You’re Bored? Good! by Jerusha & Jeramy Clark
It’s late-July and the novelty of summer has probably worn off for students who, seemingly moments ago, couldn’t wait to shout, “School’s out for summer!” Now a different refrain resounds throughout homes from the Florida shores to the misty peaks of Washington State. Tweens and teens everywhere have been groaning, “I’m soooo bored.”
We’ve worked with adolescents for over two decades. We’re raising two teenagers of our own. Still, this “I’m bored” issue is difficult for us to understand. Perhaps it’s because neither of us has been bored since roughly 1990. Maybe it’s because we’d like for our teens to actually use the sports equipment, art supplies, books and “toys” we’ve bought them. Perhaps it’s because boredom seems lazy and selfish to hardworking parents who battle overflowing email inboxes and file folders, laundry and dishes.
“You’re bored,” many parents want to respond, “Great! I’ve got work for you to do.”
If you’ve ever felt this way, we absolutely understand. We’d also like to share with you some astounding scientific research that’s helped us reframe our thoughts. Understanding what’s going on in your teenager’s brain doesn’t excuse bad behavior sparked by boredom, but it can certainly give us greater compassion and equip us with keener discernment.
Start by picturing your tween or teen’s brain like a massive construction zone.
No, really; this is how neuroscientists describe it.
At approximately 11 for girls and 12½ for boys, a dramatic neural shift takes place; the adolescent brain transitions away from the explosive growth characteristic of childhood and toward the dual processes of neural pruning and myelination. Very long story short: your teen’s brain trims unused neural pathways and strengthens those that remain. This means what your tween or teen does on a daily basis literally changes his or her brain. It’s absolutely wild to consider…an adolescent’s choices shape the brain he or she will enjoy throughout life. And this brain renovation lasts more than a decade, so keep your hard hats handy, parents!
How does this apply to adolescent boredom? Should we enroll teens or tweens in a zillion summer activities to ensure that their neural pathways stay open and healthy rather than being trimmed away? Gasp! Do we have to become our kids’ cruise director, providing them with constant excursions, educational or entertainment options?
By no means! (Huge sigh of relief there, right?)
Instead, we need to approach boredom in new ways. Here are some essential things to remember and put into practice when your tween or teen laments, “I’m sooo bored.”
- Your teen’s changing brain is super-sensitive to novelty. Your adolescent craves new and exciting opportunities because novelty brings particular pleasure to tween and teen brains (much more so, neuroscientists discovered, than either young children or adults!). Parents: this is not a bad thing! If your adolescent never wanted to try anything new, he or she wouldn’t pursue a career, start a family, or move out (ponder that for a scary moment). God created tweens and teens to push forward, to be movers and shakers and even world-changers, precisely so that they can eventually launch into adulthood with confidence and joy. Trust us; you want and even need this! And—try as you might—you cannot hold back the veritable tidal wave of novelty-seeking in your teen or tween’s brain. You can only help channel it in healthy ways. To do that…
- Fuel the fire of curiosity. Some parents we talk to think their tween or teen isn’t curious about anything. Adolescents just mindlessly “click” or “like” or “post,” parents think; they don’t really want to know anything. My friends, this just ain’t true. Teenagers actually have high levels of curiosity. Adults often don’t appreciate or feel excited about what they’re interested in, however. Your tween or teen may be curious about coding or gardening or baking elaborate cakes. Are you willing to invest the time (and possibly some resources) in fueling the fire of curiosity? The dividends this yields can be tremendous.
- Don’t assume this is forever. If you tween or teen is curious about something for a season and then decides it’s just “not for me,” don’t despair. This is a good time for your adolescent to “try on” different interests. Your tween or teen should learn to uphold his or her commitments, but if they do so (say for a season) and then decide they don’t want to continue, allow their developing brain to stretch in new ways.
- Embrace the spiritual reality behind this. God commands us five times in the book of Psalms to sing a “new song” to him. He populates the world with a one-of-a-kind design in every single birth. In other words, God isn’t afraid of novelty. In fact, he loves both the traditional and the innovative. Your tween or teens’ boredom is a gift from God in that it compels them to do something differently. Don’t “solve” your kids’ boredom issue; instead, let it propel them into finding more of who God created them to be. When our kids were toddlers, we gave them choices and structured their time; that season is mostly past by the time a kid reaches adolescence. In the second decade of life, tweens and teens need to feel bored and parents need to let them feel it. We have to trust that God will use that boredom as part of His grand design. And we can thank Him when we see the great things He does in our kids.
For lots more on adolescent brain development, how understanding the physiological changes in your tween and teen can make you a better parent, plus spiritual truth that undergirds it all, check out the resources available at www.jandjclark.com.
Your Teenager is Not Crazy: Understanding Your Teen’s Brain Can Make You a Better Parent is available online and at local retail stores from Baker Books.
Jerusha Clark co-authored four books with Jeramy, including three bestsellers, prior to launching her own writing and speaking ministry, focused on helping others glorify and enjoy God, one thought at a time. On quiet days, you can find Jerusha body-boarding, reading, or singing around a bonfire at the beach, her absolute favorite place. Jeramy and Jerusha have two amazing teenage daughters and love ministering together at churches, retreats, schools, and conferences.