Killing Time Constructively

A friend’s son wanted help picking out his sister’s Christmas gift.  “What are her hobbies?” the son asked.  My friend was stumped: “Buying clothes?  Talking on her cell?  Eating at Whataburger?”  After a good laugh, they got serious.  She liked to run, and she loved to cook.  Get her something for the kitchen?  A kit for baking something extravagant maybe?

Everyone’s busy, kids too.  My own daughter in college is stressed with school work, her campus job, and sorority duties.  I worry that when my kids are adults, will they be too busy to have fun, to re-charge and enjoy the world, rushing through life and wondering where it went?

Hobbies are fun things done for their own sake, and they’re important for being healthy.  It’s time spent forgetting worries, doing something only for the sheer joy of it.  I see many kids in the Emergency Department with anxiety and depression, who have no fun.  To be fair, they aren’t unhappy just from a lack of hobbies; they have plenty to be miserable about.  There’s bullying, in-born mental illness, living in abusive households.  But even for them, maybe if they just had something to escape to….

Developing hobbies is important for kids. Video games and other screen times don’t count.  I also in the ER see the consequences of too much sitting still- obese kids, some already with adult-type diabetes and high blood pressure.  I’m talking about activities where the brain and the body are engaged, rather than the computer.

There’s various sports to try, but kid sports can be too highly organized.  Super-competitive school and select teams often become another chore for kids, organized and run by adults.  Maybe something less regimented, like skiing, hiking and geocaching, biking, fencing, surfing.  There’s other non-sport things to consider- sewing, gardening, bee-keeping, carpentry, car repair.

Trying things doesn’t always mean success.  It took several activities for one of my daughters to find her fun thing, suffering through hours of soccer and piano lessons before she discovered karate.  My other daughter slogged through years of violin before she and we gave up, and left her to what she really loved- soccer and softball.

Some people readily take to hobbies, loving everything.  That was my father: cycling, bee-keeping, sailing, model trains, carpentry, cross-country skiing.  We all were included in his activities, so we could spend lots of time with him.  He was so busy playing, I’m surprised he got any real work done, though he did have a lauded career as a professor.  Some guys have all the luck.

Fortunately for our appetites, mom did the cooking, an activity not on Dad’s list.  She didn’t grow up cooking, but learned later in life, and enjoyed it.  She most liked the gardening that put fresh food on the table, and baking desserts.

We discussed the importance of hobbies above, and one that will apparently never lose popularity is playing in the kitchen.  There’s now whole cable networks devoted to cooking, with competition shows about making food with weird ingredients under eccentric conditions.  Kind of like mom used to.

“Eating in” is now what many call cooking.  In the last century, eating at restaurants or bringing home prepared foods was a luxury few could afford.  Dining out was too expensive.  Even birthdays, when I was a kid, were a home activity, including a scratch-made cake.  For mine and most families, going out to eat was a once-per-year treat, if that.

But then McDonald’s and the rest of the fast food industry made eating out inexpensive, and wildly unhealthy.  Now this cheap, fatty food has made obesity the new sign of poverty, rather than thin, underfed kids.  And fast food has made my job harder.  I see lots of obese kids coming in to the ER with complaints of belly pain.  When I ask what they had for their last meal, it’s invariably “Burger King” or “Taco Bell.”

So get your kids interested in the kitchen, and yourselves too.  When you cook, you know what goes into your food.  You control the ingredients, the fat content, the portion sizes.  Kids learn a life skill, have fun, and get to eat!  Also consider this when shopping for Christmas gifts for your kids.  My kids used the heck out of their Easy Bake Oven, and they still love the kitchen.

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