Home Health When Your Tween Is Bored

When Your Tween Is Bored

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The other day my 11-year-old told me how “bored” she is. I get it. School just ended and her beloved sleep-away camp has been canceled.

While the country is opening up, a lot is still off the table for tweens. At first I offered suggestions for activities: Did she want to play with the puppy or call a friend? She did not.

“Boredom is not the result of a lack of things to do,” says the cognitive neuroscientist James Danckert, co-author of “Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom.” “It’s a combination of mixed-up emotions that make them feel stuck, and an unoccupied mind, that means they don’t feel purpose and aren’t expressing their abilities, interests and passions.”

John Eastwood, a psychologist and Dr. Danckert’s co-author, says the solution “has to come from the tweens, parents alone can’t fix it.”

But Mary Mann, author of “Yawn: Adventures in Boredom,” says there is a role for parents: “If your tween isn’t engaged in what they’re doing, you can help them figure out what will work.”

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Updated 2020-07-02T07:24:30.288Z

So be a creative collaborator instead of the boss, to help kids find their strengths and talents. “Ask your tween, ‘what sounds good to you right now. When you let your mind wander, where does it go?’” If they enjoy video games, they might want to make their own. If they like board games, they can create one based on a book or movie they love. She also suggests looking at photos or videos that show them happy doing a specific activity.

“I believe that boredom is a gift,” says John Spencer, parent to three tweens, an assistant professor at George Fox University and consultant for Parent Lab, a company that offers online courses for parents.

Research shows when people’s minds wander (like when going for a run or walking the dog) or when they do rote, meaningless activities (like washing dishes or folding laundry), it is a natural path to creativity.

To encourage creativity, Mr. Spencer has been intentionally incorporating boredom into his tweens’ day during the coronavirus shutdown and continuing into the summer. “We split their time into four hour slots. One is a genius hour, where my kids learn something new, like coding, a language or an instrument. A maker hour, where they create something: a story, a podcast, a craft. They have up to an hour of chores and an hour of physical fitness. What we found is they incubate ideas during their chores, that help them come up with projects, like building pinball machines out of stuff around the house.”

Even if you don’t want to practice “intentional boredom,” here are several boredom-busting, mood-boosting tactics from the experts.

When tweens complain, instead of telling them what to do, share your experience and let them decide, Dr. Eastwood suggests. So say, “when I feel bored, what worked for me was to do a few minutes of deep breathing to get centered.” They may roll their eyes, but they can’t argue, because you aren’t dictating their actions.

Encouraging your tween to go for activities that help with healthy “flow” — when you are immersed in something to the point you lose track of time — can help, Dr. Danckert says. So reading a good book, making a vision board, journaling with daily prompts, sketching, or knitting works. Aside from flow, to beat boredom, “an activity should challenge you, while allowing you to problem-solve within your abilities (like playing chess or a scavenger hunt),” says Dr. Danckert. What doesn’t work: passive entertainment like binge watching YouTube or Netflix.

Boredom is associated with a sense of time passing slower than normal. “Part of what we are taking away during the pandemic is the looking-forward-to-the-future aspect of life, in the form of trips or camp,” Ms. Mann says. So adding something new to the schedule that brings in mystery, or discovery — like doing an impromptu TikTok dance competition, eating outdoors for a change, or learning a new game like Pickleball — can provide a positive rush to the brain.


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  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 30, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


When tweens are being creative (drawing, doing computer art, writing rap songs), Ms. Mann suggests you don’t attach pressure to the outcome. “If your tween is creating a board game, writing a poem or painting and it doesn’t come out perfect, that is fine. Teach tweens to enjoy the process rather than attach importance to the final product.”

Dr. Wendy Wood, a psychologist and author of “Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick,” says that to help our tweens avoid acting out negatively in response to boredom (like binge-eating junk food or screen surfing), parents should organize their environments to encourage positive behavior. So hide away the junk food, but leave out apples. Make screens less accessible by asking them to either keep the computer out of the bedroom and in the public areas of the house, or have them use your computer, so you can monitor them.

On the flip side, make it easy for them to do things you want them to do, Dr. Wood suggests. Keep bike tires filled up. Have a Frisbee handy or a basketball available to shoot hoops. Have game nights. Keep books around that they would like to read.

My daughter has identified her twin passions as music and dance. When I challenged her to combine her interests she came up with a great idea: During the summer we’ll select visual prompts, from which she will create a short dance video on her phone several times a week.

For tweens who spent much of their pre-pandemic lives running from one activity to the next, it can be a challenge just to discover what actually engages them. Perhaps a bit of summertime boredom can be a springboard to permanent insight.

Estelle Erasmus (@EstelleSErasmus) is a journalist and writing coach.

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