I’ve been enjoying the plethora of recent articles — as abundant as the vegetable harvest — that look back nostalgically on the simple summers of a generation ago. This is yet another area where technology has encroached, killing creativity and imagination in its wake. I recall entire days spent immersed in reading Gone With the Wind or Little Women, only stopping to eat. When my friends and I got together, we did not sit side-by-side staring at our iPhones, a favorite pastime of my daughter and her pals. One close friend and I spent numerous days giving each other manicures, playing board games, biking to the neighborhood pool, or just hanging out, where I would routinely utter the words “What do you want to do?” and she would respond “I don’t know. What do you want to know?” This back-and-forth could go on for an hour, though at no point did we complain of our boredom to a parent, not matter how desperate we became.
Flash forward to the present summer, where there is a never-ending supply of screen activity. Even when my daughter is alone, her community is with her: on Twitter, Instagram and through relentless texting. The texts can be overwhelming, but when they abate, it results in a feeling of rejection. Reading a book is often looked upon as a quaint pastime of a bygone era.
It doesn’t help that middle class children are overscheduled, their days dictated by parents who find intellectually challenging activities for them, be it exotic vacations overseas or day camps to explore the fun of physics. I feel like a rebel at times, but I’m finally at peace with the unscheduled summer. My children either take the initiative or — heaven forbid — they’re bored. It’s frustrating, but, faced with an endless day before them, they eventually become adept at figuring out how to fill it. I also insist that they pay for their expenses and get a summer job. My daughters ran a preschool camp in our backyard starting at age 11. They quickly appreciated earning money that they could spend without having to constantly ask my permission for something they want to buy. Now all teenagers, they’re gainfully employed. I am constantly amazed how few parents of teens encourage their children to look for a job. They fear it will unduly burden them, that it’s wrong to require a middle class child to be employed and that they should be focused on activities that bolster their college applications. But already I’ve seen the benefits of this experience. It’s taught my children to be resourceful in finding the job. They they’ve had to interact with adults — no easy task for today’s teen. They’re now more responsible and assertive and have gained exposure to all different types of individuals they wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. But perhaps the biggest benefit to me, as someone who works from home, is that once their shift is over, they’re so exhausted that they rarely utter the words, “I’m bored.”