The worst affliction affecting our kids today is not teen pregnancy, drugs and alcohol, or Internet predators. No. In fact, all those dangers can be traced to-in most cases-a common root. Boredom.
The success of websites like MySpace and YouTube are direct results of today's teens' boredom (and desire to be famous).
Up until recently, most teens had after-school jobs, chores, or homework to keep them occupied after school. Our parents would work for three to five hours after school before returning home to eat, spend some time with family, and do homework. After homework was done, our parents had maybe an hour to themselves before going to bed and starting the whole routine over again.
Very few children in our parents' generation had nothing to do after school. Hardly anyone had the time-or was allowed-to sit in front of the TV. Our grandparents knew, with some degree of certainty, where our parents were after school.
But now, with the rise of single-parent households and two-income households, kids do not have the opportunity for sports or the need for an after school job. With maids and housekeepers, some kids don't even have chores anymore.
Television and the Internet have opened up a whole new world to our children. Educational channels such as Discovery, National Geographic, and the Science Channel can bring the world into your living room. The same can be said for the Internet.
But how many parents can say their child's favorite channel is Discovery (although Mythbusters ROCKS!)? And how many parents can say that their child's favorite website is Wikipedia.com? For that matter, how many parents know their child's favorite channel and website?
Without chores, after-school jobs, sports or, in some school districts, homework, kids get bored and the old adage "Idle hands are the Devil's playground" comes into play.
Kids are spending hours watching TV, chatting online, playing video games, hanging out at the mall, partying, and getting into trouble. And if your teen (or even pre-teen) has an equally-bored significant other, then things can happen to ensure they-and you-will never have time to be bored again.
So what can we do to prevent the scourge that is boredom?
Get your child into an after-school program, if nothing else. Check out your local YMCA, local community center, or church group. Compile a list of activities your child may enjoy and have your son or daughter pick something to be involved in. Not only will this cut down on boredom, your child will feel plugged into something and have a social network outside of school and the neighborhood.
Encourage your child (if he or she is old enough) to find an after-school job. Not only will this keep your child boredom-free, you won't have to shell out as much money for food and clothes. After school jobs can also help instill a work ethic your child can take with her for the rest of her life. You can also stop allowances, and teach her how to handle her money.
If your child is not old enough for a job and does not want to join an after-school program, give him chores to do at home. Base your child's allowance on doing household chores such as cleaning his room, doing his own laundry, and loading the dishwasher. If you have a maid who comes in and does this for your child, this is one less thing she has to do.
You can be sure your child is at least doing her homework by checking her assignments as soon as you get home. If homework has not been started (it may not be complete, but needs to be started), be consistent with penalties such as no TV, Internet, or games.
While we cannot prevent our kids from being bored, or even getting into trouble, we can do our part to make sure our children's hands are nobody's playground.