Help kids’ imaginations soar

Hector Casanova / MCT

On a rainy drive home a few days ago, I heard an age-old complaint from my daughter, one that most parents hear this time of the year: “Dad, I’m bored.”

Having grown up in the prehistoric 1970s, which now seem like the Stone Age given that there were no tablets, cell phones or DVR recording capabilities, I couldn’t fathom what my 6-year-old could be complaining about.

I answered her whiny gripe with a response right from the “things your parents told you that didn’t make sense until you became a parent” file. “Honey,” I said, “there’s plenty to do, use your imagination.”

The tell-tale signs of the oncoming summer doldrums were abundantly evident, yet I chose to ignore them. As the school year was winding down, fellow parents, whose children were in my daughter’s first-grade class, were chatting up exotic (and expensive) summer camps and extravagant vacations. Half kiddingly, so as to not be the subject of a paleontological study, I asked, “Whatever happened to playing in the sprinklers with your friends or riding your bike around the neighborhood?”

I received sharp stares — like the time I poked fun at the ridiculous tire flipping, garbage-can-carrying, cross-training exercises that health-conscious yuppies are subjecting themselves to these days.

One particularly perturbed mom, who was eavesdropping, looked at me and said that she didn’t want her daughter “goofing off” all summer. “Vienna can’t fall behind. Things are different now,” she declared.

What was her daughter falling behind on I wondered? And weren’t the summers meant for goofing off?

My daughter’s complaint of boredom reminded me of this end-of-school-year exchange, and I realized that the millennial generation and the parents who raised them, have redefined down time. Relaxation now surrounds some form of cyber activity. Kids seem like they’re busy doing something incredibly important and intense when in reality they are posting pictures of their friends on Facebook or tweeting out where they will be having dinner.

A great deal of the time kids spend on the Internet is no more useful than the mind-numbing activity of watching re-runs of bad sitcoms on television — a pastime that was greatly criticized when I was young. I admit that I could have done without a couple of repeat episodes of Gilligan’s Island.

There is something unnerving about a teenager obsessively fidgeting with a phone or tablet in a social setting. We are raising the most antisocial, uncommunicative, insensitive generation ever.

Something about this highly stimulated, multitasking, new paradigm that children are living in today didn’t sit right with me. I spoke with clinical psychologist, Dr. Yusimi Sijo, and asked her if I was off base. Sijo broke it down for me: “Unstructured time is essential in the development of a child. It affords them essential personal freedom and space which is where they develop their identity.”

She said that downtime or daydreaming, as I call it, “is nothing more than inner reflection or introspection, which is the genesis of many great ideas.”

I decided to address my daughter’s boredom by stocking up on old-fashioned toys (crayons, clay) that stimulate creativity. I encouraged her to play outside and bought her several books about subjects that interest her.

The greatest revelation has reinforced what good parents have been doing since the beginning of time: Don’t preach it, act upon it. When I urge my daughter to be creative and use her imagination, I can’t very well turn around and pick up one of my gadgets to fight my own boredom. Kids mimic our actions, so I’ve now made it a point to read more and have more introspective time.

This promises to be an interesting summer for my daughter and me — with much less computer time and far more daydreaming.

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