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Teaching Adolesence

I’m bored! Leisure Boredom, Depression, and Delinquency in Early Adolescence

Are adolescents bored all the time? Actually, most of them are not but those that are might be at higher risk for depressive symptoms.

By:  Tara Kuther

The bored, apathetic delinquent represents the hallmark stereotype of adolescence, yet relatively little research has examined boredom during the adolescent years. Is the typical adolescent bored? Spaeth, Weichold, and Silbereisen viewed boredom as influenced by the match between adolescents’ developmental needs and the leisure opportunities available where they live.  They examined the prevalence of adolescent boredom, the degree to which it changes in early adolescence, the factors associated with changes in boredom, and associations with delinquency and depression over time.

Over 700 German children (ages 10-14; 56% girls) were studied across 4 years at 5 time points: T1, T2 6 months later, and T3-T5 annually. Measures included adolescent leisure boredom (“In my free time, I usually don’t like what I’m doing, but I don’t know what else to do,”), family relationship quality (“I get along very well with my parents”), activity level and approach/withdrawal, self-reported delinquent activity, depressive symptoms, and perceived peer rejection.

Contrary to the popular stereotype, only about 10% of adolescents reported being somewhat or very bored at each point.  At 10 years of age, leisure boredom was positively associated with peer rejection, activity level, likelihood of being in a lower (non-college-bound) education track. Boredom was negatively associated with quality of family relationships.  Increases in boredom during early adolescence were predicted by perceived peer rejection and low activity level at T1.  While bored adolescents showed higher levels of depression one year later, depression also predicted reports of boredom one year later.  Boredom predicted delinquency, but the relationship was not strong. Instead Spaeth and colleagues found that delinquency was associated with declines in boredom only among adolescents with high activity levels; delinquency was not associated with reductions in boredom in adolescents who showed a lower need for external stimulation.  These findings counter the common belief that boredom leads to adolescents’ poor behavior.

These findings suggest that leisure boredom is fairly stable and likely not the result of normative adolescent development. Boredom was associated with peers, school, and family.  The relationship between boredom and depression suggests that one way to alter the trajectory of depression is programs that enhance leisure experiences and peer related social skills.

Read more:

Spaeth, M., Weichold, K., & Silbereisen, R. K. (2015). The development of leisure boredom in early adolescence: Predictors and longitudinal associations with delinquency and depression. Developmental Psychology, 51(10), 1380-1394. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0039480
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