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Why Parents Should Ban the Word Boring

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We parents of today like to take our kids seriously, to listen to what they’re saying and respect their feelings. I’m all for that—except for when children say they are “bored.” It’s not just because children, who are biologically graced with the greatest imaginations of their lives, have little right to be bored. It’s because when children say they are bored, they rarely mean what they say.

This summer, my nine-year-old son started tennis camp. He was a bit nervous the night before the first session and by morning was digging in his heels about going. Suddenly he said, “I don’t want to do tennis anyway. You just hit the ball back and forth over the net. It’s boring.”

Now tennis is probably less thrilling than, say, bungee jumping, but this declaration, coming from a child who had never played a single minute of tennis in his life (except on the Wii but let’s not count that even though he found it anything but boring), was highly suspect. Rather than indulge his feelings, I gave him a little pep talk about trying before deciding and encouraged him to put on his tennis clothes. That did the trick; looking at himself in the mirror in a clean white shirt, shorts and hat was apparently entrancing enough to dash away his fears. By mid-afternoon, he had declared tennis to be “so much fun” and later closed his day by hitting a ball against the garage.

My favorite anecdote about the meaningless of the word “boring” comes from a friend who took her young children to see one of the Harry Potter films. As a fight scene raged on the screen, her children—then about five and seven—pushed themselves back in the seats, their faces frozen in terror, their eyes locked on the screen. Gripping the armrest with all his strength, her son finally said “I want to go home! This is so … boring!”

It’s not always so easy to know what the dreaded B-word actually means. At the end of the school year, my older son told me he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue piano lessons. “It’s kind of boring,” he said.

This might mean he needs some new songs to get excited about (there are only so many times you can wow your friends and family by playing the theme from James Bond). It might mean he’s hit a plateau that he needs to push through to get to a higher, more exciting level. It might mean (and this is the one I’d put money on) that he’s feeling a bit over-shadowed by his younger brother who also takes piano lessons and has developed a real passion and talent for jamming on blues songs while Dad plays guitar.

I’m going to have to do a bit more probing on this one and keep my son taking lessons until we get to the bottom of it. But in the meantime, I think I’ll put a household moratorium on the word “boring” (other than references to American Idol). If nothing else, it will push my children to be a bit more articulate about their feelings.

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