Years ago there used to be a saying, ”Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”. It was mostly said by parents to children who were inclined to get into trouble when they had too much free time. In some ways, I think it led to the idea of enrolling even very young children in organized outside activities for every waking moment of their lives. This over scheduling has created problems of its own.
By enrolling your children in activities planned, organized and executed by others, they never truly learn how to find worthwhile things to do with their free time. When they do have the rare free moment, they turn to their digital pacifier to relieve their boredom – which also comes with a host of problems. As strange as it sounds, your kids need you to teach them how to use free time in ways that restore them and hopefully are productive in some way.
God did not create your children – or any of us – for living lives of leisure. Even in the Garden of Eden, he put Adam to work. Jesus rested when he was here on Earth, but that rest was carefully planned to be truly restorative. He didn’t just sit there watching a long stream of YouTube videos. He spent intentional time with God and his disciples. It appears that Jesus spent his free time in ways that were either restorative or productive. Your children were created to connect with God through spiritual disciplines and produce in ways that point others to God. They were not created to be idle or to be constantly entertained by others.
Unfortunately, your children have probably never been taught how to follow the example of Jesus in how they spend their free time – not at church, school or perhaps even at home. So when they get bored, they may find themselves defaulting to the normal “entertainments” teens and young adults have used for centuries – alcohol, drugs, sex or other unhealthy and/or ungodly pursuits.
Time and time again, I have seen the rare teen or young adult who was taught to find fun, wholesome and even productive activities. They not only seem to avoid getting mixed up in the fallback pursuits, but often lead their peers in participating in these better options.
So how do you help your kids learn how to use their free time well? These ideas will get you started.
- Make sure your kids have plenty of free time. They need the time to find things to do without someone planning it for them.
- Make sure your home has some basics. If you can afford it, have art supplies and books that would interest them in your home. Perhaps a musical instrument to play or some basic sports equipment like frisbees and balls. If money is tight, try the public library and thrift or yard sales. If they literally don’t have other options that are approved and easily available, they are more likely to make poor choices.
- Start small when they are young and give more freedom as they age. Children who have never had to fill free time will inevitably turn to devices or claim they are bored when they do have freedom. Don’t tell them what to do. Ask them to list some options they may have to amuse themselves. If they claim to not have anything, offer to give them chores to relieve their boredom! If you find them a few minutes later on a device or getting into trouble, redirect by asking them to choose a different activity. Over time, they should be able to find ways to amuse themselves without your help.
- Let them help research and plan family outings and vacations. Teach them how to find those obscure, fun, often free things to do in any place. Often Googling terms like “off the beaten path” “free things to do” or “Atlas Obscura” plus the name of the location will give them lots of ideas (Be aware that some of these sites are paid to promote bars. Discuss why bar hopping is not a wise way to spend free time or prescreen sites before allowing your kids to use them for researching activities.)
- Have fun! An activity doesn’t have to be boring or educational to be a good alternative to less wise options. Go to places at times that are just pure fun. Or go see weird roadside attractions to find the most unique or find the restaurant with the best key lime pie in the world. Teach them Christians can have fun without sinning.
- Don’t forget spiritual disciplines and serving others. Add meaning and purpose to their lives and strengthen their faith by encouraging them to participate in spiritual disciplines like prayer and meditating on scripture as well as serving others with part of their free time.
Have fun with it, but make sure your kids are well versed in finding godly, productive fun before they leave your home. It can help them avoid sinning in their boredom.