Have a Boring Summer!

Kim Moldofsky is the publisher of The Maker Mom and STEM Kids Chicago.

Summertime can be challenging for middle school students. They're too old for the classic summer camp experience, but the tech camps that welcome them may be too costly to enjoy all summer long. They’re showing signs of increasing independence, but are not quite ready to be left to their own devices all the time.

And by “left to their own devices,” I mean both in the traditional sense of being free to do what they want, but also in the modern high-tech sense. Do not leave kids with unfettered access to their smart gadgets and tech devices. According to a May 2018 Pew study, 95% of teens own or have access to a smartphone and 45% are “online on a near-constant basis.”

Yikes.

Still, I don’t advise completely cutting the power cable that connects them to the screen of their choice. They need that to connect with friends online and in real life. And sure, they might be building their coding skills or contributing to citizen science, but they don’t require unlimited screen time to do that.

Mostly, I don’t want young people to immerse themselves in the digital world all summer because there’s so much to see, do, and wonder about in the physical world.

It might not feel that way when you pry the devices from their clammy hands (no, really, I hope it doesn’t come that that) because even we adults are reluctant to part from our favorite devices and apps. We may experience anger, shock, denial and grief, but then...

What Follows Next

Well, what follows next might be agitation and possibly tantrums. But then, there is boredom.

Yes, boredom!

I say boredom! like it’s a good thing, because it is. At least it is after you muddle through the whining and unfamiliarity of it. After all, most days the cure for boredom is just a click away. But when a teen (or any of us really) can’t click to the next Snap, or status update, or see the latest count of likes, we’re forced to look around. We may even look inside ourselves. We need to figure out what comes next. We need to create what comes next.

When my boys complained of boredom, I always had a list of suggested activities at the ready for my STEM-loving duo. It included items like cleaning their rooms and sorting through their books and toys to find items suitable for donation. Of course, my suggested solutions seemed worse to them than their problem. This meant that they either needed to do what I told them or develop better alternatives.

And what they figured out to do was often creative. They had unique ideas and the agency to bring them to fruition. Other times, they played board games or made up their own goofy challenges. They read books, headed outside to play or explore, or they sat and let their minds wander.

When he was 16, Albert Einstein famously tried to visualize what it would be like to ride alongside a beam of light, an idea that he pursued for years. Many credit this as key to his later Theory of Relativity. But where would be be today if he had been able to zone out to YouTube videos while waiting to see if the object of his affection liked his latest post?

This summer, I wish you and your students time to be bored. Time to consider pressing problems and to envision solutions, or to simply clear your mind and see what ideas pop into your head.