As a teacher, I love to make learning fun in the classroom. I love incorporating games and projects as much as possible because it’s been proven that we usually remember things better this way – and I have more fun teaching.
But not everything can be fun in life. And the older you get in school, the more it becomes mostly reading and taking notes. Inevitably when we came to reading and note-taking this past school year, someone would make the comment that it was boring. To which I always gave the “Not everything can be fun in life” response.
I understand that it’s our natural human response to want to take the easy way out, to be lazy, and to do fun things. But unfortunately, it seems that within the past couple decades, our culture has amplified the entertainment factor by a thousand percent – to the point that we expect everything to be entertaining, and when it’s not, we get mad or avoid it. And we’re starting to see a generation of kids who expect life to be easier and more fun for them.
I’ve listened to and read several things recently on this topic – the first being a book called The Coddling of the American Mind. While it was addressing more the “culture of safetyism” in America, it did also bring up a great untruth – “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.” This is evident in young people wanting to avoid hard things or even “hard ideas” that they disagree with.
The second thing was an episode of “The Briefing” where Albert Mohler was discussing the disappearance of the American work ethic. This has been seen recently in people not wanting to go back to work after being laid off in the pandemic. Almost every store or restaurant I drive by these days has a sign that says, “Now Hiring.” And the people that used to work there are happily sitting at home, getting their government checks, watching Netflix and playing video games all day long. Because why would they want to do something boring like going to work when they can get paid to sit at home and be entertained?
This is alarming when one thinks of the future of our country and the sustainability of the work force. Our kids need to be taught that there is value in hard work, that discipline is necessary for the things we don’t always enjoy, and that even when we can’t see it, doing hard and boring things is good for us.
Exercising regularly is hard. Cleaning the bathroom and folding the laundry is boring. Reading a dense book is hard. Doing homework is boring. And yet our minds and bodies are strengthened by making them do things that we don’t want to do. Our lives are more meaningful when we create rhythms and routines of discipline and structure. We gain satisfaction when we accomplish something difficult rather than doing the same easy things over and over again.
I guarantee there are some weekends where I’m too tired to clean the house. So I don’t, but there is a sense of unease at a job not done. I can breathe easier and more peacefully when I make myself do the chores and see a clean house as a result.
About ten years ago, the high school leadership team that I advised read through the books Do Hard Things and Start Here by Alex and Brett Harris who started The Rebelution (“a teenage rebellion against low expectations”). I still think of those books often and the challenging message about making ourselves do the hard things in life and accomplishing more than we thought we could. It’s a message that I think this generation needs to hear more than ever – and it can start with adults teaching kids not to expect everything to be fun and easy.
That doesn’t mean we need to berate them every time they complain about something being boring (they will soon resent us rather than listen to us). Rather, we need to acknowledge that it is hard or boring and then model how it’s developing our character when we work at it cheerfully rather than angrily. Remind them that there will be time for something fun later, but that a daily learning of discipline means doing things we’d rather not.
I also think it’s important to limit how much passive entertainment is entering into kids’ minds (screen time primarily) because this is training them to expect a constantly shifting array of entertainment choices in life. Rather we need to teach them active entertainment whether that’s in imaginative play, curious exploration and discovery in projects and experiments, or reading books. I read a quote somewhere about the importance of letting our kids get bored so that they will be forced to get creative (in playing an instrument, writing a story, or trying new things in the kitchen). It might grate on our nerves to hear the whine, “I’m bored,” but we should use it as an opportunity to guide them into new possibilities.
The easiest thing in the world is to turn on a TV show or hand the kid a device to play games on so that they’ll be quiet. But when the adults choose the easy way out, they are merely reinforcing the idea that hard and boring things should be avoided.
We all need to step up in this area (myself included), but it’s especially important for our kids and teens to learn this. This generation needs to learn not to be afraid of hard work because it will be ultimately rewarding in the long run. And they also need to learn that a little boredom could lead them to new and creative ideas that they never dreamed of.
Let’s be diligent in teaching and modeling this pursuit – and hopefully that American work ethic can be fanned into flame once more.