Summer Solution: The “I’m Bored” Jar and This Mom’s Attempt to Curb Her Kids’ Addiction to Electronics

I’ll admit it. In the past six months or so I became very slackish about monitoring my kids’ use of electronics.

Chalk it up to the soul-crushing winter we had in the Boston area, when around 7 feet of snow was dumped on us in a few weeks’ time, maybe, the never-ending days with no sun, my own struggles with depression, the battles fought with kids pumped full of pubescent hormones.

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After the 3rd (but not last) blizzard of 2015

I frankly lost the will to care. Sure, I would’ve preferred that they were reading or crafting or playing board games, but heck, that would’ve required refereeing and/or organizing, which I had no strength for. With electronics — the phones, ipods, xbox, Netflix — they were quiet. The house stayed clean. Day after day, bit by bit, that long winter, my resolve was chipped away. I simply lost the will to fight.

But then spring came, and I never got them back on track. The habit had been established. Too many days of too much slack had given them the idea that it was okay. It’s a lame excuse for me as a mom, but there were plenty of days I didn’t try that hard — days where one of the four never had a playdate so of course she could just play Minecraft, days where I had work to finish and was just happy everyone was quiet, days where the 6th grader came home and had sports and 3 hours of homework ahead of him and I just thought I’d let the poor kid veg out for a while.

School ended last week, and I let them sleep late, every day. (And sleep late, my kids do. Rising before 10 a.m. is a rarity, given the chance — and some will sleep until mid-afternoon if I let them.) I let them eat cold cereal when they wanted and I let them binge on electronics and I let them stay in pajamas and I let them basically run wild.

On Sunday night, that all changed. It was that watershed day when I couldn’t stand it anymore. Too much had gone wrong. I was too frustrated and fed up. I couldn’t stand the mess. I couldn’t stand the way I was being ignored when I said to turn things off. I couldn’t stand another moment of me being THAT mom who let her kids chose Minecraft videos on YouTube over reading a book.

On Sunday night, I decided to take back control.

I found an old mason jar. I cut up squares and strips of paper. I found a Sharpie and armed myself with a glass of wine.

I made the “I’m Bored” jar.I'm Bored Jar

The kids watched me, after a while, intrigued when I wouldn’t tell them what I was doing. My husband fed them pizza while I worked. Finally I was done, and explained to them what this was.

For the rest of the summer, there would be a 2 hour limit on electronics. Period. TV, phones, ipods, xbox, Wii, computer. I changed the passcodes on everything that I could. I took away chargers.

I told them they were free to amuse themselves, but if they couldn’t come up with something to do they could pick something out of the jar. Do that thing. No trade-ins, no swapping, no negotiating.

So what went in the jar?

I recently came across this little booklet that I’d been saving for years. I think it had been in a toy or game we’d gotten at some point, and it wasn’t age-appropriate at the time — by the time it was, I’d forgotten about it, I guess. The booklet had 100+ ways to create…things. Inventions. Ideas. Projects. It’s broken down into groups of 6 or so things to do, all using the same group of items you’d have around the house (macaroni, string, paper towel rolls, etc.). You’d get a prompt like “design a piece of exercise equipment a dinosaur might use” or “produce a lock for something” or “change the design of a book to allow more than one person to read at a time.” Use the list of items to do the thing.

My first step was to number my blocks of paper from 1 to 101.3. If a kid picked that number, they’d have to do that activity.

By the time I was done with that, the jar had plenty of room, so I moved on to strips.

“Write a letter to…” and I filled in a family member’s name, one per strip.

“Write and perform an originalI'm Bored slips song.”

“Illustrate a book.”

“Climb 5 trees.”

“Run 20 laps around the house (outside).”

“Organize the bookshelves into alphabetical order.”

There were some chores thrown in, but not more than 10 or 12. “Clean a toilet.” “Wash a window.” “Organize the shoe bins.” “Weed the garden.” “Wash the car.”

On and on until the jar looked reasonably filled. I taped a label to it (please don’t judge my awkward art skills), and set it out.

Today was the first day. My youngest was up first. She was eager to start — she wrote and performed a song for me (“The Parkour Song” because, Minecraft.) She went to the grocery store with me. She scrubbed a toilet. She swept part of the driveway. She drew a comic strip. She was on fire, saving up all of her time until mid-afternoon.

Meanwhile, her next-oldest sister used up her all of her minutes before she was even out of pajamas. The brother used up most, saving 10 minutes in case he needed to text someone later (ah, 12yos). The oldest, the 13yo, who pooh-pooed the whole thing, is already in hot water for going over her time.

But eventually, the three younger siblings were outside, inventing things, making up games, obstacle courses, running around. Just like they used to do.

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“Create a parkour”

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A blind-man’s maze they invented

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Extreme hopscotch (I honestly don’t know what the rules are here)

Some kids eventually negotiated extra time by doing extra chores. (Hey, that works!) Because of this, all went over the 2+ hours, and none have time tomorrow.

So, we’ll see. On day one, the Bored Jar was a success. It’s new. New is fun! It’ll take some time for these four to remember what a creative, thoughtful, experienced life is. And I still sort of feel like a failure, being THAT mom who couldn’t keep her kids off electronics, that mom who gave up, for a little bit, who had to resort to this sort of thing to unplug her children.

But more than that, I’m curious about tomorrow.

I’m sure everyone will be bored. And annoyed. I’m prepared for an uphill battle. They aren’t in any camps, so it’s just us, all day, every day, until school starts again in September. I’m still working from home. Will my will continue to be strong? Will I cave? Will they rebel? (I mean, come on, it’s four-to-one around here.) I’m sort of excited to find out.

Either way, the kids will remember this as the best summer of their lives…

or the worst.

And I’m more than okay with it.

I’m already coming up with new ideas to add to the Jar…

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