Boredom and frustration in teens

Dr Asha Pemberton -
Dr Asha Pemberton -

Dr Asha Pemberton

ADOLESCENT boredom is common yet misunderstood. A source of frustration for young people and their parents, the pervasive and intrusive feeling of “boredom” is universal during the teen years. The dilemma occurs because, more than ever before, young people crave the freedom to be independent.

The challenge occurs when they are afforded free time but have not considered what they will do with it. In many cases, the young person simply does not know where to begin. So rather than feel excited, the teenager feels at a loss and does not know how to fill the void of opportunity that has been created. The end result is boredom.

Parents experience these complaints over long holiday weekends or at the end of each school term. Young people eagerly anticipate respite from daily routines but then descend into apathy. What we perceive in adolescence as boredom or lack of motivation may be just a period of waiting for something to emerge, an idea to be sparked or a plan to be made that they mutually agree to.

One factor that can make adolescent boredom both easier and more difficult to manage is the advent of mass and multiple sources of electronic entertainment. Boredom is now transiently easier to quell by turning to a variety of electronic screens. Instantly, they escape into high stimulation distraction that is readily available any time of day or night. A potential problem with this is that young people are denied opportunities to brainstorm, create and execute other activities to fill their time.

The lure of the online environment, to which they are largely consumers, reduces the capacities of some young people to explore their innovative and creative capabilities. It is yet to be seen how this will affect them in the longer term. It can be stated that for now the immediate ramifications are apparent. To avoid boredom, young people will mindlessly scroll and often expose themselves to less than savoury content.

From the parental perspective, it can be devastating to witness tweens and teens seemingly stuck in a space of low energy and frustration. What parents see is their teenager, once engaged in various hobbies and activities during childhood, now becoming directionless, adrift, unmotivated. This adolescent ambivalence has been described by an author as “they love having nothing to do, but they hate having nothing to do. They don’t necessarily like being told what to do, but they don’t like not knowing what to do either.”

This state of boredom and limbo has been described as adolescent ennui. While ennui is a normal and expected emotion that young people will experience, it can be challenging to determine the difference between these developmentally expected doldrums and times when parents need to take action.

Excessive boredom or perception of discontent can lead to both mental health and academic problems. Conversely, this emotion can be a symptom of an underlying and emerging concern. No amount of boredom in adolescence feels right, no amount of activity or inactivity is the right amount.

For parents, a good place to begin is to recognise and accept that some feelings of boredom will accompany adolescent development. Adding conflict and argument seldom lead to improvement. Instead, young people should be encouraged to reflect upon the emotion rather than judge it.

Since the source of boredom is unfilled time, young people should ideally be allowed to create for themselves activities to fill their time. Challenges arise when parents have their own ideas as to what should be done, leading to conflict and rebellion. This should be a teen-led process with options and opportunities provided by parents or mentors.

Through willingly engaging in activities that bring them joy, young people will enjoy feelings of accomplishment and self-worth, leading naturally to less boredom and frustration.


"Boredom and frustration in teens"

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