Kids Love Dr. Barton

What To Do With Free Time

by Dr. Douglas Barton, M.D., Pediatrician 03/17/2009

“I’m bored! What should I do?” It seems these words flow all too freely from the mouths of my children. Somehow, I’m expected to figure out what they are supposed to do! Now, I know that I am largely talking to an audience of women, so you all are NEVER bored. There’s always this, that, and the other thing to do. You can’t even begin to comprehend the idea of “nothing to do.” However, after you suggest to the kids that they could help you with the laundry or vacuuming or dinner or making the shopping list, I doubt you ever hear, “Alright! Great idea, Mom!”

I find this “boredom” particularly disturbing when I tell my kids to get off the computer and do something else for a while. This habit of kicking them off the computer has gotten me thinking, though. Is it really such a bad thing that they play computer games? They’re really just entertaining themselves to fill up some downtime. In some sense, it’s not THAT different than what I do when I have free time…or is it?

What’s the difference between playing computer games and having a hobby? Computer games and video games do require thought, creativity, and planning, which are all traits that we should encourage in our children. With all of the online gaming going on these days, there’s even a sense of community often associated with gaming. And if you REALLY get into it, there are conventions one can attend and actually interact with real people. In addition, my son’s social life at school revolves around the popular computer games. So what’s missing from this pastime?

I can sum it up in one word: productivity! Every other hobby I know about produces a useful outcome. I love to run and lift weights. The outcome is a stronger, healthier, better-looking me. I build scale models, both train layouts and plastic kits of planes, tanks, automobiles, and ships. The outcome, I hope, is a miniature piece of art. Often these pieces of work are contest quality. I also participate in social groups that share the same interest in model building. My wife and I like to hike and enjoy the outdoors, identifying birds, plants and natural features. The obvious outcome is a respect for nature in all its beauty. We also care for the yard, helping to create a beautiful place to live and share with friends and family.

That’s the way it is with most hobbies. Whether it is stamp-collecting, gardening, biking, playing a musical instrument or playing soccer, most hobbies are associated with a beneficial outcome. Better yet, obtaining outcomes requires thought, creativity, planning and perseverance, all traits we want to see in our kids.

So the next time you kick the kids off the computer or hear, “I’m bored,” encourage the kids to work on their hobby instead. It might even become an activity you can share with them, like the first time my daughter completed a model airplane with me! That’s a tangible outcome which, unlike a video game score, you’ll both be able to treasure for years to come.




Copyright © 2011 Douglas Barton, M.D. • Website designed by