“Mom/Dad, I’m bored!!!”
I’m guessing most of us have heard this cry from our children, and have made it ourselves to our parents. Now that the summer vacation is here, I assume this expression is being heard even more frequently in quite a few homes throughout Israel (and the world.) It is also likely this will only increase as the days move slowly towards the beginning of a new school year. The truth is, I fully understand the boredom they are experiencing! My own experience with that boredom still exists clearly in my memory even though almost twenty years have passed.
Really, it’s hard to blame them. These children and youth make a sharp transition from the highly organized schedule of classes class, trips, assemblies, and homework to an open vacancy in time. At first, it seems fun, they feel freedom and independence, they can stay up late with friends and spend hours upon hours watching TV or playing computer games. The problem is, after a relatively short time that initial joy subsides. The reason is that while these activities may be fun, they are lacking any real content that would create structure and require responsibility and dedication, and thus, relatively quickly, boredom arrives.
Boredom is a condition that results mainly from a lack of challenge combined with inactivity. Yes, it can also appear during the school year (for quite a few children even during the lessons!) However, during the year there is a framework that limits boredom and limits its potential for leading youth into misbehavior or simply shouting to the heavens that they are bored. The combination of inactivity, loads of free time and reduced adult supervision, creates quite a few problems. In recent years, we have been witness to the phenomena of considerably increased vandalism, violence and drug use during summer vacation. The situation is so serious that the Israel Police have held a special conference on the subject, intended to prepare police for the holiday and the increased volume of work they bring with them. It turns out that while the students and teachers are on vacation, police are forced to work hard to maintain public order, often disrupted in the middle of the night by bored teenagers.
In the passages that we read in the last few weeks of Numbers, we were able to see what boredom can do to the Children of Israel in the desert, who were called the “Dor Da’eh.” In the course of these affairs, a number of different cases were repeated, in which disagreements arose within the camp, leading to quite a few confrontations between the people and the leadership of God as represented by Moshe and Aharon. After the sin of the spies, they received the punishment of wandering in the desert and not entering the Land of Israel, and they wandered around the desolate desert for 38 years without having any agenda or goal that drives them to a certain destination. This led to an uprising against the establishment, a bit like our youth who sink into boredom and move towards vandalism and violence.
The sages of Israel dealt quite a bit in regard to idleness, boredom and their results. A well-known saying from the Gemara, which is often used today, is used to explain the danger of being idle: “Idleness leads to boredom, and boredom leads to sin” (Talmud Bavli, Tractate Ketubot, page 108, page 2) In addition, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s great opposition to the summer vacation is well known. The Rebbe simply could not understand why it is needed; why stop the spiritual and intellectual growth of children and cut them off from the spring of life from which they feed? This caused him to establish a Chabad summer camp that would look like any American summer camp, with all the physical luxuries, but it would actually function as a yeshiva for everything, where the children would have a study order that would fit in with fun play activities.
What can we, who are not Chabadniks or necessarily have the money for American summer camps, do? We can at least try to follow their example. Create an agenda with meaningful content for your child that will also be able to challenge them. At the same time, wrap it up with positive pampering and incentives that will still make them feel great. A good example of this is be found in quite a few synagogues where they do a later morning service so children could join. They make sure to follow prayers with a short study accompanied by Shocko (delicious Israeli chocolate milk) and a pastry or other treats for children. In my opinion, we, as parents or educators, can do something similar by arranging our home to encourage structured activities such as painting or gardening.