What Do Boys Do?

Lately we have developed a problem around here with the Captain, and it’s this: there’s nothing to do.

Oh I know, all kids have down times where they are bored with the same old toys, there’s bad weather outside, and all their friends are busy. But with the Captain, this is turning into a permanent state of being, and it’s driving us all crazy.

He used to be really into Lego, but now that we own every single set ever created, BY GOD, he’s kind of growing out of it. He still likes playing with the minifigs from the various sets, setting up dialogs between them, occasionally recreating scenes from TV shows or movies. But unless Gal Smiley is available to imagine along with him, he’s bored. He is no longer into building for building’s sake, or creating for creating’s sake.

He is not an artistic guy at all – he still stick-figures his drawings for school and art class is like torture for him. He doesn’t want to paint or colour or glue collages. He is not interested in science – whereas Gal Smiley can spend all day creating elaborate experiments, or building solar cars, or testing electrical circuits, he just doesn’t want to bother. He isn’t curious or into learning new things in his spare time.

We had hoped he would be a reader, and while he has taken baby steps these past months into reading on his own, it’s clear it will never consume him, the way it does other kids who always try to sneak a book onto their lap at the dinner table, or under the covers at night. If we tell him to go read, he’ll read on his own for a half hour or so, but that’s it. Efforts to engage him in board games or card games are refused, unless it’s Sorry, where he can use his minifigs as the players, and DEAR LORD, if I have to play one more game of Sorry I may do something drastic.

He’s not a sporty guy, and he hates the outdoors. He has no interest in going outside just for the sake of it. We force him to take swimming lessons, which he despises, and he’s happy with his once-weekly soccer lesson, which lets him see his buddies, and isn’t interested in working on his skills or taking it any further. All other sports have been roundly rejected.

Of course, he’d play video games all the live-long day if we would let him, but we try to limit his screen time, so he’s on a very fixed income when it comes to the Wii. We tried to get him interested in other computer-like stuff – simple programming languages, say, or making stop-motion movies using his minifigs, but all that stuff was too much like school and he refused.

So what does he do with his time? Mostly he skulks. He’s an expert skulker. We’ll find him sitting on his bed in his room, in the dark, just sitting there doing nothing. We’ll find him wandering endlessly up and down the hallway, up and down, up and down, nowhere to go, no plans, just being aimless. We’ll find him lying on the couch in the TV room, staring at the ceiling. Just staring, for like, hours at a time.

It’s kind of freaking us out. I don’t know if it’s his age (nearly 10), his personality (he is generally fearful and quiet and withdrawn), or his gender (we have the opposite problem with the girls, who are both so interested and into EVERYTHING that we are constantly trying to limit their activities).

The other day I sat him down for a Serious Talk about this. I told him I felt he needed some kind of hobby. I started suggesting stuff he might like, and he actually cried from the stress of having to choose something. So I backed off, and he went back to staring at the wall. GAH.

What do your boys like to do? What did you like to do when you were 10? I’m all out of ideas here.

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36 thoughts on “What Do Boys Do?

  1. I have three boys (3, 5, and 8). I’m lucky all have hobbies. The three year old loves Thomas and will happy spend all day having engines talk to each other and building tracks. My 5 year old is happiest doing arts and crafts, he loves going to museums and doing every single kids craft. At 8 my oldest boy loves video games, but we don’t much let him play, fortunately he loves reading. He went through a period last year when he didn’t read much, so we bought him all of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, but he also likes The Hobbit, the Percy Jackson books and the Kane Chronicles. I let them have various experiences, but I don’t put pressure on them, my 8 year old has quit both soccer and karate and those were his choices, both to go and when to quit. All of them love family adventures, even if they don’t turn out alright (e.g. we went to this farm for a maple syrup making demo, but we got lost, there were long line ups and the sap wasn’t running so it was more of a discussion of making maple syrup than a demo. They still managed to make fun, though they did suffer through the usual, are we there yets and this is boring. Over all those, they saw it as another adventure. I think the key is just letting them experience a lot and then finding their own passions, though I do wish my parents had forced piano or violin lessons on me. For my part, I can’t wait until my 5 yo is old enough for Art Camp, he will love it. And I think my 8 yo is becoming interested in rock and fossil collecting. The little one, who knows yet.

    • See, this is what I want – for him to have a hobby, something he is actually into. When he was younger, like your boys, he was well able to amuse himself – there was the Thomas phase, the Cars phase, the Lego phase. But now he’s drifting – we need something new!

  2. So, for me, and therefore I imagine other people, when I get the urge to sit in a room and look like I’m not doing anything…it’s a way of coping with stress. So, maybe he’s stressed out and doesn’t want to DO anything. I know he’s a quiet and reserved guy (Possibly even with you?) so it might be hard for him to tell you if that’s the case. Maybe you could explore if what he needs is to develop his “inner life” skills? Like yoga and/or meditation? It does sound kinda counter intuitive to conventional ideas of what 10 year old boys like, but it’s a thought. Maybe he wouldn’t like it, but on the other hand, maybe “organized” “quiet time” is something he could get into?

    Just a thought.

    Oh, and for me personally the idea of competitive sports practically gives me hives, but I could get into more “parallel play” kind of physical activity. (One that doesn’t require an active imagination-that also stresses me out.) Maybe he could get into something like that?

    • This was really interesting and, I think, insightful. He is definitely a guy who feels a lot of stress. I will look into Yoga CDs or maybe even a class (assuming I can convince him to go!). Do you have any sports that you actually have enjoyed?

      • Badminton? Golf? Cross country skiing? I know I was never into team sports as a child (I HATED the competition), but would have loved to have been encouraged to pursue something more individual like these. It’s why I loved swimming lessons.

  3. My 10-year-old is currently home “sick” from school (yes, this is one of those iffy sickish-type days you featured in an earlier blog post). Coming off a four-day weekend I really must do some work today so my warning (threat) was “I must not know you’re here”. He’s already listened to a half-hour relaxation CD (?) and is now playing Ticket to Ride with his stuffed animals – half on one team, half on the other. He also reads, draws, does science experiments, etc.

    However, my other son is less easily self-occupied. At least not in ways we recognize. He spends long periods of time moving between the living room and dining room making “pew, pew, pew” noises and flailing his arms. When we ask if he wants to do something he says “No, I’m busy playing.” Also, when I’m making dinner he’ll come and talk to / at me about Pokemon, dinosaurs, Skylanders, etc. Again, sometimes I’ll say “Do you want to do xyz?” and he’ll say “No, I’m good just talking.”

    So I think I advocate a half-and-half approach. Half just let them do what they like doing, even if it doesn’t look like anything to us, and half force them to do something outside their comfort zone. This is why our youngest is now in pre-comp swimming. Instead of asking we told him and the resistance was surprisingly light.

    I have also found our family doctor to be the most amazing resource for things like this. Having healthy kids, we talk much less about physical stuff with her and more about behaviour / emotional well-being and she always has great, common sense suggestions as well as being able to tell us what’s “normal”.

    • Great idea about talking to our doctor – I never would have thought of that. I’ll get on it! And I love your idea of balance – half letting him putter, half pushing him into things. I think I need to get pushier sometimes…

  4. Reading this, all I could think of was the book The Phantom Tollbooth, which is about a boy who is always bored and just doesn’t see the point of things. When he’s in school, he longs to be out, and when he’s at home, he says there is nothing interesting. And then one day this magical tollbooth ends up in his room and it changes his life. It makes him get interested in things. He could definitely read it alone, but if you had the time and could read it together, it could kick off some interesting discussions about falling in love with ideas.

    Other than that, I do think that not all screen-time is alike. There’s stuff that stretches the imagination. Scratch is a great social media site for kids where they can learn how to do simple programming. Maybe doing it online with other kids will make it feel less like school? I love non-graphic interactive fiction games like Zork (my 8 year old son is trying to master that right now). We’ve given them private blogs so they can write (but only we can read it).

    Lego robots is the next step up in Lego (I think it’s called We Do for elementary school age. And then maybe Mindstorm when they’re a bit older?). They are programmable Legos that you can turn into robots. The kids love playing with them because they move and make sounds. Maybe will infuse new life into the world of Lego that he once loved?

    • Oooh, The Phantom Tollbooth has been on my to-read book for ages! I will put it on reserve at the library.

      I haven’t heard of Scratch or Zork – will look into them both. Thanks for the great idea!

      As for Lego Mindstorms…my husband is itching to get his hands on them, but when we found out they are like, $400 (eep), we asked our son if he might like that and of course, he said no. We’re worried about making the investment, only to have him ignore the set (although, our daughters would probably both love it).

      I wonder if there are Lego classes where you can get exposure to this stuff on a trial basis. Hm. The new City guide is out so I will have a look.

  5. I can see how this would worry you. I’d echo the previous poster who said he might be stressed about something (maybe just stressed trying to choose *something* when nothing sounds interesting?)

    A couple of suggestions to try (which I’m sure you’ve thought of already):
    *Include him in your own activities like trips to the store or baking something. Maybe he just wants to chat and have alone time with a parent?

    *Look at your local community college or parks & rec catalogs with kids’ classes and make him choose one to do for a session. He only has to stick it out one session but can try a new thing each time. Maybe he’ll find something that way.

    *Maybe it’s the preteen ennui setting in? I remember feeling like everything was “stupid and boring” from around age 12 – 14.

    *Send this question to http://www.askmoxie.org – they have tons of people who’d chime in and probably have great suggestions.

    • Thanks for the suggestions, Anandi…these are really good. I totally fear the preteen ennui – it seems so early, but I guess you never know. It seems to hit earlier and earlier these days.

      I love your idea of making him try one new session each time. I’m off to consult the city guide!

  6. No experience here whatsoever, but I’d be inclined to jump on the boardgames thing myself (full disclosure: I’m a bit of a fanatic). Is it possible there’s clubs around for his age group? Could he be encouraged to start one? I used to get together with friends to play board games at a local coffee shop – something like this where the kids play games and the moms/dads can gab over their lattes? I think that the Wizard’s Tower and another game store downtown hosted game nights, although I can’t speak to age-appropriateness (that being said, even if they don’t have something for his age group, they might be willing to start something).

    Failing that, if you just want to get out of playing Sorry AGAIN, two thoughts: I think more table-top games are becoming available for tablets, it may be available and he could play against bots? Would it still be screen time if he’s doing that at the dining room table with mini-figs? And if you’re looking for other games to play, I could make some suggestions and maybe even provide some loaners. Or just send him over here – at 4 & 2, mine aren’t quite ready for board games, but I can’t wait until they are :)

    • I am also a TOTAL fanatic. We had him in chess for a while, and he liked playing but didn’t like the homework aspect, and it was turning into a weekly battle so we pulled him out. We’ve tried to get him into other games and he sometimes likes them, but often gets discouraged if he does not win (GAH, IMMATURITY). We just got a copy of Clue, which he wants to play but no one else likes it but me. Want to come over for a tourney? :)

      I just checked out the city of Ottawa guide for spring/summer, and there actually is a drop-in board game club for his age group that runs Saturdays. I think I will try to convince him to go.

  7. We should get your almost-10-year-old and our almost-10-year-old together. They sound like two peas in a pod! Ours would play the Wii, Playstation, 3DS or online computer games all day every day if we let him (we don’t). When he’s not staring at a screen he’s (thankfully) reading. If he’s not reading, he’s lying on the floor/the couch/his bed/the stairs staring at the wall/the ceiling/the nowhere space in between. I like to believe he has a very fulfilling interior dialogue going on…(cuz I got nothin else to explain it!)

    • EXACTLY. This is what I’m talking about. Maybe we *should* get them together, then they can at least be lying around together. “Man, this is boring.” “I know! I’m so bored.” “Me too! I hear you.” “I’m totally bored.” “Me too.”

      SCINTILLATING.

  8. No kids here and it sounds like you have tried a TON of activities, but what about music? Guitar maybe? It’s a bit more introspective. My brother was a quieter guy and into piano and chess (video games too, for sure). Hope you get him into something that he loves without the stress…sounds tough!

    • Hm…the girls are both SO into music (they play stuff and love listening to stuff), yet the Captain defies all. GAH. He’s a tough nut. Your brother is a totally normal dude now, though, right? RIGHT?

  9. It might be productive to look at this from a different angle: it sounds like the issue is reluctance to get out of his comfort zone, and he’s just unable to find enough things inside his comfort zone to keep himself busy. So maybe you need to gradually coax him out a bit at a time and show him the world of opportunities out there.

    Another idea: like you, we’ve put strict limits on screen time, but in the absence of those we _believe_ our kids would play video games endlessly. But I’ve often wondered what would happen if we just let them play as much as they want to; I suspect they’d eventually get bored with it and find something else to do. The problem you’re having might be that he can’t get his mind off the things he wants to do and just gets stuck in a rut, unable to do something but unable to stop thinking about doing it (certainly we’ve seen this in our boys). I have no sense for how long the experiment might need to go for though – days? weeks? a month?

    Something to think about anyway.

    • Hm…very, very tempting to let him play until his eyes bleed. I actually think this is really insightful – that he’s not so much bored as unable to think of anything that could possibly be as good as video games, so why bother. I think perhaps you have hit the nail on the head.

      I will give this some thought – if we try the experiment, I’ll let you know!

  10. 10 years old is a great age to take up modern yo-yo! ;-) The trick with any activity, though, is getting their attention and letting them decide on their own that it’d be fun. I like things like yo-yo, skateboarding, and hacky sack (though there’s a yoyo scene, I don’t know if there’s a hacky sack scene…) because although they’re physical activity and can be competitive, they can also be “solo and contemplative”. The level and type of engagement is up to the individual.

    But again, they have to see these things and ask, “Mom, can I get a skateboard?” or “Hey mom, do you know where I can get a good yo-yo?”

    I spent a good amount of time with video games as a kid. I don’t THINK I turned out badly as a result. Not sure what the exact limits are, but with the right video games and the right limits, it might not be the end of the world to give him a bit more freedom there. I couldn’t possibly say if that’s good advice for your particular scenario.

    Not looking forward to the “I’m bored!” phase with our little guys. Good luck with it!

    • I’m not sure I can sell the yo-yo, but I think hacky sack is BRILLIANT. It’s something semi-active that he can just noodle around with at home, then dazzle his friends on the schoolyard come spring. Am totally going hacky sack shopping this weekend.

      (Then will craftily leave it lying around and hope he wonders what it’s for. GAH, the mind of the 10-year-old boy.)

  11. Our oldest just turned 11 and recently got into the “I’m bored” swing of things. We don’t have a TV and computer screen time is very limited. Kids don’t have any hand-held computer gaming systems either. So, you know, there’s “nothing” to do. Here are a few things that Kid#1 does when he’s bored: reads books, reads comics, creates comics. Well, that’s most of it anyhow. He’s big into Tintin books these days (in French) as well as a few other comics series. He has been building model planes, but that’s fallen by the wayside. He is working on a science fair project, so that’s a pretty good little activity. He has a website where we post his comics, so that keeps him going on that activity as well. He does a few activities that we have to take him to (e.g. speedskating, fencing, archery, and so on) and we have friends come over. But really, it isn’t horrible for kids to be “bored”. And, might I be so bold as to suggest that it isn’t your problem to solve? If he lies on the couch for hours at a time, staring aimlessly at the ceiling, so be it. He’s home and quiet and that’s pretty good! :-)

    • There’s some good advice here too. I do think being bored can be instructive for kids too – it may grow partly out of the expectation that there will always be someone around to provide a structured activity for them. Like so many other facets of growing up, often the best way to help them is to get out of the way and let them discover on their own. Grownups get bored too (even during the hectic years of parenthood!) and the right way out of that rut will be different from everyone. Best to start learning what that is now rather than later!

      • I’m also a huge believer in that philosophy. Up until now I haven’t worried about this at all – I’m a fan of telling the kids that I’m busy, and they need to find their own activity (um…sometimes under threat of eliminating some of the “boring” toys in the house). They always find something, but lately it seems the Captain has just been suffering. At least the girls are good at solving their own boredom crises!

  12. Oh my dear I feel for you. My Mini Me is exactly the same. We have a different view of video games here in our house though – since my lovely partner is a video game designer by trade. Both boys are currently addicted to Minecraft which I have to say is the most creative, interactive, and imagination driven game I have ever seen. As long as they are enrolled in some kind of physical activity, they get screen time. That doesn’t mean Mini Me doesn’t moan and complain but he knows he has to suck it up if he wants time to do what he really loves. And you know what? He’s been learning things from the games – rocks, minerals, history, architecture, mythology. It’s pretty amazing.
    The other thing he has been doing with his dad is role playing. Good old geeky Dungeons and Dragons. He’s even doing a summer camp for it this year.
    We have the same problem with Mini Me being unwilling to try anything new and freaking out at the prospect. The first camps he ever did, he always had a friend with him and that eased the way for him trying new things. Next we tried introducing things that were slightly familiar – a Make Your Own Video Game Camp, followed by a camp at the museum, a place he had visited often.
    What I’ve been doing is trying to look for any little thing that gives him a glimmer of interest and subtly expand on it. It’s tricky work but he’s not called Mini Me for nothing so I hope I’ve got a bit of a grasp on the situation. Now I’m dying to know which games your kiddo is hooked on!

    • Wow, they sound so similar…this is great advice. I will try to be patient and watch for any potential glimmers.

      I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about Minecraft, but he’s just not into it (at least, so far). It’s the drive – he seems to be missing the personal motivation to explore/create/learn. GAH. It all just seems like work to him. I’ve thought of Dungeons and Dragons, though – I think he might enjoy that, because someone else does the work of creating the world and setting up the rules. I’ll see if I can find a set.

      As for video games around here – we are all about the Lego videogames (of course!). He still plays Lego Star Wars a lot, but he got LOTR Lego for Christmas and has been working his way through that one, too. Otherwise, it’s Mario Kart.

      • There are lots of gamer stores in Ottawa apparently but I read a good review of Toys on Fire as a good place for beginners. Some of these stores have clubs or lessons. Does he have a friend who would go with him? As for reading, how about graphic novels? There are lots with game characters like Zelda and Pokemon. My niece is not an enthusiastic reader but she devours graphic novels and Garfield anthologies!
        It’s so tough at this age with kids who are introverts. Mini Me won’t go outside and play like his brother and he doesn’t like sports so I want to make sure he keeps swimming and he is doing cross country in spring. That’s how he earns game time

  13. That’s a tough one Lynn. I have 2 boys (11,8) and i have always said that “bored” is swear word in our house… the “b” word. we don’ t use it. But, that said, every child is different and has their own personality.

    We can encourage new activities etc.. but like another commenter said “being bored can be instructive” . My boys both love SCRATCH and MINECRAFT! both have been mentioned. it is “screen time”, but somewhat more educational than Mario.

    Does he enjoy travel?? could you have him help plan a summer road trip- look at the maps, plan activites, pick places to stay etc..? Just taking a shot in the dark but this is a big part of our family.

    In the end, it may be a phase, it may be forever..either way, he is who he is. of course, you will watch for any warning signs of a bigger issue like depression, stress, bullying at school. other than that, just love him.

    • I looooooove the idea of him planning a trip. We are actually looking into this right now – a trip for this summer – and he is the kind of guy who LOVES to know every detail. I’m sure he would groan about the “homework” involved here, but I think it’s a great project for him and I will *strongly* convince him to give it a try. Awesome!

      • fabulous! and you could even have him pick the details- ie. restaurants in the place you are going- TripAdvisor is the best for that! i use it for food choices re. travel all the time! he could also use it to find the most popular attractions in the area. My son (at 7) once planned out an entire day in NYC- from where we ate b’fast, to our day’s activities, to our dinner! he wrote i all out and we did it all! and it was a GREAT day, especially for him as HE planned it :)

        maybe he could also be the official photographer on the trip- does he like taking photos. then when you come home, he could make a photo book of the trip! ok…..i’ll stop now !

  14. oh man, i think i just read my future. The jellybean seems to be a carbon copy of the Captain, just a few years younger. I’ve loved reading all of the suggestions and would love to read a follow up post in the next couple of months to see how your progress is going. I have booked marked this one because I know that I will need it in the future.

  15. I’m totally the “Oh, you’re bored? Well, the bathroom needs cleaning” type, but that’s less useful if he’s not whining about being bored.

    Chapter sells (or used to) Snap Circuits, which allows you to make different kinds of electrical circuits – the Jr. set was around $30, if he’d be interested in something like that. A science kit in general would be fun (well, for me, maybe not for him).

    Lee Valley also has some fun toys/kits to assemble – my niece and I built a mechanical dragon over Christmas. (The instructions were … not good, but it ended reasonably well.) They also have things like a book of shadow puppets.

    There is a big game convention in Ottawa on the May long weekend (Can Games), and he’d be old enough for that – it’s not the conventional Clue/Sorry/etc. board games.

    Really what it comes down to, though, is offering options & then letting him solve it himself.

  16. As a non-gamer who lives with two kids who enjoy playing video games, what I’ve noticed about video games (the non-creative, Mario Bros kind) is they are meditative and soothing to a freaking out brain (predictable, repetitive) and their value is in being a kind of balm to the creative brain. When our brains are active and engaged, we don’t want to sit in the dark or do repetitive tasks. We want to create! But when our brains are dealing with other stuff…stress, etc, then it’s hard to think creatively.

    I can sympathize from an adult point of view. I run an exhausting gamut of emotions over a month…from antisocial and grumpy to energetic and creative within weeks.

    That said, I don’t know any 10 year old boys, and if it was my son I would be losing. my. mind. so I have sympathy for you, too.

    Oh wait, I do know one! He just turned 11. Last year he really wanted pet rats. So he saved up his money and researched it and now he has a nice cage, food, two pet rats. NOT SUGGESTING YOU HAVE TO GET RATS. But maybe your boy needs something to take care of, to take his mind off himself.

    I think you have lots of good suggestions from other people. My solution to everything is “here’s a notebook, write it all down” — which has mixed results (one kid yes, one no, mom yes, husband no) but maybe if you can remember (or your partner can remember…) being this age, with ennui, and what worked for you? Good luck!

    • So last year I signed my kids up for hip hop class. They wanted to drop out and so I struck a deal. Complete the course and you get X reward, but you must try your best. They did it. And now they love hip hop. Which is so surprising and foreign to me.

      But my boys are also aging out of Lego. They still like it and they build things, but more often than not while they listen to a pod cast or an audiobook. Do you think these are something he’d enjoy? If you go with podcasts you might need to vet them first for age appropriate content. But we like Star Talk radio with Neil De Grasse Tyson.

      One other suggestions for activity might be archery. My girlfriend’s daughter has some anxiety issues and they tried yoga with no success. But archery involves some of the same skills (calming your thoughts, awareness of your body, slowing your breathing, focussing on a task) and it’s helped her immensely. Plus there’s a social element to practices and competition, but independence as well.

      If you are going to go with board games: I highly recommend Carcassone. And I’ve heard good things about Ticket To Ride. We also play Catan Junior — and my boys (9 & 11) think it’s a blast.

      And now I will end my comment blitz. SORRY! I’ve been catching up all the posts I missed. This blog challenge I set is turning out much harder than I expected.

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