Adolescent Boredom Rising, Girls Hit Hardest

Adolescent boredom is surely not a new phenomenon. It’s not hard to imagine children expressing boredom to exasperated parents in just about every era. Of course, with the myriad of distractions and entertainment options available in the modern era, you might think today’s teens would have plenty to keep them from being bored. Apparently not, however.

It seems that girls, particularly those in 8th, 10th and 12th grades are not only bored stiff, but it’s getting worse. According to research from Washington State University, the boredom crisis is worsening each year and includes boys as well as girls, although the problem is worse for girls.

“We were surprised to see that boredom is increasing at a more rapid pace for girls than boys across all grades,” said Elizabeth Weybright, WSU researcher of adolescent development, who shared the findings in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Using the nationwide Monitoring the Future in-school survey, Weybright analyzed a decade worth of responses to a question about boredom contained in the survey. She worked in conjunction with Linda Caldwell at Penn State University and John Schulenberg of the University of Michigan,

The boredom question employs a five-point response scale to the seemingly simple statement “I am often bored.” Weybright and company looked at the answers across a ten-year time frame, from 2008 to 2017.

They noted that boredom seems to be spreading like an epidemic within the grades and across them for the last decade. They published their findings in “More bored today than yesterday? National trends in adolescent boredom from 2008-2017,” published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“Everybody experiences boredom from time to time, but many people don’t realize it may be associated with depressive symptoms and risky behaviors, such as substance misuse,” Weybright said. “I wanted to find out when adolescents are most likely to experience boredom.”

A steady increase in boredom since 2010

They noted that, when comparing across grades, boredom seems to peak for girls in 8th grade and for boys in 10th grade.

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Boredom goes on and on, as one might expect. Looking across the 10 year period and combining grade levels, boredom continues its dull assault on our adolescents. For boys, boredom levels increased by 1.6 percent each year, while girls got a 1.7 percent boredom boost per year. In 10th grade, the boredom boost for girls was about 2 percent. The yearly rise for girls was larger than that for boys in every grade.

“Historically, we saw a decline from 2008 to 2010 across all grades, but it wasn’t significant,” said Weybright. “Then, we see a significant increase from 2010 to 2017. Around 2010, there’s a divergence for boys and girls. We see that boredom increases for boys and girls, but it increases a bit steeper and earlier for girls.”

Adolescent exposure to digital media has been on the rise not only in America, but across the globe. In fact, it’s now nearly impossible for a child to get to the high school level without needing access to some form of digital technology – laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc. While Weybright and her colleagues weren’t exploring the causes of boredom for adolescents and teens, she states that it may be associated with depression and sensation-seeking, which are also on the rise among American teens. Certainly, then, it’s no coincidence that boredom, thrill-seeking and depression among teens are on the rise during a time when digital media use has doubled for 12th graders (2006 to 2012.)

Corresponding to this phenomenon are the findings of other researchers that adolescents have become more isolated during this time. They are spending more time alone and going out with friends less.

“Perhaps boredom is simply one more indicator of adolescent dissatisfaction with how their time is spent,” Weybright stated in the paper.

“Adolescence is a time of change and growth,” she said. “Teens want more independence, but may not have as much autonomy as they’d like in their school and home life. That creates situations where they’re prone to boredom, and may have a hard time coping with being bored.”

While researching teen boredom may seem superfluous, it’s importance comes into focus when considered in conjunction with current trends in teen mental health, depression and social interaction. Clearly the world is changing for our teens, and not necessarily for the better.

“It also shows that we’re going to need some kind of intervention,” said Weybright, who called for more robust study of adolescent boredom.

“One of the challenges with this data set is that it includes different people every year,” Weybright said. “This means I can’t follow one person across time to find a causal link.”

Weybright believes it would be helpful to have further and deeper research on the subject of teen boredom, looking at how they experience it on a day-to-day basis. Observing how this aligns with sleep, social interaction and other parts of a teenager’s life would also help, she says.

It’s hard to imagine anyone being bored in a world where information, entertainment and interaction come seem to flow at the speed of light. But maybe that’s the issue. After you have that stuff pushed into your brain that fast, the world around you slows down and you get a little bored.

Maybe more time interacting with actual humans without tech would help. Keep the faith and keep after it!

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Journal Reference – Elizabeth H. Weybright, John Schulenberg, Linda L. Caldwell. More Bored Today Than Yesterday? National Trends in Adolescent Boredom From 2008 to 2017. Journal of Adolescent Health, 2019

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