list of what kids could do to make their lives more interesting in the face of daunting boredom and ennui.

1. Get a job: It seems to me that not many kids have jobs these days. Many kids play a variety of sports which make it virtually impossible to get a job that fits their schedule. However, a friend whose son is a star on our high school football team has managed to do so, working at a local bagel store from six in the morning until nine in the morning on the weekends, after which he goes to practice. Another kid I know who is very active in school plays manages to work at the gourmet grocery store in his off hours. It can be done. And it might help with the boredom. Nothing says excitement like a suburban mom screaming about the price of Land o’ Lakes yellow American.

2. Volunteer: Volunteering opportunities abound in this village and the county in which it is situated. My daughter and I volunteer every month at a soup kitchen not five miles from here. I do know that a group of kids goes to Nicaragua each year to build houses and latrines, and spend a good part of the year fundraising to offset the cost of each kid’s trip. In this village alone, we have a group that cares for the sick, homebound, and poor, and opportunities to get involved are plentiful. Our local library looks for volunteers to stack books, manage donations, and keep the library running smoothly. Our church does “midnight runs” to New York City to feed and clothe the homeless. Our Little League team always needs volunteers to play with the “Challengers,” developmentally and physically disabled kids who have their own league. There is no shortage of things that privileged kids can do to help others. Finding a volunteer program to get involved with is a perfect way to stave off boredom.

3. Study: Here’s a novel concept: take even an hour out of the time that you would be out carousing and hit the books. There is so much talk about getting into a good college these days, much more so than when I was a kid. (Case in point: I applied to two schools. Today’s kids average around eight.) Getting into a good school—or the one you have your heart set on—requires good grades and the only way to get good grades is to hit those books. Ideally, I should apply this advice to exercise, but since I’m pontificating, my habits are not up for review right now.

I grew up in a suburb and my parents grew up in the city. When remarking upon today’s kids and their lack of activities, my father said, “I grew up in the Bronx. There was nothing to do. So we hung out.” There’s another idea: just hang out. Walk down to our beautiful river and stroll along its banks. Take the dog. Take your little brother or sister. Stop and smell the roses. Sometimes, doing nothing is the best activity there is.

Thoughts, Stiletto faithful? What should today’s kids be doing to keep themselves occupied?

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Your list is pretty comprehensive. Of course, like the teen centre, the kids who would do those things are not the "bored" ones. Having been a teen in the 70's (gasp) I can honestly say that parents pondered this same problem then as well. And it sounds like the same problem existed in your father's generation, too. I think part of the reason kids act out is that they are trying to get an adult's attention. More interaction at home may be what is needed instead of yet another way to pass the problem on to someone else outside the home (like a teen centre). I don't think the correct question is being asked. It should not be "How can we keep our kids occupied and out of trouble?" but "Why are our kids getting into trouble in the first place?"

  2. Teen Centers started here close quickly. Parents are interested if someone else mans them and teen would prefer they weren't manned at all. The things mentioned by your village are outdated by today's standards.
    Zita is correct. They want attention and freedom. It's rough to balance in these times when people are struggling.
    Good luck with your center. I really hope it is one that prospers.

  3. Oh, Mags--now you've done it. You've finally crossed the bridge and burnt it behind you into "These Darned Kids Today"-land.

    I, myself, think that Teen Centers would not be bad at all, if they were a little more modernized and were at least in part manned by people not too much older than the teens--could make it easier for the kids to relate there and/or serve as some mentoring? Also, for a gal who never really participated in sports as a youth, I'm really behind the idea of getting these kids, even the older ones, MOVING and playing a sport/game or learning a physical discipline, like self-defense martial arts, yoga, etc. So, teen athletics leagues would be good in my view.

    Lastly, teen centers are hard because you have to have a lowered expectation on attendance to any one of them. Lots of kids won't be interested, a few will and unfortunately, it's hard to keep a whole center going for the few.

    Good luck to your town in working this out.