Bored Teenager? It’s on the Rise, and Worse in Girls

So says a Washington State University study that surveyed students in eighth, 10th and 12th grade. What's going on with the bored teenager phenomenon?

Illustration by Jay Holladay

“Bored, I’m so bored, I’m so bored, so bored.”

While Billie Eilish is referring to relationship drama in her tune “Bored,” the 18-year-old singer/songwriter echoes the sentiments of an entire generation with one line in a song.

Teens are bored. And it turns out their boredom has been on the rise for the last decade, according to recent findings from a Washington State University study titled “More Bored Today Than Yesterday?” Researchers from WSU, University of Michigan and Pennsylvania State University examined a nationally represented sample of U.S. students in eighth, 10th and 12th grade and found that not only has the rate of boredom increased since 2010, the rise has been steeper for females than males.

While the data doesn’t indicate why today’s teens are feeling more bored than teens did a decade ago, the findings could correlate to shifts in mental health issues, social media usage and more.

“We’re seeing lots of national trends within adolescents, and one of the big ones that’s been talked about is the increase in mental health symptoms,” says Elizabeth Weybright, assistant professor in the Department of Human Development at WSU and the study’s lead author.

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According to the American Psychological Association, the rate of adolescents who reported symptoms related to major depression increased 52 percent between 2005 and 2017.

Social media use has skyrocketed, too, and while teens are more plugged in, they are also more isolated – spending more time home alone than out with friends, Weybright adds.

“To me, boredom is one piece of that puzzle,” she says, adding that it could be a “symptom of some bigger dissatisfaction or not being able to deal with the dissatisfaction.”

If you’re dealing with a perpetually bored teen, read on for insight.

Girls vs. boys

Adolescence is a time of growth and change – and weird social dynamics. Teenage girls are more attuned to what’s happening socially, Weybright notes, and are more sensitive to these social dynamics than boys are.

“When we think of the social context of adolescents, there’s a lot going on. Your social world becomes much more important, you become more attuned to what others are feeling and thinking and how you’re being perceived and where you fit,” Weybright says. Boredom in girls, she says, might be a reaction to these changes – or even “unsatisfying social interactions.”

And it might not even be the amount of social interaction, but rather the quality or what the teen is getting from it.

“Maybe they are translating experiences of not having social interactions – being lonely – into feelings of boredom.”

Either way, Weybright notes, boredom seems to be a symptom of some larger issue. “We’re seeing changes in mental health and depression. I think it’s happening alongside how we’re interacting socially and the role of social media and interacting digitally,” she says. “It’s pointing to not being satisfied with what’s going on around us and not being able to effectively deal with that feeling.”

While parents might assume that teens are more entertained in our digital age, overstimulation or an over-arousing situation can cause just as much boredom as something dull and not stimulating, like standing in line.

“Just the sheer bombardment of opportunities and things you could be doing and information – sometimes that is overwhelming in itself, and that can lead to boredom as well.”

Coping with boredom

When it comes to boredom, parents can help children develop skills to be aware of their feelings and how they can deal with them in a positive way.

Make space for teens to experience boredom and struggle with it on their own, Weybright suggests. While in that space, teens should ask themselves what is going on, how they are feeling, what they can do about the situation and how they can change it.

“There’s a couple different scenarios in which boredom happens, and some you have more flexibility in changing than others,” she notes. If a teen is bored at home, for example, it might be easier to address than being bored in class. Support your child to be able to understand and respond to her environment, Weybright says.

As mom to two daughters, Weybright understands the importance of modeling the way and says it’s important for parents to model what it looks like to walk yourself through boredom. Help kids with this by asking: What is going on? What are you interested in? What’s available to do, and what are some other alternatives that you would like to do?

“You still have an opportunity to help guide and shape and inform and help your kids develop,” Weybright says. “Pull back and remember that piece.”