The XX Factor

A Winter Vacation’s Tale: Anyone Said the “B” Word Yet?

Hours, or even minutes, into the winter holidays, the children of Telegraph readers were apparently declaring themselves bored. Writer Nigel Farndale defended boredom and declared war on his family’s Wii, blaming a glut of entertainment options for kids unable to distract themselves with any. But the real culprit isn’t electronics, it’s vacation itself, an interruption and aberration in our very structured lives.

Vacation-especially winter vacation, when one or both parents and extended family, too, are often home with kids and when work schedules may relax to reflect the holiday-changes all that. We’re away from our comfort zones of school and work, gym and sports, and, whether it’s for a full two weeks or just a few days, we’re able to play that Wii or teach the kids chess or put together a few jigsaw puzzles (or all of the above). Days stretch before us, with time for sledding, strolling, and cookie baking, and after a while, some of us-parents, grandparents, kids, and somewhere in between-just might get “bored” too.

Farndale defends boredom for kids, pointing out that it forces them to “daydream, to stand and stare, to use their imaginations.” His hope is that more and better boredom will force kids with too many screen options to learn to cope. He gives a break to adults, who may need activity to chase away “ennui and melancholy.” But that’s exactly what a long winter vacation, no matter how distraction-filled, is for. To provide a little “ennui and melancholy” and to remind us that, even with our games and our phones and our computers, we like the structure that work and school add to our days. Having things to do and places to see make us feel needed and relevant.

As Jezebel’s Anna North pointed out , kids who say they’re “bored” when they’re left to cope with unstructured hours may not really be saying what Farndale so hates to hear. They may be saying “help me learn what to do with myself,” and that’s a legitimate question, whether you own a Nintendo and dozens of games or possess no toys other than a precious collection of Waldorf dolls. The question isn’t “What can I do to distract myself?” It’s “Who am I, when it’s up to me to choose?” That question may be tougher for kids used to spending their few leisure hours on a regular day with various forms of piped-in entertainment, but then, it may be tougher for those of us whose BlackBerries and iPhones are rarely out of our hands as well.

There are three full days left for many of us this holiday season. Three days to note that itch to get back to our desks and our daily tasks, and three days to remember who we are without them, and to help our kids, bored or not, to learn to make the most of that kind of freedom. Three days, stretched out like an empty field of snow now, but by Sunday night, they’ll be utterly gone.