Boredom, Boys and What’s Next

Every day I hear another story of a teen boy who is slowly, yet seemingly systematically “checking out” of the world as we know it. These boys are generally very intelligent–in fact, they are often more intellectually astute than their peers. Many of the boys I have met or heard about have several traits in common: they are hungry readers, often drawn to science fiction; they love online video games and have entire tribes of online friends (and because their social lives are mostly taking place online, their parents see them as anti-social). They do well in school, but dread and hate school and have lost respect for the system that continues to force compliance and push threats their way rather than engage them.

There is a growing disparity between what these boys know and what their parents know–they know more than their parents will ever know about what they do online. The boys know this and it frustrates them because their parents have very little ability to understand their world.

The kids at most risk for depression are those who are naturally the most inquisitive, eager to learn and for whom traditional school comes easy. Chronic boredom leads to depression. Boredom occurs when the mind doesn’t find the things in the current environment useful or meaningful. Depression is a draining of meaning and usefulness. The answer is not in the condemnation of the Internet, computers, or gaming. Those things are not going away and I don’t believe they are even the real problem. The problem is in the gap; the gap between what we know and can do and what they are learning and are capable of doing. In many cases, they know more than we do. They can do things we can’t. And they know it.

If we fail to look at this phenomenon and begin to address it as a condition of our changing times, not the child’s personality problem, we are going to lose out a great deal of potential. We will lose these boys if we can’t engage them. Have you met any of these young people? What have you noticed?

Jenifer Fox is an internationally published author, educational keynote speaker and leading innovator on 21st Century Learning. Her groundbreaking book, Your Child’s Strengths, a Guide for Teachers and Parents (Viking/Penguin) is widely accepted as the definitive guide to developing success through a focus on strengths for children. Jenifer authored The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists (Wiley) and has created Differentiated Instruction, an online professional course for teachers.
  1. sarah Rosenblatt Reply

    my boy to a tee, actually both of them, i so wish school was geared toward them they are so damned bored. Although my older one is suddenly happy–but the way school has gone hasnt excited them. I so wish it was more stimulating, less punitive and riskier, full of play and discovery.

  2. Nancy Peske Reply

    Thank you for bringing up this important subject. I do know gamer boys, and they want to connect their world with the outer world–school and family life. They just don’t know how to do so. With school offering very little if any opportunities for visual/kinesthetic learners, not even shop or home ec class, they do live in their little world. And there are some girls there, too. I think if you can praise them for their skills and qualities (helping other kids master a game, for instance), and listen even when you’re not sure what they’re explaining, it helps them feel more connected.
    It amazes me that these kids, who will go on to invent software, apps, and games, or work in 3D design and manufacturing, are not given opportunities at school to build their skills and feel valued in the community.

  3. Miriam Mishkin Reply

    I have been following this for a wile now. (ADHD boys especially exhibit this cycle frequently.) But even those non-ADHD kids are checking out or disengaging from the typical school system as it does not teach them IN A WAY that is MEANINGFUL. What steps do you recommend to someone who is trying to work with the Superintendent of our School System (one of the largest in the country)?

    THANK YOU for all that you are doing to raise awareness.

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