What *is* boredom exactly and what role does it play in cognition and development? What are the benefits and harms of “bored time” for children and has digital media displaced the space to let minds wander?
During Children and Screens’ #AskTheExperts webinar “On Boredom: Screen Time, Free Time and Child Development,” held on Wednesday, May 10 2023 at 12pm via Zoom, a panel of psychologists, neuroscientists, counselors, and philosophers defined boredom in the digital age, explored the neural underpinnings of attention and states of discontent, considered potential benefits and risks to letting children be bored, and provided tools for parents and caregivers to recognize differences between boredom and other negative emotions.
Andreas Elpidorou, PhDProfessor of Philosophy; Director of the Liberal Studies ProgramModerator
James Danckert, PhDProfessor of Cognitive Neuroscience; Cognitive Neuroscience Research Area Head
Susan Matt, PhDPresidential Distinguished Professor of History
Natalie Spencer Gwyn, PhDCore Faculty
Caley Arzamarski, PhD, NCSPPsychologist; Clinical Assistant Professor, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
[Kris Perry]: Welcome everyone, to today’s Ask the Experts Webinar “On Boredom: Screen Time, Free Time and Child Development.” I am Kris Perry, Executive Director of Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. Summer is rapidly approaching, and while this can be a source of great excitement for kids and parents alike, we know it can also be a little anxiety-provoking. What do you do with all the extra time? And how do you avoid the dreaded call of “I’m bored?” With seemingly endless opportunities for entertainment at our fingertips, school vacations can make it extra difficult to avoid the temptation of turning to screens to occupy and amuse your child. Or let’s be honest, yourself. But perhaps it’s time to ask ourselves, When is it appropriate to avoid boredom and when might we embrace it? What role does boredom play in our lives, both in the moment and over the course of time? And what risks or possibilities might moments of boredom present? And of course, what role does technology and digital media play in our experiences with boredom? And how might this look different for children today than before? We have brought together a panel of experts in boredom, emotions and child psychology to answer these questions and provide concrete recommendations to support you and your families this summer. Our panel will begin by laying a foundation for understanding boredom and its relationship with technology and our society. Then we’ll provide direct advice for caregivers and others working with youth this summer to make the most of increased leisure time. Without further ado, I would like to introduce you to today’s moderator, Dr. Andreas Elpidorou. Dr. Elpidorou is a Professor of Philosophy and the Director of the Liberal Studies Program at the University of Louisville. He specializes in the philosophical study of human emotions and has published extensively on the character and function of boredom. His most recent book “Propelled: How boredom, Frustration and Anticipation Lead US to The Good Life” explores how negative emotions and states of discontent can help us live a more flourishing life. His work has been featured in articles in BBC News, Forbes, Nautilus, Nature, Fast Company, Vogue, Business Insider and other places. Welcome, Andreas.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Thank you, Kris. Thank you for the very generous introduction and thanks to everyone who’s joining us today. I am delighted to be here, to be moderating this, fascinating discussion on boredom. In a few minutes, we will hear from our experts about boredom, its effects on the brain, its relationship to technology, how we can recognize boredom in children, and about the importance of leisure. And, of course, we’ll answer some of your many questions on the topic of boredom. But before we do all that, I thought that it would be a good idea for us to take a few minutes to think about boredom. With the aim of coming up with either a definition or if that’s too hard, with a brief description of boredom. I think there’s no better place to start than with a basic, but very important observation: that boredom has a remarkable capacity to find us. It finds us when we’re home. It also finds this when we’re at work, on our computers and even when we exercise. It finds travelers in airports and on planes, patients in doctor’s offices, drivers behind the wheel, and students, as we all, many of us know in classrooms. Focusing on youth, a recent survey found that 91% of North American youth experience boredom often. And another study reported that the second most common reason that smartphone owners use their phone is to avoid boredom. Given how prevalent the use of smartphones is, boredom seems must be everywhere. But boredom isn’t just a problem for distracted youth, uninspired students, people with nothing to do or exploited workers. Boredom can find us even when we’re doing the most awe inspiring activities of all. Here’s a quote: “Funny thing happened on the way to the moon: not much,” wrote Gene Cernan, an Apollo 17 astronaut, and he regretted that he didn’t bring crossword puzzles for the trip. So boredom appears to be ubiquitous, yes. Yet, despite its presence, we’re still discovering what it is and what it does.And in this introduction, I will attempt to bring some clarity to the question, What is boredom? First, let’s begin with the most basic characterization that I can offer. Boredom is a psychological state. There are additional ways of talking about boredom. For instance, we can talk about boredom as an existential condition, or as a long lasting personality trait. But for the time being, I want to keep things simple, and I want to focus on the simplest, most immediate kind of boredom. And this is boredom as a psychological state. According to this understanding, boredom is… something like a feeling or an emotion. There is something that it is like to be bored and the onset of boredom brings about changes in what we feel, think, desire and do. Moreover, as a psychological state, boredom is an experience that is typically short lived and situation dependent. Second, boredom is unique. It is not frustration. It isn’t apathy, anger or sadness. It is related to, but also different, than all of those experiences. In fact, boredom has its own experiential signature. Boredom is an unpleasant state, but signals to us the presence of an unsatisfactory situation. At the same time, it contains a strong desire to do something else.
During boredom, we feel both agitated and listless. We are disengaged from and dissatisfied with what we do. Our situation doesn’t hold our attention. It doesn’t interest us. Rather, in a state of boredom, we’re moved to think of alternative situations and goals. We try to leave boredom behind, and if all goes as planned, we move. We move out of it. Boredom thus plays a powerful role in our lives. I like to think of boredom as a form of psychological mechanism. It informs us of the need to change something about ourselves or about our environment and pushes us to do something else. This conclusion is key. Not only does it reveal to us what boredom is, but it also allows us to see why boredom can rise, can give rise to both beneficial and harmful consequences. To deal with boredom, one not only needs to be able to motivate oneself to engage one’s situation, but one must also know what alternative situations will be interesting or meaningful. Now it’s up to us to figure out which of the many available options will positively contribute to our well-being. One may escape boredom by, let’s say, socializing, exercise, playing an instrument, or maybe even writing or creating a piece of software. But one can also alleviate the feelings of boredom by engaging in risky behavior, such as reckless driving, binge drinking or taking selfies at really tall buildings, or this whole waste will be boredom. So what does our discussion so far reveal, if anything, about boredom and it’s value? I think it shows that boredom is, as I mentioned, a useful psychological mechanism. But it also shows that boredom is both a problem and an opportunity. Boredom by itself would not solve inadequate stimulation or lack of engagement in better direction and a kind of knowhow that allows us to use it properly. So using boredom for our benefit, or at least not to our detriment, is a skill. One requires knowledge of oneself, the ability to know how to read a situation and the facility to respond to the situation appropriately. So let me just conclude by putting these observations together, distilling them into claims. I think boredom is both a state of discontent with one situation, but also at the same time, a motivational push to seek escape from the situation. What’s key also, is that it is entirely up to us how we choose to react to boredom. So if we wish to help others with the boredom, we first have to teach them to recognize boredom for what it really is. And so that concludes my very brief introduction setting up, I hope the conversation that’s going to follow. And it is time for me to introduce our first panelist expert, Dr. James Danckert. Dr. James Danckert trained as a clinical neuropsychologist in Australia before coming to Canada to do postdoctoral research in the visual control of actions. He was awarded the Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Waterloo in 2002, where he is currently a professor. His research has explored the neural basis of attention, the construction and updating of mental models, and the behavioral and neural correlates of the experience of boredom, and the propensity to be boredom prone. Welcome, James.
[Dr. James Danckert]: Thanks Andreas. It’s a pleasure to be here and thanks for that lovely introduction. And I want to thank the Institute for Digital Media and Child Development for inviting me to be here, too. Andreas has done most of my work for me here in these early stages of defining boredom, But I really love this picture of a bored child because, clearly you can see that he’s bored, but you can also see a kind of animosity, a kind of hostility in his eyes.
He’s not resigned to being bored, but really quite distressed by it, as Andreas has already pointed out. And given the description, explanation, of boredom, I can probably not spend too much time here, but I also like this quote from Tolstoy from Anna Karenina that describes boredom as the desire for desires. So when we’re bored, we want something. We want something to engage in, that’s meaningful or purposeful to us. But the conundrum of boredom is that we don’t want anything that’s currently available to us. And any of the parents on the webinar right now will recognize this, particularly in young children. When your child comes to you and says, “I’m bored” what they’re really saying is, “I’m bored and I want you to fix it for me.”
And so as the dutiful parent, we kind of trot out options: you know, go play basketball with your friends or read a book, God forbid. And at every turn, any of those options we give the child are dismissed outright. What they’re saying with that dismissal is, they’ve seen those options, too. They know what’s available, but they don’t want those things at this time. And that is the conundrum of boredom. I want to be engaged with the world. I want to be doing something that matters to me, but I don’t want the currently available options. And that’s why boredom is uncomfortable. And unfortunately for the present sort of webinar, we don’t really know a lot about boredom in children from research, particularly in young children under the age of eight or so. What you’re looking at here is data from our lab, from a little under 300 people, in an age range from 8 to 15 years. And it shows that reports of boredom are increasing over that age range in those sort of early to mid teenage years. So that we know that it is a prominent experience for teens, as Andreas also pointed out, and we also know that it’s rising in those teenage years. And we kind of recognize that one of the places that children spend most of their time, schools, is a kind of hotbed for boredom. And this picture from the 1920s shows that tacit, that implicit understanding, that schools can be kind of boredom factories. If you look at the window in this picture, it’s placed up high enough so that students can’t look at it. So what we understood is that we wanted children to focus on their lessons, but our lessons were so boring that we wanted to make sure that they didn’t have any other external distractions, that they wouldn’t look out the window and let their minds wander when they were bored. And to me, that is this tacit acknowledgment that we know that when we put them in these constrained circumstances, where they don’t have much autonomy, that boredom is never really far away.
But then you might have imagined that with the advent of the Internet and social media and smartphones, that boredom would all but disappear. So we have in our hands, the world at our fingertips, and surely with that abundant amount of information that we can just so quickly and easily access, boredom would just go away. What you’re looking at here is data from Elizabeth Weybright and her colleagues showing reports of boredom in the same group of people over the course of a decade. So they tested people, starting from about grade seven and eight, and until about grades 11 and 12, over the course of a decade from 2008 to 2017. And as you can see, these small but significant increases in the reports of boredom, particularly in females over that time. And this is a period of time where smartphones, social media and the Internet became even more prevalent: this is what Jean Twenge calls the iGeneration, the Internet generation. So even with those things at our fingertips, boredom seems like it might be on the rise. But others will talk about boredom in this forum, but suffice it to say here, that I think I see smartphones and social media as a passive solution to boredom. So when we go to our phones and when we doom scrolling through Twitter, sure, our minds are occupied, but it’s not particularly meaningful and it’s not particularly active. It’s not allowing us to demonstrate our own agency. And for that reason, it’s not a particularly useful solution to boredom. This is data from the same group, Elizabeth Weybright’s group here led by Perone and it’s showing you boredom proneness. So Andreas talked about the psychological state of boredom, boredom proneness is the individual trait disposition to experience the state of boredom frequently and intensely. And on the left there you can see, as I showed you earlier from our own data, that in those early-teen to mid-teen years, that boredom proneness is on the rise. However, in those later years, the 16, 17 and 18, you can see it slow down with turn in reports of boredom proneness. And that’s a really important age range, that’s an age range where we see the last stages of brain maturation come online. And it comes online for part of the brain known as the frontal cortex, which is really important for all of these very complex skills like self-control and impulse control, to avoid those risky behaviors that Andreas talked about. And so, it’s no coincidence that boredom starts to drop off as the teens start to gain more self-control. Interestingly, on the right, though, reports of those in the moment state feelings of boredom, tend to rise over the teenage years regardless. And so the experience is still prominent, our ability perhaps to cope with it might change in those late-teenage, early twenties years. This is data from our lab and we typically get people, we only get people as young as 17, and up to, you can see that, to the fifties and sixties. And what you’re seeing on the left, is that indeed, people who are under the age of 30 report higher levels of boredom than those over 30. On the right we’re showing the relationship here with self-control, that ability to marshal your thoughts, your actions and your emotions in the pursuit of goals. And in those warmer orange and red colors are representations of higher self-control. So the more self-control we have, the less boredom we feel. And we tend to get more self-control as we age. And again, that critical period of the late teenage, to early twenties years is important here: where the last part of your brain is coming online, fully maturing, and allowing you to exert that kind of self-control. So I’ll finish up briefly here, with my 8 minutes to talk a little bit about the brain.Our group has done some work with functional magnetic resonance imaging and EEG, and I’m happy to talk about that in the question period. But here I want to talk about the consequences of what’s known as a traumatic brain injury. This is where the brain is shaken around inside the skull, and that can come from anything from concussions in sports, to falls, and more severe things like motor vehicle accidents. The part of the brain that’s typically damaged in these acceleration-deceleration injuries, is known as the orbitofrontal cortex: the part of the brain that sits just above your eyes. And this part of the brain is critical for representing value and reward, so it represents what matters most to you. So we’ve investigated what the consequences of damage to this part of the brain are for boredom proneness. And what you can see here, is that in individuals who’ve reported having at least one concussion in their past, these individuals report higher levels of auto-proneness than people who’ve had no concussions. So that orange bar is slightly higher than the blue. And in a smaller group of people who’ve had much more severe traumatic brain injuries or TBIs, we see, again, an elevated level of boredom proneness. So what that suggests to me, is that when you have damage to that part of the brain, that is important for representing value and reward, you have a resetting of thresholds for what is engaging, stimulating and meaningful to you- making it harder for the individual to engage with the world in purposeful ways. And it’s that part of the brain that comes online in the late adolescent, early twenties years. And so it’s not coincidental that this part of the brain is important for boredom proneness and our ability to cope with being bored. I think that’s my 8 minutes, so I’m happy to sort of chat with Andreas about things.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Yeah, well, thank you so much, James, for such thought provoking presentation, and for illuminating the nature of boredom and how you relates to both self-control and perhaps how it also changes through the years and how when children grow older: a lot of our viewers and the audience had to question that I recorded a couple of times, so I think it’s important to mention and that I would like your opinion on this. And they’re asking about the relationship between boredom and laziness. Yeah. So if you can speak to that, that would be great.
[Dr. James Danckert]: It’s a common thing that people say you know, “you’re just being lazy if you’re not out there engaging with the world. There’s a ton of things for us to do, the world is rich with activities that we could engage in, just get off the couch and don’t be so lazy.” But boredom is not laziness. Boredom is not the couch potato. In that image that I started with with the bored child, I mentioned that he’s quite hostile to the boredom. He really doesn’t want to be bored. And that is that characteristic of boredom as a motivational state: when we’re bored, we want something. When we’re apathetic, we just don’t care. And so laziness is really much closer to apathy than it ever is to boredom. As you point out, boredom is this push, this call to action, to make you find something that matters to you, to engage with the world. And I think one of the most common words that people use in association with being bored, when we ask them, “what’s it feel like?” is restlessness or agitation. And when you’re being lazy, you don’t feel restless and you don’t feel agitated, so I think those things characterize boredom much more as this kind of motivational state.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Fantastic. Thanks so much, James. I will now move to our next panelist, Dr. Susan Matt is coauthor with Luke Fernandes of “Bored and Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Changing Feelings about Technology from the Telegraph to Twitter”. She’s also author of Home Sickness and American History and Keeping Up with the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer Society. She is presidential, distinguished professor of History at Weber State University, where she teaches courses on the history of emotion in US social history, among other topics. Welcome, Susan.
[Dr. Susan Matt]: Well, thanks for the opportunity to talk. I’m excited to be here and I’m talking to you about boredom because, as Andreas mentioned with Luke Fernandez, who’s a tech theorist, I wrote a book on how technology has changed our emotions, from the telegraph to Twitter, and we combined our two areas of expertise. Luke is, as I mentioned, a tech theorist as well as a programmer, and I’m a historian of emotion, so we brought those two bodies of knowledge together. One of the states we studied was boredom, and we were curious to see how technologies over the last two centuries had affected, in particular, Americans in our lives. So while James has talked about how boredom changes over the course of one life, we’ve looked at how it’s changed over the course of many decades and it’s an interesting story. One thing that makes it interesting, is that the condition did not really exist until the 19th century. There was no word “boredom” until the 1850s. The word bored and boring existed in the 18th century, those are words people use to describe the qualities of things, the qualities of experience. But the idea of having an inner state of boredom, an inner state of unease, distress, dissatisfaction that only entered English in the 1850s. That’s not to say that people in the past didn’t feel vexed occasionally, when their work was monotonous or dull, or their days were dull. But they talk about the outside world being dull, not their inner state of being. Here’s just an example we pulled from a diary we found while doing our research, and again and again in this diary, this doctor just keeps talking about how dull it is. But what we found was that people were not particularly worried or troubled by the fact that their lives could be boring. That was part of what you expected with life. It was part of the human condition, perhaps. Perhaps people also had a wider array of resources to fight back against the dullness. In the diaries we examined, we found lots of people talking about the ways they would combat what came to be known as boredom, whether it was by quote building air castles in their minds, or reading or walking or dreaming, but people were not as alarmed. Perhaps it’s little wonder, then, that in 1890, one of the best sellers of the year was this book “Blessed be Drudgery,” which sort of talked about the virtuous state of doing the same old, same old, that life in a rut wasn’t so bad. And I think that gives you a sense of the different dispositions people had in earlier decades. What we found in our research, was at the turn of the century, the last century, as work became more automated, automated as people began to work in assembly lines, they certainly complained about the tedium they faced and called it boredom. And they often sought relief in new technologies, like first the phonograph, the movie theater, the radio. Some people at the time worried that they were deadening their senses by going to these mass entertainments that didn’t necessarily have a redemptive value. Some people thought that these technologies and in particular the radio, was making people less capable of sitting in solitude. So this current concern about screens has antecedents nearly a century old. And so people in the teens and twenties and thirties, were already debating what phonographs, phones, movies and radios were doing to people’s heads and hearts. And meanwhile, technology companies with these new entertainments were also marketing them as solutions to boredom. We’ve found advertisements for phonographs that say, you know, “your house in the isolated countryside no longer need to be so, so quiet and dull. You can have the entertainment within it.” So, technology companies a century ago began to realize that there was a big business in marketing to end dullness and boredom. In the 1930s, 1940 and 1950s, psychoanalysts and psychologists began to pay more attention to the condition. One psychoanalyst, Otto Fenecal, declared in the 1930s that people had a right to be diverted. People had a right to be entertained. In 1957, in a landmark study, a psychologist coined the phrase “the pathology of boredom” and declared that humans needed to be stimulated and needed to have a diversity of inputs to keep their minds healthy. By the 1980s, a boredom-proneness scale had been developed, and psychologists of various stripes were offering ways to measure and combat the emotion. When new technologies like TVs came into every household, some saw this as a solution to boredom, but others declared that it was causing a new epidemic of boredom and by the 1960s, people were talking about how bored these kinds of screens, television screens were, were making the American population. Certainly that has continued in the age of the smartphone. Here is a slightly dated Onion headline, which I still think is funny, which talks about the micro boredom people might feel as they glance between screens. Luke and I did oral histories with dozens of Americans, and what we found was that in the age of digital devices, people have become extremely uncomfortable with empty time. One of our interviewees called it dangerous to feel bored, because people don’t know how to sit quietly…don’t know how to just let the world happen around them without engaging with their phone. And overall, what we found in our book was that Americans had developed kind of a sense of the limitlessness of their selves, and a hope for unlimited entertainment that the world should give you endless stimulation. And we feel like this is quite a new sense of self that’s been developing in the last few years as people have higher expectations and social connection, higher expectations of endless stimulation and perhaps somewhat fewer resources to deal with the world when it doesn’t give them that, I’ll stop there. Thanks.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Thank you so much, Susan, for the presentation. And I, there are a lot of questions that our audience submitted that I think work really well with your presentation. And I’m sure we’ll get the opportunity to ask some of those questions. But there’s one that stands out and repeated in the Q&A, in the submissions: Is there a way that we can reclaim or reframe boredom? Given, you know, you’ve done all this study, historically speaking, how the notion and concept of boredom has changed. Now it seems that it has negative connotations for most people. Is there a way to see it differently?
[Dr. Susan Matt]: For sure. I think that’s one of the kind of, consolations that history offers us, is that it allows us to see how other generations considered empty time. And often people talked about empty time as opportunity for solitude. And solitude they saw as a revitalizing moment with yourself, to refresh yourself, renew yourself before rejoining society. So and there are other words they used as well, whether it was repose or rest, or I’m sometimes just empty moments, but it need not have a negative connotation.It’s only really in the last oh, certainly over the course of the last 20th century, that it’s become this this negative state. And so if we can remember that other generations dealt with similar, similar situations, but didn’t always intrope them so negatively, that may help us.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Fascinating. Thank you so much. I will now turn to our next panelist and expert, Dr. Natalie Spencer Gwyn is a core fact faculty member at Walton University in the School of Counseling. Before moving into higher education, she worked as a high school counselor and Student Assistance Counselor for many years. She’s also the author of “Mindful Practices for Helping Troubled Teens” and the coauthor of “15 Minute Focus: Diversity, Bias and Privilege, Addressing Racial Inequalities to Create Inclusive Learning Environments.” She’s a licensed clinical mental health counselor in the state of North Carolina and owns a small private practice, Gywn counseling and consulting. Welcome, Natalie.
[Dr. Natalie Spencer Gwyn]: Thank you. Welcome everyone. Hopefully everyone is able to see my screen. And once again, I am Dr. Natalie Spencer Gywn. I am a core faculty member at Walden University. I’m a former high school counselor and a licensed clinical mental health counselor in the state of North Carolina. I have extensive experience working with children, teens and young adults. And as you can imagine, boredom has been, probably a part of my practice as a school counselor, and also as a clinical mental health counselor, ever since I started and definitely something that I experienced as a parent too to three young children. I have a three year old and 17 month old twins. So how do you recognize boredom? As our panelists have stated earlier, and it’s important for caregivers, teachers, counselors and other youth service providers to recognize boredom and also to acknowledge when we see boredom in our children especially, and our children attending school, our youth attending school or those in school age. As James mentioned, boredom can be associated with some risk taking and sensation seeking behaviors. And we see this quite a bit with some of our younger children and teens, especially young adults, where they’re trying to process everything. As James mentioned, their brain is still developing and when they’re bored, they’re unfamiliar or they haven’t quite develop the skill set order to redirect themselves, even though as adults it’s a little bit difficult.
But you can only imagine when you have a five year old or seven year old or even a 16 year old when they’re bored or maybe tired or restless, it’s going to be hard for them to find some way to redirect themselves. And also their redirection can be very limited, especially if you’re under adult supervision, which most of them are all the time. Or you’re in a classroom setting where you really can’t go outside of your classroom. You can’t really get up out of your seat. So you’re a little bit limited as far as what you can do. And in that regard, when I would work with teachers or other counselors or even parents and they would ask questions, well, my child is getting bored at school, what can I do? That’s where we want to sit down and have some conversations with teachers and we’ll talk about this a little bit. So how do you recognize boredom? For some, it can look like behavioral concerns, such as disruptive classroom behaviors. Either they are constantly talking out of turn, they’re disruptive, have had an outburst in the classroom, an outburst whether they’re in other physical activities or group activities, whether they’re a dance class or extracurricular activities. Sometimes it’s school avoidance. I would see this quite a bit as a counselor working in the schools where some of our children, they would feel very bored in their classes. Maybe they would finish their assignments a little bit early, so they would skip school, they would not attend school. We also had some children that we call runners where they would get to school and then they would run off campus. We also see boredom in some of our younger children and teens and young adults, as procrastination. And this can happen because they’re like, “Oh, this isn’t exciting, this isn’t fun. I’m not enjoying what I’m doing.” So they’re just going to delay and put off time and time again, of doing certain activities. And then you see parents coming to me as a clinical counselor, say, I’m always having to nudge my child or to try to get my child or young adult to do their homework or to complete chores, or to do other activities that they need to do and they’re waiting until the last minute. And that’s when we see some of this procrastination because, it’s just not interesting and it’s not fun to them. And also we see boredom sometimes can show up with sensory issues. And this can come where children or young adults or teens, they’re having issues where they’re constantly tapping their fingers or they’re shaking their leg or they’re fidgeting in their chair. So they’re seeking some type of sensation from a sensory issue. So sometimes you’ll see kids might have different things on their desk, or parents might give them different things, or or even as counselors, you can suggest that parents provide them with some type of sensory activity, whether it’s one of those little pop things that children use today to help them, or even one of the spinners, if it’s allowed for them where they’re located. Also, just want to talk a little bit about boredom and diverse learners, because I have a background in working with diverse learners, children from different cultures and youth from different cultures and backgrounds and ethnicities. I also want to just point out, that we all learn different. And we all experience our world according to our worldview, and also maybe some of the nuances that we we pick up from our own cultural understanding. Boredom can look different when you have someone who is on the autism spectrum. We know that that spectrum is so wide, where we have children that can display some extremely wonderful, talented gifts as far as their academic abilities. And then we have some children that need some additional support. We will see sometimes that some of our gifted and talented students experience boredom in their classes, or tiredness or listlessness. And that’s where we can get teachers involved and parents involved to look at maybe some other ways that we can challenge them. We also have children that are coming from diverse backgrounds, but sometimes their boredom is often viewed as behavioral issues and concerns. And this is where I would see quite a bit in my practice as a counselor, licensed clinical mental health counselor, I would have children that would come down to the school counselor office or even the discipline office because they’re not paying attention. And sometimes when students are in school or youths are in school, it’s very hard for them to transition in some of that structured environment. And also we know that children from diverse and cultural backgrounds, we need to think about their different learning styles. And as educators, I would always encourage teachers to really think about ways that you can engage students using all of our senses and also using movement, music and arts. And that’s something we can talk about too, as far as what parents can do. If you are a parent and you’re noticing that your child is bored and restless, how you can incorporate that. So if you’re a parent or educator on this webinar, please think about how you are engaging your students who are using your classroom and how you can maybe diversify your teaching methods or skills or even what can do to really enhance leadership, and that’s what I have here next. Recognize when there are times of boredom: think about, if you’re noticing, if you’re a parent, that your child seems bored or restless in the evening or in the morning or around lunchtime, maybe we need to think about incorporating different strategies or different skills around those times. We also want to provide alternative stimulation, and I’m going to talk about some of those things that, what you can do as far as this free and low cost, maybe do a puzzle or maybe participate in other activities or even just get to know your neighborhood a little bit more, go outside. Also, when we work with diverse learners, it’s important to really tap into those leadership opportunities. For some reason the children, our youth that are in the stage where they’re tired or restless, they are very good as far as the following directions, If you give them specific tasks to do. So maybe encourage them to serve as a classroom leader or serve as a helper for younger siblings, or even seek out volunteer opportunities that center around their interests; whether it’s comic books or reading or doing anything out in the garden or out in the yard or even skateboarding and anything that they like. Really find those leadership activities that they can take on. Also, it’s important to engage in effective dialogue. Think about the developmental level of the youth that you’re working with, in particular, whether it’s our little bitty children or our teens, I know when I am having a dialogue with my three year old, I always want to make it as specific and as short as possible as far as giving him options. You know, just maybe one or two what would you like to do? How would you like to do it? How can we do this thing differently? And then as you work with some of the older children and teens, and then you can engage them more asking them, you know, how would you do this? Give me a step by step plan of how we can go about making this better or different. But it’s important to encourage that dialogue and have those conversations because when they come to you, as Jane said, “I’m bored.” We don’t want to dismiss it. We want to make sure that we are remaining as proactive as we can instead of just being very reactive, dismissive, and really starting to encourage negative feelings and emotions that sometimes our children and youth can experience when they feel dismissed or not heard or listened to. So here’s just some final support for teachers, counselors and caregivers: Once again, seek out support from mentors, understand where boredom comes from, and when and where it starts. Never assume that a child is not engaged just because they won’t listen or that they’re lazy, as some of our panelists mentioned, because we know that we will never call ourselves lazy when we’re bored. And also we don’t want to start that negative association with some of our young children and teenagers by constantly sending them to behavioral disciplinary behaviors, or even trying to redirect them when they’re not at the time for them to learn. Once again, engage, seek professional help, mentors, leadership organizations, and special interest groups that foster creativity. And for parents and other educators: just make sure that you’re patient. Solutions will not come overnight. And also, don’t be afraid to think outside the box . Try things that what you might not do necessarily, and then when you’re taking those risk taking behaviors together and within a safe area and then you’re also encouraging your children and teens and young adults to take risks in a safe space; but you’re doing it together, so you’re modeling that healthy behavior. So I’d like to say, thank you.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Thank you very much, Natalie, for a wonderful presentation and for showing us the many faces of boredom and the recommendations of how to deal with boredom. One of the questions that was submitted has to do with how to best respond to boredom, and our participant is asking what are some perhaps easy, maybe affordable, go to activities that parents can set up for their children at home? So if they’re bored or if they’re bored, they have something to do, or even preemptively, perhaps to alleviate feelings of boredom.
[Dr. Natalie Spencer Gwyn]: Great. That’s a really wonderful question. And, you know, I practice this every day with my own children and also children that I’ve worked with in the past. But for parents, I really encourage to use any open ended activities such as blocks, Legos, magnet house, or even just construction, paper and scissors and paint, and just really have those readily available for children and teens to go and get those off shelves, and so that they can redirect themselves- or if they’re bored with one activity, they can go and get something else. So just really encouraging self-direction and also just choice. So maybe having those activities readily available. Also, some things you can do is just to encourage students. Ah, I’m sorry, I keep saying students because I’m in a classroom setting, but I encourage youth to go outside. One thing that I’m also doing with my children, I encourage parents to do too, and also educators- is to create a touch, feel and smell garden. So you’re using all of the different senses. And then that way it’s something that if you’re outside or it can encourage your youth to take on leadership activities, and because they’re watering the garden and then they’re also participating in it. You can keep a journal about the growth of the plants and what you’re noticing and what you’re smelling and what you’re feeling. So really incorporating all of those senses. And then also maybe if you have teenagers, use some tik-tok dance videos, you know, I know we don’t want to encourage using screen time, but you can just find some and say, “Hey, let’s recreate this dance.” Or just come up with your own dance and or your own story. And those are some really free things that you can do and I think that are encouraging for parents to help with that boredom time.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Excellent. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer the question. And now I will introduce our fourth panelist, Dr. Caley Arzamarski is a school psychologist specializing in child, adolescent and family therapy, as well as school consultation. Caley currently serves as an outpatient psychologist and member of the Interdisciplinary Crisis Clinic Team and facilitates iFriend social skills group at Bradley Hospital. Her research interests include evaluation and implementation of preventative positive approaches to parenting and schools. Welcome, Caley.
[Dr. Caley Arzamarski]: Hi, everybody. I’m so privileged to be here today. I have absolutely loved kind of sitting back and taking notes and hearing my co-presenters talk and discuss all of their research and their interests. And I just want to start off by telling you guys a little bit about me. Andreas, thank you for introducing sort of my roles here at Bradley Hospital. So one important thing about me that’s not on here, that Andreas didn’t share, is that I am a new mother. So. Well, it’s new to me. Even though she’s 18 months old, my daughter, Charlie Grace, has been, it has been the most amazing experience of my life to be able to watch her grow, like similar to other panelists who have shared about their children as well. But I think now I have a different perspective on the work I do with kids and families because I’m in the trenches and I can see and feel how challenging it is. So I have my early training as a school psychologist. So like Natalie, I have a lot of that background with more of a systemic perspective, thinking about universal prevention. How can we help kids do the best they can? Catch them being good, have relationships be built? So with different teachers and classmates, so much of the research I’ve done has been about making school more fun, and and how do we do that? So, my time in training, I also worked with some early intervention, working throughout Boston, which was amazing. I was able to learn about different families and cultures and all different backgrounds. So when I was asked to do this, this presentation, I was a little hesitant because I thought, “Wow, there’s so much to talk about and sort of not a ton of time to do it.” So I’m so glad to have the help of my colleagues on here as well as some of the questions for you guys. I also run a social skills group for kids who are age 8 to 11, who present with difficulties making friends. The clinical presentation is quite diverse. Kids can present from a mental health standpoint. They have been diagnosed with ADHD, social anxiety. Some kids are on the Autism spectrum, and as Natalie shared, that is such a broad range of different presentations. So that has been an amazing opportunity for me to learn more about kids, how to prevent boredom by running a group like that, that’s for sure, with a lot of high energy kids. And then I also work on the diversity committee here with recruitment. So all the things that are really important to me and most importantly, I just want to reiterate, I don’t feel like I’m an expert. I feel like you all as parents and as clinicians and as workers, are experts of your own children. And I think that’s something that’s so important. So I just wanted to kind of state that at the beginning: I think, you know, we all have our strengths and things that we’re working on, but it’s really important to to keep in mind that you guys know your children best. And to be trusting that and to know that every child is different, and their strengths and differences are what make them unique. And that’s our job as parents, to be able to help kids foster that. So this topic of boredom and in this digital age is so important and I’m so happy to be here. So I just wanted to take a minute to stop and think. I just find it funny that we’re all learning about boredom and we’re in this like really important discussion here and, and it’s probably the opposite of that, right? But we’re all here with some hope of finding what can we do to help our kids through boredom? I think that it’s safe to say we’re all probably a little bit anxious about it. So I want to just take a minute and think about a time when you were growing up, no matter what that time period was and think about a time when you are in one particular place. So for me, what comes up is when I was in long car rides with my brother, all right? And so I like to think of a time when you were in a space where you felt this intense, overwhelming experience or psychological state of boredom and take a minute and just sit with it. Think about what came up for you. For me, when I was in that for me, in the car with my brother, I have a big brother. I was uncomfortable. I was constantly agitating my mom: What can I do? What can we do? When are we there? Are we there yet? Those repeated questions, and I think one of the things that I learned in my upbringing that I was so lucky to have, was that in that time where I was sitting with myself and my family, I had to actually create a time to imagine and to think of something creative. What can I do in this time? My brother and I did the most ridiculous things. We pretended we were clay figures and we made each other into clay. And like, you know, he used to have me pick my nose and do things like this, right? Whatever it was that you were thinking of it, it fostered an opportunity for you to have a little bit of stillness and think about what can I create? What can I imagine? So I just think it’s important for all of us to tap into that as we’re thinking about boredom. So this is just, in my background, one of the really important things that I wanted to just remind everyone is that as individuals, we are nested within different layers of our culture and our context, right? So without getting into all the details of Brofenbrenner’s model, I think what’s really important, if we look at this outside purple Chronosystem, this is a newer nested level that has been added into this work, because if we think about historical time, as Susan mentioned, we know that there is a lot of change that has occurred in the last 40 years. We know that screens and digital technology and all of these things have really impacted a lot of how we parent and it’s kind of the first time in history. Well, Susan, you might disagree with me because I know you are an expert with that. But one of the first times where our parents couldn’t teach us how to parent in this world of the digital age, and that makes this extremely challenging. And I often feel that in the work I do in the crisis clinic here, I’m feeling I tend to work as an interpreter. I was in college when Facebook came out, right? So I have a life without it, but then I have it now with it. So it’s just an interesting thing to think about it that we are all impacted by all of these different levels in our upbringing. So when we think about the importance of leisure across development, technically leisure is the freedom provided by the cessation of activities, especially free time. So when we think about how kids develop and how we learn, they’re typically presented with five developmental domains. So socially, emotionally, physically, cognitively, language: and then I would argue that play is its own domain, where kids can be really good at playing. It’s also in the literature is shown to be a facilitator of all of these different ways to learn and develop your skills as a child. My supervisor, Dr. Karen Lester at Northeastern, she studied this and created the developmental play assessment, as a way to kind of think about how we learn and develop across those ways. So we think about infants and toddlers: this is Charlie Grace, this is my daughter. This is, she is sitting in my dragon box that I made when I was stuck in the house on a rainy day. And I think it was interesting, James, that you mentioned that we don’t know a lot in the data about young children and boredom, and I think that’s probably because they are not bored. And that’s that’s anecdotal in that statement. But I think when I say that, I mean kids like Charlie Grace and other young children are constantly present in the environment. They’re present with their senses. Now, I love, love, love that idea of a sensory garden. It’s so cool. I sometimes take kids, no matter what age, on sensory walks here. And so one of the things we’ll talk about is mindfulness. But noticing. What do you hear? What do you smell? You know, all of these different components of growing up are important, but how important it is for us to have leisure time with our children as they’re developing across all of these age. With school age children, we know that they’re becoming more impacted by all of these other social aspects of life right? Thinking about how we make friends, how do we keep friends? And as adolescents, what happens in their leisure time is a lot different. And I’m so glad to be going last, because I think that this is one of my favorite tools to use with kids and families in my office. This was, this is an amazing study called the Adolescent Brain, this is just one piece of it. And so what we see and what, as Dr. Danckert mentioned earlier, is that emotion brain, the limbic region of kids’ brains, develops first. The part that catches up is the prefrontal cortex. So why this is important, I always say to kids and families, we are actually serving as these teenagers’ frontal lobes. We are helping them to be able to make better decisions, to help them to stop and plan. This gap here is because there is a deficit there, because their brains are forming from the bottom up. Right? So I always like to show this to parents because they find it so validating in family sessions. Like, Oh, of course, of course.
So when we have leisure time, how are we helping kids to develop different ways to use that time? So I found this is one of my favorite books. I’m not sure, Natalie, if you’ve had it before, so let me share it. Well, I have it in in the resources as well: But it’s Child Development Across Cultural Contexts, and one of the things that I just think we’d be remiss if we didn’t speak about, in addition to the diverse learners that Natalie spoke about, also, that there are really differences in how we view and value time. So speaking of time, I’m running a little bit behind and have to speed up to get to the other slides as well. But we know that in our culture, often times we have a lot more leisure time, so we look at some of the aggregate study that was done in 1999, which is quite a long time ago. We saw that American adolescents have six and a half to 8 hours of free time a day. European youth had a little bit less, 5.5 to 7.5 hours a day. Again, these are ranges in East Asian youth range between 4 to 5 and a half hours. So why do we think that is? Well, I think there’s so many different cultural factors we can think about, but we know we know that different cultures value different things. So, for example, in South Korea, there is such a value of education that kids are studying in their free time and they actually feel really negatively around boredom. They don’t like to be bored, they don’t like to have free time, as what you know, some of the studies have found. So we also know that in places like Kenya, the time is used to be getting water, to be getting ,to be farming. I mention Kenya because I was able to do some research there, and talk about mental health across Eldoret, which is a low and middle income area within Kenya. So I just think it’s really important to think about all of these pieces because we have a lot of free time and if we don’t put it in the context of the bigger picture of things, we can often lose track of how, what a privilege it is to have that free time as well. So getting to the good stuff and I’ll speed it up on Andreas, I’m sure you’re ready for the questions and things. One of my favorite things to think about is a “me box.” And so at Charlie’s daycare, they have this quiet time space and it’s just based on, you know, what are some things you can put in a small box and have there? It’s similar to what I always shared. If you’re really bored and you have some leisure time, what can I do that I can just do quietly and not have to ask moms permission,right? So you can create this together. Outdoor play, as Natalie mentioned. And one of the most important things I’m going to talk about today is, just a chance to talk and listen. You know, we know connectedness is so important and we know that relationships are the basis of almost every evidence based practice when it comes to like, making change in behavior. We know that that happens when you are building a relationship. And a lot of times that comes through talking and listening. I think sometimes intervention in my office in the crisis clinic is just parents having an hour with their child to sit and listen, to hear the questions I’m asking, to have a conversation to facilitate that discussion. So when kids are bored, I often see it similar to what Susan shared, I see it as an opportunity to be able to have a conversation and connect, right? We know that. So other things to think about: when we slow down and have a lot of time, I think kids often have access to difficult feelings that come up. So I think about that almost like a snowglobe, or if you shake it up and it’s constantly moving, you really aren’t able to let some of those thoughts and feelings settle. But when we are bored, those actually that’s what happens. And I think some kids find it really, really difficult to sit with those emotions. So having an opportunity to be bored can actually be practice, right? It’s about finding a balance. So having practice to be bored is just, it’s another skill. That’s the way I see it. It’s similar to going to the gym, lifting weights, right? You get better and better at it. You feel good about it. It’s really hard to be bored for a lot of us and for a lot of kids, especially now with so many screens, so many things going on. So I have this one bullet exposures, because I think it’s just important to notice that some kids, as you’re practicing kind of sitting in the silence, sitting with not a lot to do, that gets easier over time. So being able to think about that from an anxiety perspective and also thinking about mindfulness and modeling for our kids, how do we use our own time, right? As parents? So I think this is just one of my absolute favorite books, which I’ll reference in the next slide. Everyday Blessings is about, kind of presenting, showing up as a parent and doing things in a way that you’re mindful of your own self, your own thoughts, your feelings. I think, I love this part of the book: It says being a parent is particularly intense and demanding, in part because, our children can ask things of us no one else could or would, in ways that no one else could or would. They see us up close, as no one does, and constantly hold mirrors up for us to look into. And doing so, they give us over and over again the chance to see ourselves in new ways and to work consciously asking what we can learn from any and every situation that comes up with them. So thinking about using these opportunities of boredom to sit and connect with the child. These are just a couple of my favorite books that I just absolutely love. Hunt, Gather, Parent I can’t recommend enough. It’s about a woman who takes her three year old daughter across cultures to three different places and learns from different ancient cultures and tribes how they parent. So here are some references. And, you know, just thank you again for this opportunity. It’s so lovely to be here and to be thinking outside the box with you all.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Thank you so much, Caley. And thanks to everybody who has been submitting questions. We have been inundated with your questions and we’re delighted to have the opportunity to answer the questions. So I’m going to, given the moment, I will open it up to a group discussion with all the panelists, and we can consider some of the questions that have been submitted. Let me begin with this one and we can all have this conversation. And I’m interested to hear everyone’s opinions on this: Our participants are asking whether we can, whether we can be a bit more specific about the value and risks of boredom, especially as those may manifest themselves at different stages, developmental ages and different stages through young children, adolescence, etc..So I was wondering if you had any suggestions or thoughts about the possible harms and benefits at different age stages?
[Dr. James Danckert]: I feel, I’ll jump in quickly there Andreas, and I might be a bit of an outlier here. I don’t think boredom, in that sense when we feel it in the moment is good, bad, it’s what we do with it that matters, right? So there might be some negative outcomes if our responses to it are not great. But you know, people love to think about this notion of a correlation between boredom and creativity, boredom won’t make us creativity any more than it will make us be reckless. Those are choices that we make. In terms of with kids, I mean, I think some of the other studies have touched on this. So I’ll say something very briefly and then let them jump in, is that I think we can think about with our kids, planning for their boredom. So that if you can sit down and talk to them in moments when they’re not bored and say, okay, you know what this feels like, next time when it comes on, what’s your list of four things that you might go to? And then you know, if you sit with them and to a point that I think that Natalie made, TikTok dance videos. Our engagement with screens and our engagement with media is not good or bad either. It’s how we engage that matters. And so if you’re actively making a TikTok with a kid, I think that’s fantastic, right? So I don’t think boredom should be cast as an evil or good. I think it’s just a signal telling us to find something and it really becomes up to us what we do with it.
[Dr. Natalie Spencer Gwyn]: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Just to just piggyback on what James said, it’s is not good or bad. I know some parents think, oh, well, you know, my children are in school all day. You know, I have to have structured time for them 24 hours a day, every day. And we want to think about the opposite. And as James mentioned, we want to create those opportunities. As Caley said she would go on a car ride with her brother, you know, maybe as a parent or maybe as a caregiver, you can say, okay, we’re going to be in the car for 2 hours. Let’s go ahead and plan out what we’re going to do or we’re going to go to this event or we’re going to go to, you know, like your brother’s band concert or sporting event…How can we make sure that we are preparing ourselves for these periods of inattentiveness, or boredom and make the most out of it? So just create different games that they can readily go to and you can readily achieve. And also, as James mentioned, sometimes we do those risk taking behaviors when we’re bored. But as parents, maybe we can model some risk taking behaviors too, that are not so risky, but they can also encourage growth, self-development and also engagement in conversations.
[Dr. James Danckert]: Speaking to that Natalie, I think, and I’d like to hear other people’s thoughts on this is that the child has, you have to get buy in, from the child so that the child has to see their own agency in whatever that plan is. They have to have some sense of control or autonomy that they helped create whatever it is that you’re going to do to plan for those as you put them.
[Dr. Caley Arzamarski]: Yeah, I’ll just add that, you know, collaborative problem solving is one of our most effective tools that we use in school systems where it involves kids, sometimes families and teachers, all problem solving together to figure out, you know what, what can we do to help the situation? And I often think that my office also is like just a conduit for having conversations about these things, right? I’m so glad, James, that you brought up that idea of like not being good or bad, and I think that it’s so important that we keep that in mind for screens and technology as well, right? Like everything is about a balance, like this new outer layer of how our kids are developing. It’s just the reality, whether we like it or not. Technology is here, right? And it’s just so important that we’re having these conversations like, thank you children and screens for allowing them for allowing us to discuss this. But I think that balance is such a key, whether that’s with boredom or with screens and technology, just it’s really important to have that balance.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Thank you for the responses. And as a follow up to that question, it was mentioned and I think, Caley, you mentioned that you talked about in your presentation, in your work, and I think it was touched upon with Natalie and Susan as well. There is a way that we get to talk about boredom, and we can frame the discussion around the issue of boredom and so I was wondering if we can talk a little bit about whether we have any suggestions of how to talk to children about boredom, that would allow them to give them the tools to react to them in a productive way? And James mentioned, you know, the child comes to you asking for advice, but you give them a list of activities, and he will not be satisfied. Because he has to be, it has to come from them. And so I was wondering if you, given your work in your research, if you have any suggestions or tips to share with our audience about how to probably talk about boredom?
[Dr. James Danckert]: Yeah, no one wants to jump in. I feel like Caley and Natalie might be best positioned for this more than myself. So I’m just going to jump in so that we can break the silence, because I don’t deal well with silence. I have two teenagers; a 15 and 18 year old and the time for younger kids and dealing with this is long sort of passed for me. And so I don’t have any great advice, except that I really do believe this data showing that during the pandemic, people who planned for their boredom had better mental health outcomes. So I don’t have great specific ideas for people, but I do encourage get that plan going, sit down with your kid in a calm time, because boredom is also very agitating and restless and you know, it’s aggressive as an experience in a lot of ways. So don’t do it when they’re bored. Do it when they’re not bored. Sit down and say, okay, next time you’re bored, this is, what you know, let’s think of four things you can do and they have to come from you. But I don’t have any great suggestions because, you know, my kids are past that era and in the lack of frontal lobe era that Caley talked about.
[Dr. Susan Matt]: I was just going to throw out that I think boredom and loneliness are often correlated. And I mean, the easiest way is to seek sociability, which may happen through your screen, but ideally would happen face to face to mitigate the boredom of the screen. And so, you know, planning for social occasions as a way to get back to face to face time.
[Dr. Natalie Spencer Gwyn]: And I always like to encourage parents and also with my own children and just with myself, really focus on those emotions. So when you’re bored, how do you feel? Are you angry? Are you frustrated? Are you sad? Really have those conversations. So maybe even just creating a feeling board or something where you as a parent, you can put up different happy face, fsad ace angry face, like calm face, and then the child can go and a young adult can go to it and say, Hey, this is how I’m feeling right now, and then open up those conversations. And sometimes parents, I also encourage them to have a code word, you know, like if you have your child, they’re feeling bored or restless: you say, okay, “bananas.” You know, that could just be your word. We know that we need to to try something different or we need to give them a little bit more of my attention, or we need to have a conversation.
[Dr. Caley Arzamarski]: Yeah, I agree. And Natalie, it’s almost like that’s the snowglobe piece, right? Like when when everything settles, what are those emotions that are coming up? Why is it so hard to sit with some of those sometimes? Whether it’s loneliness, as you shared Susan, or something else coming up, I have so many thoughts about this. And I think one of the things that I often, or that I really appreciated about James’ conversation or his presentation, was thinking about the desire for desires, which is funny that that was from Tolstoy because there was not a lot going on that time. But I think that it’s often wanting something meaningful and purposeful, and I think a lot of kids, school age kids, adolescents who are developing their identity are really wanting to be good at something, right? And this is like an appropriate time to not be good at something because you’re figuring it out, right? I think about, like the reason I wrote, I this really tiny, tiny brief article in the Brown newsletter about being bored and like the art of boredom. And the reason I wrote it is because I went on vacation, and for the first time, like since being a poor grad student. I actually had nothing planned for a week with my best friends. And it took me like three days to be able to finally sit with like… the discomfort of not knowing what to do right? And not having anything to occupy every minute of my day. So when I talk about balance, like, you know, a lot of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is developing mastery in something, figuring out what am I good at, what do I feel good about doing? And in that process, how can we help kids also be connected with others, too? Which is, I think, a big part of what boredom is about: feeling possibly lonely or feeling a lot of different things.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Thank you, Caley. And thanks to Natalie and James and Susan for answers to this difficult, but very important question. Another question that came up and it’s a fascinating question. I don’t, you can talk from your experiences, dealing with children and youth, but also from your research with the brain work that James does. This question of whether there are any differences that we can isolate and talk about between how neurodivergent children experience boredom? We know, as Natalie was presenting, there were a lot of, many faces of boredom, there are many different ways that boredom can be manifested, experienced and responded to. So I think our parents and participants will want to hear, if you have any suggestions or any thoughts about this, diversity of boredom?
[Dr. James Danckert]: Yeah I can speak briefly about two, I guess. And I think also for the parents, it’s a little bit unfortunate that the research is lagging behind where everybody wants it to be. I think, you know, we’re still in a position where we’re trying to define boredom, understand what it looks like in the brain, and certainly understand how it evolves over time as children grow. And so we’re not at the stage where we need to be to answer the questions for parents, which is the intervention stage. What can we do to help? Either just, you know, typical experience of boredom, a neurotypical experience of boredom, all people who are neurodiverse. So all I can really talk about at this point is what we know about the relations. And we certainly know that people who were diagnosed with ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, tend to have high levels of boredom and boredom proneness. And those individuals anecdotally will often sort of talk about boredom episodes as being quite anxiety provoking for them, too, because it’s a sign that something uncomfortable is ahead. It’s, you know, this boredom episode at the start of it is creeping up on them that they’ll feel like, Oh my God, I’m about to be bored. And that’s going to be agonizing. And so it is an important part of their experience to acknowledge and to help them try and deal with it. But as I say, we don’t really have the interventions. I think Natalie mentioned briefly Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders. And this is a really fascinating one for me, to which I have zero answers. We do know that Autism Spectrum symptoms are also associated with higher boredom, and why that would be? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s about the challenge of engaging with the world. We know that social engagement can be challenging for kids with Autism. As Susan mentioned, you know, we are social beasts, and so social engagement is a really good way to get rid of boredom. And if you’re a child that’s living with autism and find social engagement challenging, then perhaps that will also mean that you’re going to experience boredom as somewhat. So, like I say, not a lot of solutions. I’m sorry, I don’t have any of that kind of stuff. But, we certainly know that in at least those two neurodiverse kind of groups that that boredom is a significant and probably under acknowledged part of their experience that we should spend a little bit more time attending to. I don’t know. I think you know, Caley Natalie and Susan as well probably have other insights that I don’t about that.
[Dr. Natalie Spencer Gwyn]: Oh, yeah, I definitely agree, James, that we need to make sure that we’re working with health care professionals, doctors, counselors, psychiatrists, if we are seeking advice or support for some of our neurodivergent, diverse learners. And also, we need to think about sex differences too. So with boys and girls, I know you’ve mentioned that, that sometimes boys are starting to demonstrate some aggressive behaviors, maybe when they’re a little bit bored. But one thing that I can say, is encouraging children are you to really find areas of interest can really them with that boredom and really giving them that honest to go out there and research, you know, if there’s something that they like, so that they can have their own little toolbox, like Caley was saying, something they can go to and pinpoint. But I do believe that, as parents really have that holistic team of working with your child or working with the individual, and in that way, you can pinpoint things that are specific. But definitely having those conversations and as James mentioned, sometimes that boredom is also associated with some social anxiety and social isolation issues. Of course I mentioned that sometimes we will see that in school avoidance, and it’s important that what we are working particular ,and that we are doing things that are specific for each individual child. So really, you know, just consulting with various health care professionals would be my first recommendation.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Thank you Natalie and James. I don’t know if anybody else wants to jump into that question, or we can move on. I sense from a lot of the questions that came in, and I think the previous conversation about the harms or not harms, the benefits of boredom regarding how to think boredom is neutral, and it’s up to us how to deal with it depending on the situation. A lot of participants seem to be asking about screen time, obviously. Is that an inherently bad way of dealing with boredom when it comes to children? Is it not inherently bad? But could be problematic or worrisome when it gets to be perhaps too frequently used, when it’s the easiest solution, when it’s the only solution? So I was wondering if you had any thoughts about the relationship between screen time as the go to response when children are children say, Well, I’m bored and so here’s the iPad, here’s the device, entertain yourself?
[Dr. Caley Arzamarski]: Well, I think it’s really important as parents or teachers, to think about how are we using the screens? So what’s the function of them? If the function is, you know, of course, we all are extremely busy, a lot of us are dealing with multiple jobs, and managing different things in our homes. But I think one of the important things to think about is, is the screen acting as a babysitter, right? Or how often are we using it, right? So when I was talking about or referencing balance, it was how much time is being used in this kind of more passive manner, right? Where I almost see it as like, our brains are there and they’re being stimulated, as opposed to our brains being there and having to access with the world, having to stimulate yourself. And I think that, you know, thinking back to what Susan mentioned, about the dull piece, about people were okay with being like dull and having this mundane, everyday life, I think like just I just started sitting with that, becoming a parent and having to slow down because it’s like really beautiful to have a lot of time and to spend time together and to slow down. But that’s not what my Facebook or my Instagram or Tik Tok say. They say, “Oh my God, Caley, you have FOMO. You’re missing out on all of these adventures in Norway and Switzerland and Kenya and, you know, wherever else, right? And I think that that’s what’s also really challenging about screen time is that, it’s the balance of what is being accessed by these kids as well. So how much, what like, our kids ,are you sitting down and talking to your kids about what apps they have on their phone? Are you talking about their privacy settings? Like that is just, that is actually part of my session a lot of the times, I’m sure for you too. Natalie. Like, how do you play game ,that roblox game with the pig? Like, Oh my God, it’s terrifying that game. It’s not just a pig game, right? I’m just giving you joking examples. But you know, so about that balance that I think there is the social pressure now for kids to be engaging in really cool things, and constantly doing, doing, doing. And there isn’t the social value placed on just having a normal life and being able to sit with that.
[Dr. Susan Matt]: And as you pointed out, I think really just, I agree completely that no one posts about just sitting there, right? I mean so on whatever social media platform they’re posting, that’s not an exciting post. So people are being trained to both advertise their own exciting lives, and to seek out excitement at a return, even if their only way to access it is through a screen. And we had so many people in our oral histories tell us how bored they were getting on Instagram, or they’d often post like “I’m bored” while being on Instagram and it became this kind of circular system of of of turning to Instagram to relieve boredom, being bored while being on Instagram, posting about being bored while being on Instagram. And so it became this cycle. So having some ways to shut it off is important too.
[Dr. James Danckert]: I think there’s a kind of an elephant in the room in some of this as well, at least for me. And much as there was a question in the Q&A in a chat there about it, can we focus on teens and screen time? So the elephant in the room is the pandemic. I mean, I don’t know how many of you that your children missed school time, or had school time be in lockdowns and forced to be online? But for my kids that happened in crucial periods between 12 and 16 for the youngest, and between 15 and 18 for the oldest. But it also highlights to me that they can use screens in really productive ways. If I reflect on what my parents were worried about, and Susan talks to this sort of historical, because I’m old enough, ways in which we do these things, you know, when we had video games like Pong, you know, it was this kind of mindless passive occupation of your time, right? And there was nothing social about it. You weren’t connecting with other people online. There was not a capacity to talk to other people who were playing the game with you. And so, I look now at my 15, almost 16 year old, and he is on screen more than I would like him to be. But he’s often talking to people in Norway or in the US or in the UK. And so he’s got friends all over the world, and they’re not talking about the game, they’re talking politics or they’re talking other kinds of issues that are of interest to them. Would I like him to do as Susan suggested, to have that face to face social interaction more? Absolutely. But I think we can probably overblow some of the concerns about the screen time and if we just watch it a little bit and see that, okay, he’s getting some interaction and there’s also creative outlets for him on that… And I think we can maybe all take a bit of a deep breath and say, you know, some of this is okay. It’s not like it was in the early eighties for a Commodore 64 playing Pong endlessly, right? I think it’s not. It’s very different for our kids than it was for us.
[Dr. Caley Arzamarski]: Yeah, I agree. And I think just maybe referencing that this is one tool in our toolbox, right? Screens are one tool, in our toolbox of boredom, right? If we think about other things to be using, what else can we develop in kids, how else do we facilitate conversations around this? It could even be, you know, I just I love the TikTok dance as well, Natalie. Because that’s just… that makes so much, everything becomes more fun that way too, when you’re engaging with them. But I think that if you can be mindful of this is one way that I can occupy my child’s time that will be really helpful. There are many other ways as well, but it’s not necessarily good or bad.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Thank you very much for the answer. And just to follow up on the conversation and exchange between Susan, James and Caley about the mindfulness, but also about the sense of meaningfulness, sometimes I think we don’t give them enough credit that they’re engaging in activities that for them are meaningful. We can perhaps enhance the sense of meaning by having conversations about what they’re doing. And often as James was describing, our kids can do amazing things on devices and engaging in activities that are worth engaging. With that note, I would like to just or very briefly, if you have any final thoughts that you would like to share with our audience, I can just go around and then we can conclude and thank everybody. James, any final thoughts for today?
[Dr. James Danckert]: No real pearls of wisdom. I’m really interested to hear everybody else’s thoughts about this, and I really think there’s a consistency there about your toolboxes and agency and planning. And I think those are both some consistent messages that are coming across from everybody are really important to highlight. But just a real pleasure to have joined you all and I hope it’s been useful for the attendees.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Likewise. Thank you so much, James. Susan, any final thoughts?
[Dr. Susan Matt]: I just enjoy talking with all of you. And just one thing, I mean, history offers some consolation in that people have thought at other moments that the human brain was being saturated by, you know, soul-deadening television or radio or movies, and people have found a way to make it active and interesting, so your points about agency and and the meaningfulness, the meaningful potential, is a good one.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Thank you, Susan. It’s wonderful to have a historical perspective on those conversations, Natalie?
[Dr. Natalie Spencer Gwyn]: Yes, I just thank you all for a great conversation. And the panelists, we all share so many great recommendations. If anything, I just want to just leave with, our parents and educators and other youth serving professionals, to just really engage in effective conversations and, you know, it’s okay not to know. And you can all figure it out together.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Absolutely. Thank you so much for today. And Caley, any final thoughts?
[Dr. Caley Arzamarski]: Yeah, I think just piggybacking off what everyone else shared, I think not only is it okay not to know, but it’s even more important to engage some of our kids in the process of figuring it out. I think that is not only going to develop agency, but also buy in. So kids know a lot more and I think that, than we think they do oftentimes. That’s been another big pearl of wisdom I’ve learned. But I think a lot of this is also anxiety, that we want all of the answers and we want tools for when this kid is saying, “Mom, mom, mom.I’m so bored. I want to go to the launch trampoline park.” But actually, no, like we don’t have any money. That’s crazy. We’re going to sit outside and like, look at rocks, right? Like, it’s just, you know, the idea is that it’s okay for us as parents to not have all the answers. It’s okay to sit with the anxiety or the emotions that come up when kids are bored, and to sit next to them while doing it and model for them that it’s hard for you too, and it feels uncomfortable.
[Dr. Andreas Elpidorou]: Thank you so much, Caley, for a concluding piece of advice. Very valuable. And now I’m just going to pass this to Kris. Thank you, everyone.
[Kris Perry]: Thank you so much to all of our panelists today for sharing valuable information, insight and recommendations that we can all apply to our families this summer and beyond. Thank you as well to our Zoom audience for joining us today to learn more about technology and digital media in the life of children and adolescents. Check out our Web site at Children screens.com, follow us on these platforms and subscribe to our YouTube channel. This is the last of our spring webinars, but we hope you will join us again in the fall when our Ask the Experts series resumes with more fantastic webinars. Until then, we hope you have a happy, healthy and leisurely summer. Thank you.