Generation Whatever: Teen Boredom On The Rise, Especially Among Girls

PULLMAN, Wash. — Thanks to the convenience of the internet and smartphones, it’s never been easier to learn something new, acquire a skill, or pick up a new hobby. That’s why a new study that finds teens are becoming more and more bored each and every year is so confounding. Somehow, with humanity’s entire depth of knowledge entirely at their fingertips, millions of adolescents just don’t know what to do with themselves.

According to researchers at Washington State University, teens in the eighth, 10th, and 12th grades are reporting more boredom year over year. It is also worth noting that girls are reporting greater increases in boredom than boys.

“We were surprised to see that boredom is increasing at a more rapid pace for girls than boys across all grades,” comments study author Elizabeth Weybright, WSU researcher of adolescent development, in a release.

The study, a collaborative effort that also included scientists from the University of Michigan and Pennsylvania State University, analyzed a decade’s worth of teenagers’ responses to a boredom question asked in a nationwide in-school survey. Every year, millions of teens are asked to rate how strongly they agreed with the statement “I am often bored,” on a scale of one to five. The research team looked at responses to this question, across various grades, between 2008 and 2017.

After finishing their investigation, the study’s authors discovered that boredom among adolescents has  steadily been on the rise for the better part of the past decade. There was a slight dip in reported boredom rates between 2008-2010, but since then it has been increasing.

“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. “I wanted to find out when adolescents are most likely to experience boredom.”

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When comparing only grade levels, boredom among boys appears to peak around the 10th grade, while girls are at their most bored in the eighth grade.

Additionally, when changes over the years were included, boys’ boredom across all grades rose 1.6% every year on average, while girls saw an increase of 1.7% each year. Incredibly, every year, sophomore girls’ boredom levels rose by a full 2%. Overall, researcher say, girls’ boredom levels are rising at a steeper rate than boys across all grades.

“Historically, we saw a decline from 2008 to 2010 across all grades, but it wasn’t significant,” Weybright adds. “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.”

The study didn’t attempt to explain why boredom is on such a prominent rise among today’s youth, but its authors theorize their findings may be linked to sensation-seeking and depression, both of which are on the rise among American teenagers. The role of increased digital media use and screen time should also be considered, as well as previous research that found American teens just aren’t going out with friends as much as they used to, and consequently, are spending more time alone.

“Adolescence is a time of change and growth,” Weybright says. “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.”

All in all, Weybright says her findings, coupled with recent trends in teenage mental health and social activity, really highlight that the typical experience of being an American teenager is quite different than it was just a decade ago. As such, mental health providers, teachers, and parents are going to need to adapt.

“It also shows that we’re going to need some kind of intervention,” Weybright concludes. “One of the challenges with this data set is that it includes different people every year. This means I can’t follow one person across time to find a causal link.”

The study is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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