The Upside of Boredom

“I’m bored.” 

Paul, age 8, says this roughly every 30 seconds. It’s not that he’s spoiled or overly entertained or more addicted to the internet than his parents. It’s that he’s 8 and 8 year olds bug their parents by saying they are bored even when they aren’t. (Paul said he was bored during the previews for The Avengers. I thought about the $40 I just spent to take him and rolled my eyes.)

I’ve turned the I’m bored syndrome into a bit of a game between us. When Paul says, “I’m bored” I look at him and say “Good. And do you know why it’s good?

Here’s what I’m teaching Paul. It’s the upside of boredom. 

Boredom leads you to creativity. And creativity leads to figuring out things that no one else can figure out. And when you figure out stuff that no one else can figure out that will lead you to world domination. Therefore your boredom will lead you to the world domination you desire. Therefore boredom is a very good thing, right?

It’s a not-so-subtle thing I’m trying to plant in my son’s head. I’m combatting my nature to roll my eyes or scold him by teaching values:

  • Creativity happens when we create space for it.
  • There’s a difference between staying occupied and doing something amazing.
  • I actually think he can create something which might dominate the world.

What are other upsides to boredom?

Photo credit: I Can Has

Let them roar(ish)

We need to allow our kids to learn to roar.

At eight and ten years old our oldest are flourishing in the elementary years. Half of their existence is in the pretend world of video games, fantasy books, and made-up games in the backyard. The other half is the real world where they help with the baby, dominate academically at school, and run the shipping department for The Youth Cartel store.

The hard thing for Kristen and I is that they are growing up a little bit faster than we feel prepared to adapt our parenting. A year ago we woke up to the reality that we’d never left them home alone for even 5 minutes… or allowed them out of our sight on their own. So we started taking short trips to the grocery store without them or allowing them to go on walks in our neighborhood alone.

“It happens so fast.” People have told us this since the moment we found out we were pregnant with Megan. We’ve taken lots of pictures, we’ve enjoyed every step and stage. And yet it feels like it is still going so fast that we just want to hold on to each stage!

At the same time, it’s that little tendency… the desire to hold on… that we know is the difference between our kids roaring and our kids delaying maturation.

O! That we would be parents who don’t take video while our kids learn to roar, but stand behind them and encourage: Louder, you can do it!


We need non-digital adventure

Photo by Christine K via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A couple weekends ago I told Megan and Paul to get in the car, we were going on a secret adventure.

Anticipation in the car was high. Were we going for ice cream? Was dad taking us to a movie? Were we going to buy new video games?

All were possibilities. But none were realities.

Dad’s plan– Spend an hour at Barnes & Noble picking out books.

I thought you were taking us on an adventure, dad. This sucks.” Those were the words of my 8 year old son as we entered the store.

I explained, “You need to take your brain on a non-digital adventure. And books can take you there.” Every time they picked up a book it was tied to a video game or cartoon. “Non-digital adventure. Longer, older, think about the classics.” They complained, “I don’t want to read an old book. I want to read something new. New stuff is good, old stuff is boring.” 

In the end we made a compromise. They could each pick out whatever book they wanted. And dad picked out two books for them. (The first two books in the Narnia series.)

Megan took the compromise. Paul didn’t pick out a book and went home empty handed on principle.

I went home and planned our camping trip– A non-digital adventure of the mind, body, and soul.

Besides restricting use, what are ways you help your kids take their brain on non-digital adventures? 


Kid’s Attention Valued at $1.12 Trillion Annually

My kids can tell me about all the latest Disney movies. And they can rattle off the specs of just about every toy that they want. Worse yet? They are armed with lines that tell me all about why buying that toy is good for them and the deal they will get if they buy it online by a specific date.

The culprit? Savvy marketers are hitting them where I’m not looking. Sites that I’ve deemed safe for them to play on are now rewarding them for watching well-placed ads. My own kids are earning Webkinz bucks by watching trailers for movies. It’s not just Webkinz, it’s all of them.

On the table? Getting kids to influence their parents spending habits.

$1.12 trillion. That’s the amount that kids influenced last year in overall family spending, says James McNeal, a kid marketing consultant and author of Kids as Consumers: A Handbook of Marketing to Children. “Up to age 16, kids are determining most expenditures in the household,” he says. “This is very attractive to marketers.” 

Marketing to Kids Gets More Savvy with Technology, USA Today, August 15th 2011. – Read the rest

What does this have to do with youth ministry? Absolutely everything. I’m not saying you need to market your ministry to your students. But I am saying that you need to know that there are others out there marketing to your students in ways that are more savvy and more influential than your flyer and stage announcement.

Your retreat, your camp, your mission trip… things like that are competing for the same $1.12 trillion. Sad. But true.

Tip for Webkinz parents: Go into your kids account and turn off third-party ads.

Question: Should the government regulate advertising to children? 


Daddy, if you love me…

I love spending solo time with my kids. And I really want them to enjoy spending time with me. We spend lots of time doing stuff together as a family, but I think there’s something special about the ratio being 1:1 (or 1:2) instead of 5:2.

At least once per month I try to take them out to do something– just the two of us. It’s often something simple. Like a trip to Target or Home Depot or out for a taco. But my goal is always to do something a little bigger. Something that’s really special. (When you live in a tourist destination like San Diego, this is actually pretty easy.)

I also try to mix passions in hopes of passing on some of the things I love. My love for college sports was passed on to me by my dad taking me to Notre Dame football, basketball, and hockey games as a kid. So they go with me to San Diego State football and basketball games. And this year we added the San Diego Padres to the mix because they both seem to enjoy baseball.

In March, Paul and I were walking to the SDSU vs. Utah game. The Aztecs were ranked in the top 10 in the country. The game was sold out. And the country was just discovering that Viejas Arena had become the most exciting venue west of the Mississippi. Paul dragged his feet a little as we walked across campus.

Paul, don’t you want to go to the game? It’s sold out. The Aztecs are awesome this year. And I love sharing this with you.” He got up the courage to tell me the truth. “I really like hanging out with you dad. But we always do things that you love, like sports, and it doesn’t count as a dad date unless it’s something I want to do.

My 7 year old prophet hit me… Right. Between. The. Eyes.

What do you want to do?

In some ways it seems silly to miss this. But I had a default to want to take my kids along to things I wanted to do. And they picked up that I would have gone to this stuff with or without them, so it didn’t feel as special. While they liked the games they wanted me to come spend time on their turf. They felt loved as we went to games. But they would really feel the love if I’d bypass what I wanted to do for what they wanted to do.

Yesterday was case-in-point as we went to the Pokemon World Championships. (Pictures above) Thousands of people geeked out on Pokemon. They spoke a language of characters I couldn’t comprehend. The card games, the collectables, the people dressed like the characters. I couldn’t have been more out of place.

But my kids? It was a giant “I love you” card for them. They couldn’t believe we actually went. (Paul asked me about it months ago but thought I had forgotten.) I didn’t rush them. I just tried to figure it out. I sat and watched as they played in table tournaments. I got excited when they won. I was disappointed when they lost. We took pictures. We wandered around the hotel to make sure they’d seen everything. I learned the names of some characters.

Parenthood is humbling. There’s times you think you’re winning when you are losing and visa versa. For every miss I’ve had– it felt good to get a win yesterday.


Happy Father’s Day from the Kids

Making dad proud, silly faces all around.
Megan showing off her mad origami skills with this handcrafted origami fathers day sign
hmm... thoughts

When your kids go adrift

For those who don’t know what drifting is… here’s a video.

For those who have ever watched a kid go adrift in his life– You know the parents typically just sit there with the camera running rather than doing anything.


Like Father, Like Daughter

Kristen found this in Megan’s room the other day. Megan loves to draw and create things. Her origami creations are worthy of an Etsy shop.

When we turned over the last page and saw her marketing twist about going to… we just roared with laughter. She truly is her father’s child.


Introducing lent to the kids

Kristen and I decided to introduce lent to our church hating, Awana loving kids.

Our kids aren’t game for anything. I get jealous when I go to my friends house and their kids would walk across the desert for a glass of water just because mom or dad said it’d be fun and meaningful. My kids are the exact opposite. I pitch going to Sea World on a Saturday and they glibly respond, “OK. I guess. There isn’t any good TV on today anyway.

Knowing that– we still had this crazy idea of bringing our kids into our observance of lent.

Here’s how I did it.

Jelly beans. Yup, jelly beans.

On Sunday, I made a secret trip to Rite Aid and came back with a big 2 pound bag of fresh, delicious Brach’s jelly beans.

Then I waited for them to be in a good mood. A good & hungry mood, that is. After school on Monday was perfect. Both of them were chipper when I picked them up from school (rarity) and yesterday’s lunch at school must have been especially nasty because they were starving for snack.

On the way home I got them thinking. “Hey, have you ever heard of lent? Not lint like on your clothes… lent, the 40 days before Easter.

That got them thinking a little and asking questions about lent. By the time we pulled into the driveway they were curious and I had dropped hints that mom and dad wanted to talk about a lent challenge and that it had a reward on Easter Sunday.

Mom had hot buttery popcorn waiting for them. They grabbed a handful and started to munch. I interrupted them, “Hey, why don’t you guys go to the bathroom and stuff and come back. We’ll have a snack and talk about lent.

My jaw dropped. They were into it!

They came back into the kitchen and sat around our little island. That’s when I brought out the jelly beans. Their eyes got huge! They didn’t see that coming.

Hook, line, and sinker… let’s reel them in.

After that we talked about what lent is, why people observe it, why its important to sacrifice something important to us in preparation for Easter, etc.

The whole time we’re chatting they are munching on popcorn & jelly beans. The treats were the oil that is lubricating this conversation! This was reinforcing the kinesthetic learning in lent while talking about why lent was a connection between our 40 days of sacrifice and Jesus’ 40 days in the desert.

Mom and dad are each going to give up something important to them for lent. We’d really like you guys to think about giving up something important, too. It’ll be a great way for you to prepare your heart for Easter.” Then we talked about silly things to give up, like foods we don’t like or impossible things to give up like peeing or breathing. And we asked them if they thought other kids at school were going to give something up for lent. They didn’t know… so we asked them to ask around, because a lot of kids give up things for lent.

We ended our talk with a simple challenge. “Let’s talk tomorrow about what you want to give up. We aren’t going to tell you what  you should or shouldn’t give up. So think hard about it. Each of us will give up something different. And the only one who is really going to know if you’ve cheated is you. (And God) Lent starts on Wednesday.

I know this is a simple thing. 5 minutes. But for us, not having a lot of success at introducing Jesus into our family beyond praying for meals occasionally and going to church, this was a big success. Totally worth celebrating! And totally building our confidence.

Parenting + spiritual formation? Yes, we can do this!

Update: Click here for free, downloadable lent signs for your house

Photo youth ministry

You never stop being a youth pastor…

You might need to click on the image so you can take in the awesomeness of this moment. This couple was completely oblivious.
  1. This was Sunday, early evening, at La Jolla Shores. (The most kid-friendly beach in San Diego, one of the best beaches in California.)
  2. There were families and young children everywhere.
  3. Lisa (former youth group student of mine and retired RA from Grace College) couldn’t resist the cameo. She tried, it was too awesome.
  4. My favorite part of this picture is the kids playground in the background. We’re not talking about a secluded beach spot for a private make-out session… this literally is in the middle of family-friendly central.
  5. They cleaned it up by the time we took this picture. There was a time when she was on top of him. And also a time when when hands were in all sorts of places.
  6. Yeah, it’s weird we took a picture. You never stop being a youth pastor and this is always funny. It’s like a middle school girl farting in the church van. You just find it funny!