Family, Kids & Relationships

Study Finds Alarming Rise In Teen Boredom, Could Be Linked To Depression and Risky Behavior

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It’s easy to assume that teens today can’t possibly ever feel bored, what with all the world’s data at their fingertips via smartphones, laptops, iPads, and smart TVs. But alas, a new study shows that boredom is rising in teens, especially in girls.

Researchers at Washington State University, in conjunction with those at the University of Michigan and Pennsylvania State University, tracked a decade of adolescent responses to a question about boredom in the nationwide Monitoring the Future survey. It asked 8th, 10th, and 12th graders to rate their response to the question “I am often bored” on a five-point scale, then analyzed the findings from 2008 to 2017. 

The determination: Teen boredom has been steadily rising. Further, boredom appears to peak in 10th grade for boys and 8th grade for girls. But in almost every grade, girls showed higher boredom levels than boys.

“Adolescence is a time of change and growth,” said Elizabeth Weybright, WSU researcher of adolescent development, in a statement. “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.”

Weybright also notes that boredom may be associated with sensation-seeking and depression, which are rising among U.S. teens. Since digital media use has also been increasing — doubling for teens and tweens since 2015 — some researchers think there may be a connection between how much time teens spend on screens and their feelings of boredom or perhaps even depression.

“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 says. “Perhaps boredom is simply one more indicator of adolescent dissatisfaction with how their time is spent.”

For parents, it’s easy to assume (and hope) their teens’ time spent on digital screens is positive, but this study underscores the need to check in with kids and see how they’re really doing. 

Weybright suggests future research should expand into the middle school years and what connections, if any, exist between boredom and sleep, social interaction, and other factors.

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.