It’s a phrase all too familiar to many parents of adolescents: “I’m bored!”
Teenagers saying they’re bored is a fixture in most households across the country.
Now research from Washington State University has found that boredom in adolescents is on the rise. Every year rates of boredom for those in 8th, 10th and 12th grades is increasing, especially in girls.
“Put simply, we found that nationally, rates of adolescent boredom have been increasing since about 2010. In other words, adolescents are saying they’re increasingly more bored than in the past,” Elizabeth Weybright, author of the study and Washington State University researcher of adolescent development told Theravive.
“When we compared males and females we found that females rates increased earlier and steeper than males. So, it appears that females are not only reporting more boredom each year, but the increase from year to year is higher for females than males.”
In undertaking her research, Weybright and colleagues from the University of Michigan and Pennsylvania State university used a nation-wide in school survey to track a decade’s worth of responses from adolescents in relation to their levels of boredom.
As part of the Monitoring the Future survey, teenagers were asked to respond to the statement “I am often bored” on a five point scale. The researchers examined the results of the responses given between 2008 and 2017. They found that boredom rose across grades over most of the past decade.
Across the grades, levels of boredom seem to peak in 10th grade for boys and 8th grade for girls. Boys’ levels of boredom rose by 1.6 per cent annually on average. Girls’ rose by 1.7 per cent. In 10th grade, girls experience a rise in boredom levels of 2 per cent. Across all grades, boredom levels of girls rose more sharply than boys.
“Results from this study point in a few different directions. The one we’re pursuing right now is to better understand what boredom means to adolescents and young adults. This includes how they define it in their own words and how they respond to boring situations. The goal is this information can be used in approaches where we promote healthy coping with boredom,” Weybright told Theravive.
The research doesn’t examine the reason for rising boredom levels among adolescents, but Weybright believes it may be associated with sensation-seeking and depression rates in teens, and an increase in the use of digital media. Among 12th graders, use of digital media doubled from 2006 to 2012.
“People feel there’s so much going on today that no one should be bored! This is one reason for experiencing boredom – that the situation you’re in isn’t stimulating enough. But this can work the other direction too – that you experience boredom because the situation is over-stimulating,” she said.
“We’re seeing historical increases in boredom and especially in females. To me, this seems like a symptom of a larger issue that we need to address. These adolescents are going to develop into adults. I want to be sure they’re equipped with the ability to effectively deal with boring situations.”
She argues more robust research needs to be undertaken into adolescent boredom, and to better understand the different boredom experiences of boys and girls.
“We have more work to do to figure out what exactly is causing these differences. In the paper, we mention a few different things. During this same timeframe that boredom is increasing, we also see worse mental health symptoms for females. When looking from a developmental perspective, we know there are social differences in male and female adolescents. For example, it could be that females are more sensitive to social interactions than males, especially ones that are unsatisfying, or that females are more likely to translate experiences of loneliness into boredom,” she told Theravive.
Overall, she says some boredom in teenagers isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But equipping teenagers with coping skills is important for their future life.
“The experience of boredom isn’t good or bad. Instead, your ability to deal with a boring situation can lead to things that are good/productive or bad. I think by giving adolescents the tools to effective deal with boredom, we are giving them skills that will help them throughout their life.”
Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.