Young people never have a dull moment

Endless entertainment is stifling the creativity that stems from boredom, Chloe Combi writes

Here are some questions that were commonplace in the UK just 15 years ago, but that you will never hear again. "Would you like to sit in the smoking or non-smoking section of the restaurant?" "Do you have one of those email address things?" And, from parents to their children: "If you're bored, why don't you go out and play?"

As the summer holiday approaches - and it would be nice, this year, if we had a summer to go with the holiday - it is the last question that makes me consider just how different summer looks to children and teenagers today, compared with how it appeared just a generation ago.

For starters - and I don't think I am being overly romantic or nostalgic - we had summers. I was a child in the 1990s and I remember weeks on end of properly warm weather. I rarely had to wear socks and the paddling pool in the back garden usually stayed out for the whole holiday.

Post-millennium, summer seems to have been displaced by freakish hot spells in April and September, which bookend the grey, amorphous blob of nothingness that is the months in between. This affects children and adults alike. As the heaving parks and pubs during those glorious weeks in April and September testify, people do stuff when the weather is nice. They don't when it's dreary.

The downside of this, as parents will no doubt point out, is that "stuff" costs money. In the current economic climate, a vanishingly small number of families can be described as "comfortable" or even "solvent". Holidays are cancelled, trips and excursions are limited to one a summer and - genuinely reluctantly, in many cases - children are dumped in front of Wii games so that they can take vicarious thrill rides in Super Mario Land rather than actual rides to the seaside or to foreign countries.

At the risk of sounding like a 21st-century addition to the cast of Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen sketch, in which the characters compete over their humble childhoods, although we had a crappy Nintendo console when I was young, we did not have a Wii. Or Facebook. Or smartphones. Or hundreds of television channels. Or the internet. Or BlackBerry Messenger. And so on, ad infinitum.

If you were bored, you really did have to go out and make your own entertainment - play something, do something, learn something, build something. Anything. In the current economic and actual climate, it is understandable that so many young people are content to slump into the distraction provided by electronic devices. But the provision of almost endless free entertainment has caused us to forget how valuable boredom is.

Boredom is a stimulus. It forces creativity and imagination and play. Countless creative achievements - albums, paintings, science experiments, books - came to be not because the creator was a brimming genius wanting to get their thoughts out, but because they had nothing else to do. Mike Skinner, anti-hero of The Streets, once commented that he made his first album - 2002's much-lauded Original Pirate Material - because he was "bored and skint".

This generation cannot help the weather, and they cannot make their parents' money go further. But they can control what they are remembered for. And I would be much more afraid of being remembered as the generation who "liked" things on Facebook or could complete Call of Duty than I would be of a little boredom.

Chloe Combi is a former teacher who writes about teachers and teaching.

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