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November 10, 2017

Who is at Risk of High Boredom in Adolescence?

By Amanda J Sonnega

group of teenagers It's not unusual for kids to say occasionally 'I'm bored.' While potentially annoying, this isn't typically worrisome to adults. Yet research has begun to suggest that high levels of boredom, especially in early to middle adolescence, could be cause for concern. High levels of boredom are related to problems in school, high risk sexual behavior, substance use, and delinquency. In a recent research paper, Meghan Martz, along with SRC's John Schulenberg, Megan Patrick, and Deborah Kloska used data from Monitoring the Future to look at a representative sample of over 21, 000 8th and 10th graders in the U.S. from 2009 to 2011 to see if they could understand more about high boredom reported by young teens. Students in these grades are generally 14 to 16 years old, which is a major risk period for high levels of boredom.

Approximately 20% of adolescents reported high levels of boredom. When only considering sociodemographic characteristics, they found that high boredom was more common among:

  • Eighth graders
  • Female students
  • Students who identified as Black, Biracial, or Native American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander
  • Rural youth
  • Students whose parents had lower levels of education

An important contention of their study, however, is that it is important to understand the developmental contexts in which adolescent students are embedded. So to dig deeper, they also examined students' experiences at school, with parents, with peers, and in extracurricular activities to see if these aspects of context related to reports of high boredom. They found that context mattered a lot.

Students who reported high boredom reported:

  • more negative views toward their school and not being challenged by schoolwork
  • lower levels of parental involvement and less after-school parental supervision
  • lower peer socializing and fewer evenings out with friends
  • lower levels of involvement with community service and athletics

In the peer context, the researchers also looked at students' use of online social networking. Interestingly, more use of social networking was associated with high boredom. Even though many students use social networking to attempt to alleviate boredom, it may be that the passive nature of social networking itself may also contribute to high boredom. In term of the potential benefits of extracurricular involvement, they suggest that it is important that the motivation to participate comes from the adolescent and is not imposed by others. Interestingly, after they accounted for these contexts, there was no difference between males and females in high boredom, but the other sociodemographic differences remained.

The results of this research can be used by policy makers and practitioners (such as educators, school counsellors, peer educators) to help identify adolescents who are likely to be at risk of experiencing high boredom. Understanding more about the contexts that are associated with high boredom can help the search for strategies to promote optimal adolescent development.

This article is published in Youth & Society: Martz, M. E., Schulenberg, J. E., Patrick, M. E., & Kloska, D. D. (in press). “I am so bored!”: Prevalence rates and sociodemographic and contextual correlates of high boredom among American adolescents. Youth & Society.×15626624. Monitoring the Future is funded by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The research conducted in this article was funded by support from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01 DA001411 to L. Johnston and T32 DA007267 to P. Gnegy).