Bored, distracted, and overstimulated
Domenico has another great post up called Bored, distracted, and overstimulated. Totally true.
Ever since I returned to the Church, I have always been impressed at the behavior of certain children at Mass when compared to other children. I bet you've noticed the same thing:
Family 1 - The children file in basically quietly, sit down in the pew, and pretty much stay there observing Mass (with varying levels of comprehension or interest, likely). Perhaps the younger one plays with Mom's rosary, or sits on Dad's lap and looks at the misselette, perhaps the baby needs to be taken to the cry room now and again, but for the most part the kids are well behaved and still. So well-behaved in fact that when left all alone in the pew, these kids stay in their spots (with maybe a few more pokes - they are kids after all). At the end of Mass, outside, these kids explode with energy and prove themselves to be "normal" kids after all, not just little statues.
Family 2 - During Mass, the children are all over the pew, driving Mom & Dad crazy. In an effort to distract the children, Mom drags out the bottomless Mary Poppins carpet bag filled with goodies, and the children soon begin throwing Cheerios at each other or grinding them into the pews. Soon the rustling of the bag is heard again, and then the clanging of a toy car hitting the pew. Then "zoom zoom" sounds as the lad races his car along the back of the pew, until he drops it onto his sister's head and she starts to cry and hits him with her board book. These are the kids that start singing loudly the Sesame Street song (don't get me started on that show!) during the Consecration and ask Dad when they can go. Oh, and I have to go to the bathroom. At the end of Mass, they explode outside exactly the same as their friends from the first family.
Admit it. You've all seen both these types of extremes at Mass (granted, most families are in the middle - but I bet still tilted one way or the other). I also bet that many of you have blown off the behavior of the first family, perhaps also making a comment such as "What do they do, drug the kids?", "Just let them have MY kid for the day", "Home schoolers", "Strange family", or (with a shake of the head) "Not normal".
Now, don't get me wrong, I completely acknowledge, as Domenico did, that a lot of this does have to do with the personality of the child. Some kids are obviously going to be more active than others, more inclined to "boredom" than others. However, like Domenico, I see a direct correlation between the overstimulation of children by their parents and the world, and their "boredom" at Mass. Likewise, I see a direct correlation between the overstimulation of adults by themselves and the world, and their "boredom" at Mass (usually seen by crossed arms, glazed eyes, and the sprint to the parking lot, instead of clanging toy cars on pews). As Fr. Stan Fortuna so aptly put it:
“You are deeply and profoundly bored before you walk into the church, and when you come into the presence of the Almighty in the fullness of love, it is then that the awareness of your boredom begins to bubble,” he said.
Many people merely distract themselves from their boredom by turning something on, changing the channel, upgrading or downloading. This constant activity only “feeds the boredom beast,” he said.
Like father, like son! Is it coincidence that those who have reasonably well behaved children are also typically those who make Mass and the formation of their children in the faith a priority? I think not. I think it is the case of parents' example leading the children - the same way that parents who make Catholicism merely a "Sunday duty" are giving a different example to their children. This type of parenting doesn't just matter in the pews, however, as it seems to me that the principles behind this also help to account for the rest of the "family adventures" we see out there in society.
One of my favorite professors calls this modern day parenting nightmare the "Sesame Street Syndrome". Ever really sit down and WATCH that show as an adult? Try it. It's non stop activity, with constant leaping from fun times to fun times, oh and the number for the day is 3. What does this method of "edutainment" really teach our children? On the other hand, the other beloved children's favorite, "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood", has the exact opposite effect. Rather than attempting to "grab" the kid's attention for at least a fleeting moment, Mr. Rogers understood how to draw a child in and hold their attention on a subject.
The problem today is not with the kids themselves, I honestly think it comes back to the overstimulation of the culture at large, and the expectation of parents that children cannot understand and must always be entertained and "distracted". This, I think, comes from the fact that the parents themselves are bored with the world and all their "things", but they think that the solution to this is yet more "things". Therefore, Johnny of course needs even more things than I have to keep him from being bored. It's a cycle of destruction, far as I can see. Endless stimulation leads to endless boredom, whether you are 2 or 92.
True story - some friends of mine had a 2-year-old boy (now 4). This child was as squirmy as any kid I've ever seen, but when they brought him into church for Mass, he was dead silent and awe struck at everything around him. Why? I think it is because they did not condescend his youth - instead, they constantly stayed with him, murmuring to him what was going on, why they were doing what they were doing, what was happening up on the altar. Instead of assuming that he couldn't understand what was going on, and attempting to "time the distraction" of toys to the Consecration, they assumed he COULD know what was happening and who Jesus is. And so he did. And so can your child - if they're not already addicted to the 30 second rule of entertainment!