Bored, distracted, and overstimulated

Bored, distracted, and overstimulated

Last week during his homily for the Mass at the Proud2BCatholic Music Festival, Fr. Stan Fortuna responded to people who say they don’t go to Mass or they don’t like going to Mass because “it’s boring.”

“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.

We often get remarks from people that Isabella is such a well-behaved girl, especially at Mass. It’s rare that she gets really fussy to the point where we have to leave nave and head for the chapel; that’s only ever happened less than a handful of times.

Part of the reason is just personality. Some kids are naturally quiet; while others are naturally boisterous. It has nothing to do with how the child is raised; it’s just part of his or her nature.

But I think there’s also an element of parent action involved. A common bit of advice we receive is to provide constant external stimulus for Isabella, whether it means bringing books or toys or snacks to Mass to keep her “distracted”; i.e. pacified. Other times we’re encouraged to get “edutainment” videos for her to keep her occupied and entertained. We generally don’t do either.

Isabella very rarely watches television. The only time it’s ever on when she’s awake is when I’m watching a sporting event or some kind of cooking show. (I flipped on the TV this morning and the Tivo was still paused in the middle of last Sunday’s NASCAR race.)

Craving stimulus

  • Another thing parents can do is, *if* they expose their child to TV, to turn the color OFF (and the volume down, if possible). It makes it much clearer that what is on TV is *not* real. It also deprives advertisers of some of the most important stimuli they craft to reach viewers (and the coloring and pacing of ad images has been whittled down to a science of how to prime the pump of consumption). Use color only for special occasions. Using B&W;also encourages children to use more of their own imagination. All of which is good.

    And never get a separate TV for a child. If that means that there is dissapointment over what’s been decided to be turned on, that’s a great opportunity to learn frustrated gratification.

  • The cleaning committee of our parish recently asked parents not to bring food and drink to church, because it makes such a mess. (We’re not talking about baby bottles, it’s juice, crackers, and candy, etc. for the toddlers). It’s not only a mess, it is a needless distraction, and only feeds into the idea that one is there to be entertained. No child is going to starve in an hour. I’m sounding like a great-aunt, which I am! But I’m also a mom, and we never took snacks to Mass.

  • Peer pressure:

    When our five year old was a baby and toddler, she *only* watched EWTN and talk shows.  Really.  If you put on PBS or Nick, she’d switch it to EWTN or CSPAN.  She knew the Novus Ordo in Latin inside and out (except she didn’t know which were the appropriate responses for when, so she’d start reciting with the priest when we went to Latin mass).

    Then my sister in law adopted a very troubled little girl, who taught my daughter what was “boring” and what wasn’t.  And everything changed.

  • “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,””

    These seems to be spot on describing our society and, in some sense, I do see it creep into Mass.

    Perhaps it is my own foible or fault, though there seems to be time where it would be appropriate for silence during Mass for personal reflection.  Quite often at our parish, the time following communion is filled by the choir filling with a “piece” that features a solo performance. Said solo performance is usually followed by a round of applause. We just received the Eucharist so why the applause for choir? Yes, it sounded beautiful, but are we applauding because the song was spiritually inspiring and the words moving us closer to God, or was it just that is sounded nice and we were entertained?

    Are we afraid of silence, even at church? Again, this could be my own short-coming/sensitivity I need to deal with more prayerfully.

    As far as offering distractions for children, one time I tried handing our then 3-year daughter my Rosary in hopes of quieting her down. She promptly chucked my Rosary about four pew rows in front of us.

  • I don’t have kids, so I really don’t know what I’m talking about, but it seems to me that the goal shouldn’t be to keep kids “distracted”.

    I mean, seriously. Parents are supposed to keep their kids distracted? They’re supposed to make sure the kids aren’t paying attention to what’s going on up front?

    It seems to me that the goal should be to keep kids attentive to the miracle that’s going on right in front of them.

  • Megan,

    You’re right. That is what the goal should be. Unfortunately, there are times in parenthood when simple survival is difficult enough, when your prayer isn’t so much “Make her angelic” as it is “Make her stop acting possessed.” You become less concerned with the sublimity of the Eucharistic Prayer and more concerned that she’s annoying everyone around her with her whining.

    It’s not romantic, but it is the nitty gritty and warp and woof of parenthood. There is a path to holiness therein.

    Thank God it isn’t always like that, but sometimes it is.

    Of course, I would add that distraction should not become your norm or your baseline either. A parent should always be striving for better and have a goal like the one you describe.

  • “It’s not romantic, but it is the nitty gritty and warp and woof of parenthood.”

    Right on again…it is life and sometimes life is quite ordinary and basic.

    As for distractions, I urge parents to keep the toys and handheld video games home. Hotwheels and other toys can make noise and the video games…ugh.  I think 7 year old and up are at a stage where such distractions are no longer necessary.

  • Dom,

    It was nice to meet you the other day at Proud 2B Catholic.  I too thought Fr. Stan’s homily was great, espcially his line about being bored at Mass.

    One thought about the “nitty gritty.”  Although I think your right that as a parent you need to try to keep your child in line at Mass.  I often wonder about those who scoff at children making any sort of distraction at Mass.  I call them the crying room people.  While you can’t let your child run through the pews (or up into the sanctuary during Mass) as I have seen a few times, you also can’t stop your kid from being a kid. We come to Mass as a community that includes many different members to worship together.  Sure we want our worship to be orderly with due decorum, but we should also be welcoming to people in all different situations.

    In the parish I am in right now there is a group home for kids with mental retardation.  Throughout Mass they moan and groan along with the Mass, attempting the best they can to participate in the Mass. It can sometimes be difficult to feel good about going to Mass with them, but I wonder if the true grace of going to Mass, desirous of offering thanks to God, and feeling frustrated by distraction and yet responding in charity, doesn’t double the grace poured out.

    Similarly, at St. Peter’s when I attend daily Mass at noon at the Altar of St. Joseph, there is an elderly man who sits in my “territory” in the chapel.  The man is elderly and sickly, and quite frankly smells.  Of course this is a distraction and often people move away.  But to sit through Mass, to offer thanks and praise to God and to suffer through that unpleasantness and distraction, isn’t this really to unite oneself more closely to the cross?

    This seems to be the experience of being a parent at Mass with a small child.  To try to distract your child is like trying to shrug off the cross, but isn’t the Mass all about the cross?  This is why I get quite angry when I see adults rolling there eyes and sighing (Al Gore style) at parents with small children.

    Personally I find the sacrifice of a parent trying to pray and trying to help their children to pray beautiful.  A real mortification, that is truly sanctifying.

    Of course, these are the musings of a celibate so its easy for me to say. 

    In Christ,


  • You’re right that the Mass is not like some arthouse play where strict silence from the audience is required. If a child is making normal noises no one has grounds to object. If she’s screeching that’s something else.

    Frankly, there are plenty of elderly people in my parish who are more disruptive than my daughter.

    I knew a pastor a few years ago who called out to some parents who got up to take their noisy child out of the church during the homily. He said to them that if he couldn’t make himself heard over the child, he had no business being there. Now, I may disagree with the exact sentiment—who knows if there were other reasons for taking the child out?—but there’s some truth in there.