Boredom can challenge kids to find new activities

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It's enough to make parents want to drop the kids at the next gas station and not look back.

The back-seat bickering isn't what's setting the front seaters on edge. Nor is it the whining about the lack of palatable snacks (read chips, soda and candy) or pool time. It's even worse: The kids are bored.

Loudly, annoyingly and frustratingly bored. And they want to make sure you're miserable, too. No matter what activities are planned for the day, they're not interested. They certainly don't care about the splendid scenery. Nor does it matter how much the trip has cost or how many 18-hour days Mom and Dad had to put in to make the time for it. As far as the junior travelers in the group are concerned, especially any teens among them, traveling with the family is a drag.

Take heart. They're really not a bunch of spoiled brats. Nor is yours the only family that's ever confronted this dilemma mid-trip. In fact, a new survey indicates that the boredom factor is all too common on family vacations.

Sega of America polled more than 500 kids around the country between the ages of 6 and 17 and nearly 900 parents by telephone. Nearly half of the kids said they get bored on family vacations, though parents reported having a far better time.

Some of the worst times the kids reported: Having a family discussion in the car. They don't like singing, either, or being without a television for hours at a stretch, especially when they're cooped up with their siblings, the dog or Mom's $l boyfriend.

Of course, the Sega people would like all of us beleaguered parents to rush out and stock up on more hand-held video games to keep the troops' boredom at bay. And certainly such games may have a place on vacation, as do tape or disc players.

The kids don't need to be entertained every minute, however, nor should they be. In fact, a little boredom is a good thing. That's what the child development experts say.

"It's important for kids to take charge of their own boredom and come up with something to do that will be fun," says Chicago child psychologist Sharon Berry, who refuses to let kids even use the word bored.

"Parents shouldn't feel they have to be camp directors every minute," she adds. Instead, parents should grab the opportunity to teach kids to entertain themselves. Can they make up stories? Read a book? Make string bracelets or other crafts?

"A lot of times when kids say they're bored, they're not bored at all. They're really saying it's time to do something else," explains Joan Bergstrom, an education professor at Wheelock College in Boston. Ms. Bergstrom, author of "The Best Summer Ever" (Tricycle Press, $9.95), is convinced that the more the kids are actively involved in planning the trip, the less they'll complain.

In the car, for example, let them choose the lunch spot and decide whether it will be a beach or a water slide for the afternoon. Make sure, of course, that each child gets an equal amount of choices. Hand each a shoe box and let them make a vacation treasure box from ticket stubs, postcards, vials of sand, rocks -- whatever they like. Ms. Bergstrom promises they'll spend lots of time in the car marveling at their treasures.

If they're griping about visiting the boring relatives' house, suggest the family go out and buy something to plant in the garden. The next time they visit, they can see how much it has grown.

All the while, parents need to remember that their idea of what constitutes a boring afternoon and the kids' idea are decidedly different. While Mom and Dad may enjoy a two-hour lunch or a leisurely stroll through an art gallery, an 8-year-old will think it's extremely boring.

And while Mom and Dad start to get antsy after an hour at a playground, a 4-year-old is happy to settle in for the rest of the afternoon.

Then, there are the teen-agers to contend with.

"When they say they're bored, they really mean they don't want to be seen anywhere near any parents," explains Dr. Victor Strassburger, an adolescent specialist at the University of New Mexico Medical School and a spokesmen on adolescents for the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Parents just have to recognize that the kids are going through the Parents-as-Lepers" phase.

Take along another teen so the two can commiserate with each other about how dumb their parents are. Another option is to head someplace like the Club Med Huatulco, where a Teen Club has just been inaugurated to keep teens so busy snorkeling, flying on a circus trapeze, kayaking and playing basketball that they couldn't possibly be bored. Or could they?

Wherever you are when they start complaining, don't get upset. Explain calmly that a little boredom is good for them, kind of like eating spinach. Then go back to enjoying yourself.

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