Quaranteened! Helping Adolescents Cope with Boredom during COVID-19 and Summer


Elizabeth Weybright, Ph.D., Linda Caldwell, Ph.D., Erica Doering, M.S.

Media are rife with stories, challenges, and successes of how families are responding to best support children educationally, emotionally, and socially during the COVID-19 pandemic this summer. Less attention, however, is paid to adolescents and their experiences of and responses to the pandemic. We focus on one particular psychological need that may be more pronounced while practicing physical distancing this summer -- boredom.

Almost everyone has experienced boredom at some point in time in their lives. However, being an adolescent presents unique developmental needs that may make experiencing boredom more likely. Boredom is defined as feeling of "wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity." Difficulties with attention and lack of meaning are two main causes of boredom and can come from environments that are either over- or under-stimulating or over-controlling.

Developmentally, adolescents are likely less equipped to effectively identify and cope with boredom. Biological and cognitive changes taking place during adolescence mean they are more likely to seek out rewarding, novel experiences without the more developmentally advanced cognitive controls to act as impulse controls. Situational factors also may serve to create ideal conditions for boredom, especially for adolescents who lack personal agency or feel they experience constraints to desired activities.  The COVID-19 context represents a time when, collectively, individual autonomy is undermined. This is especially challenging during summer, a time when adolescents typically have more free time.

This combination of more free time, increased social controls, and the developmental need to experience autonomy creates the “perfect storm” for boredom to develop. Due to physical distancing and closure of some recreation facilities, adolescents remain in the same environment day after day which, in turn, becomes less interesting. This, paired with the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic and barrage of communication, may result in adolescents bouncing between under-stimulating home environments and over-stimulating online environments with little face-to-face peer interaction.

Coping with Boredom

The experience of boredom is neither positive nor negative but instead indicates a lack of satisfaction. Being bored should be motivation to turn the situation into something more interesting.  Research suggests adolescents who are able to restructure a situation into something more interesting have better health outcomes. Other research and philosophical thinking connect boredom as a motivator for greater creativity and productivity.  On the other hand, however some adolescents deal with chronic, high levels of boredom by engaging in risk behavior, including substance use.

Strategies to cope with boredom can be viewed as approach versus avoidance, or “leaning in” versus “leaning out” of a boring experience.

  • Approach: thinking about the situation differently or taking action to make the situation more engaging or meaningful and a better match between personal preferences and degree of stimulation, e.g., “It’s important for me to practice social distancing so my friends and family stay healthy.”
  • Avoidance: distracting yourself from the situation with something unrelated, e.g., “I’m going to get off social media for a bit and go take a nap.”
  • Although there is benefit to engaging in distracting or avoidance strategies, approach strategies are associated with a greater sense of control over the situation and are likely to empower adolescents to better cope with boring situations now and in the future.
  • Parents or caregivers remain a key influence in adolescent’s daily lives and play an important role in promoting healthy boredom coping during physical distancing or similar measures. Here are a few strategies for parents who sense their adolescent is becoming increasingly bored.  
  • Parents might start by talking with their adolescent about things they are interested in and enjoy doing. They can also discuss why the adolescent does not feel they are not doing those activities. Rather than focus on the activity and the constraints, however, it may help to focus on what benefits and how they feel when they do the activity. This line of thinking will make it easier to restructure a boring situation because if they cannot do the desired activity, they may be able to create a situation in which they experience the same joys and meaning. If the adolescent cannot identify what benefit and positive experience they get out of things they enjoy, parents could ask: What are the main things you enjoy about your activities? Do you like to learn new things? Do you enjoy being creative? Do you enjoy teaching things to others? Do you enjoy the quiet and peace of being in nature? Do you enjoy being physically active? If the adolescent is extremely social, these questions may help the adolescent identify other aspects of their activities that are important to them, beyond being with their friends.
  • Parents can help their adolescent better understand why they are feeling bored. Understanding the cause of boredom will help cope with boredom. You may ask questions such as: Do you feel a lack of stimulation or a lack of interest? Do you feel you have no control over your life or what you are doing right now? Do you feel as though you don’t have enough interesting things to do to fill your time? Do you feel you have a lot of energy but don’t know what to do? Do you have too much stimulation?

Answers to these questions may help everyone to better understand what is going on, so that one or more of the coping strategies might work.

  • Talking through the different approach and avoidance strategies, and perhaps role-playing different situations, may help adolescents identify more satisfying ways to engage with their COVID-19 environment and plan for how to better cope. How do you react to feeling bored? If you are under-stimulated, what might be more interesting or meaningful? If you are over-stimulated, what could you do that better matches the energy you have right now? Think about why you enjoy certain activities. How can you re-create those experiences doing other things that you cannot do right now? For example, if you like to learn new things, make a list of things you would like to learn.
  • Adolescents are at a unique developmental stage and may be disproportionately impacted by changes in their environment related to COVID-19. Parents and caregivers may need to provide additional support to meet these developmental needs and promote “quaranteens’” ability to effectively cope with boredom, especially over the summer. By supporting development of knowledge and behavior to effectively cope with boredom in adolescence during this time, adults are cultivating skills useful throughout their life.


  • Casey, B. J., Jones, R. M., & Somerville, L. H. (2011). Braking and accelerating of the adolescent brain. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 21(1), 21–33. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-7795.2010.00712.x
  • Chin, A., Markey, A., Bhargava, S., Kassam, K. S., & Loewenstein, G. (2017). Bored in the USA: Experience sampling and boredom in everyday life. Emotion, 17(2), 359–368. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000232
  • Daniels, L. M., Tze, V. M. C., & Goetz, T. (2015). Examining boredom: Different causes for different coping profiles. Learning and Individual Differences, 37, 255–261. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2014.11.004
  • Eastwood, J. D., Frischen, A., Fenske, M. J., & Smilek, D. (2012). The unengaged mind: Defining boredom in terms of attention. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(5), 482–495. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691612456044
  • Mann, S., & Cadman, R. (2014). Does being bored make us more creative? Creativity Research Journal, 26(2), 165–173. https://doi.org/10.1080/10400419.2014.901073
  • Nett, U. E., Goetz, T., & Hall, N. C. (2011). Coping with boredom in school: An experience sampling perspective. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 36(1), 49–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2010.10.003
  • Park, G., Lim, B.-C., & Oh, H. S. (2019). Why being bored might not be a bad thing after all. Academy of Management Discoveries, 5(1), 78–92. https://doi.org/10.5465/amd.2017.0033
  • Steinberg, L. (2010). A dual systems model of adolescent risk-taking. Developmental Psychobiology, 52(3), 216–224. https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.20445
  • Westgate, E. C., & Wilson, T. D. (2018). Boring thoughts and bored minds: The MAC model of boredom and cognitive engagement. Psychological Review, 125(5), 689–713. https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000097
  • Weybright, E. H., Caldwell, L. L., Ram, N., Smith, E. A., & Wegner, L. (2015). Boredom prone or nothing to do? Distinguishing between state and trait leisure boredom and its association with substance use in South African adolescents. Leisure Sciences, 37(4), 311–331. https://doi.org/10.1080/01490400.2015.1014530
Share this post:

Comments on "Quaranteened! Helping Adolescents Cope with Boredom during COVID-19 and Summer"

Comments 0-0 of 0

Please login to comment