Bored teen

How does boredom affect substance use?

Published on: May 25, 2022   |   Last updated on:

One of the top five most annoying things kids say has to be: “I’m bored.” When I was a kid, if I happened to utter this in front of my grandma, she would snap back: “Only boring, uninteresting people get bored. Get over it and find something to do.”

Although her approach lacked a little tact, she had a point. Kids today have more entertainment options than ever before (a fact every parent on a road trip likes to bring up at least once a day).

Being able to entertain yourself is a sign of healthy self-awareness, self-management, and emotional regulation.

Kids who are engaged, connected, involved, and busy have less opportunities to engage in risky behaviors.

So, how does boredom impact kids?

In 2016, researchers in Australia sought to understand how boredom affects teen substance use. In a longitudinal study with thousands of teens, they proved that teenagers who experience more boredom also turn to substance use more readily.

Here’s another example, South Africa suffers from increasing adolescent substance use. Teens in their country have limited opportunities for recreational activities plus a high degree of leisure time. Sound familiar?

The opposite of boredom isn’t entertainment, it’s engagement.

Engagement is dynamic, interesting, and makes time fly. Engagement happens when we’re curious and when we experience some cognitive dissonance.

Think of an engaging lecture you’ve listened to or an engaging conversation you’ve had. You definitely know the opposite — the meeting that seems to last forever, or the presentation that makes you almost angry for how irrelevant it is.

How do you help a kid who’s bored?

That’s the million-dollar question. We know from years of experience offering curriculum grounded in the “Sparks Theory” that helping a kid find an activity that lights them up can change the trajectory of their lives.

It is important for us to be intentional about helping kids reflect on their natural highs. To help them chase their own curiosity, provide opportunities for them to learn what they want to learn, try an outdoor activity, build or fix things with their hands, or cultivate an interest in the arts.

So the next time you notice your kid acting or feeling bored, jump in the car and ask them where they want to go. You never know where it might lead!


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