If you’re the parent of a teenager, or spend any amount of time around them, it’s not a surprise to hear them say they’re bored.
What may be a surprise, however, is that you’re more likely to hear that come from a girl than a boy, according to a recent study.
Elizabeth Weybright, a Washington State University researcher of adolescent development based in Pullman, along with two other national researchers, recently had their findings published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Their research was compiled from a National Institute of Health repository that for decades has tallied teen sentiment about boredom from students across the U.S.
“Even among adults, some level of boredom is not uncommon,” Weybright says. “But it’s important to know what young people, who don’t have complete cognitive development, are experiencing with it.”
It’s important to study boredom in young people, because decades of past and current research show young people experiencing high levels and chronic boredom prove to be more susceptible to risky behaviors, she says.
An increase in desire for independence and novelty may create “mismatches with limited novel opportunities” they write in the article.
“Such mismatches may be associated with threat to optimal health and development,” the article says.
In the Journal of Adolescent Health article, they continue: “We suspect boredom is one factor in a constellation of factors changing historically. For example, boredom has been associated with sensation seeking and depressive symptoms, and evidence indicates that both sensation seeking and depressive symptoms are increasing among U.S. adolescents.”
Since 1975, the National Institute of Health has sponsored annual surveys measuring boredom among youth. Weybright, and researchers Linda Caldwell, at Pennsylvania State University, and John Schulenberg, at the University of Michigan, made their findings based on the period between 2008 to 2017, Weybright says.
Adolescent participants were asked to mark their responses on a one-to-five scale with a No. 1 signaling a low level of boredom to a No. 5 indicating a high level. Students surveyed range between eighth and 12th grades, according to the study.
The study showed adolescent boredom increased for both boys and girls during the last decade.
But by their sophomore years of high school, the increase in boredom for girls takes a marked rise over that of boys, the study says.
“I thought they’d be similar,” Weybright says of their findings. “To see a steeper increase in one (gender) over time was surprising.”
Starting in the eighth grade, the reported boredom levels for boys rose 1.6% every year on average while girls’ boredom levels rose 1.7%. By the sophomore year, girls’ boredom levels rose by 2% each year. Girls’ reported boredom levels at all grade levels showed a steeper rise than boys, according to the study.
The findings across both genders showed declines in boredom from 2008 to 2010 for all grades. But then significant increases occur from 2010 to 2017, the study says.
During the latter period, other researchers have noted adolescent behavior becoming more solitary in nature, the article says.
“Perhaps boredom is simply one more indicator of adolescent dissatisfaction with how their time is spent,” they write in the article.
The findings are notable, says Weybright, as boredom can be more a reflection of other things going on in the lives of young people.
Weybright, a mother of two elementary school-aged daughters, says it’s important for parents and guardians to observe their children.
In her opinion, she says boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“In the adolescent years it’s vitally important to help children navigate through a time of adjustment,” Weybright says.
Instead of alarm or fear, Weybright hopes parents will take this information to use for their child’s advantage.
“There’s also this huge window of opportunity for parents to engage their daughters,” says Weybright. “What hasn’t changed is that we as parents are still the main influences in their lives and what they do.”
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