For the parents of teenagers, that’s an all-too-familiar complaint. You hear it on rainy afternoons, sunny days, at the house, and even on vacation. Not to mention, all throughout summer and Christmas breaks. As parents, you may be inclined to roll your eyes and shout back, “Well, find something to do!” However, ignoring regular boredom can lead to a much more serious problem: alcohol or drug addiction.
Those of us charged with shepherding kids through adolescence are inclined to worry about a lot. Is she doing her homework? Does he have the grades to get into college? Is she smoking or having unprotected sex? When we do worry about substance abuse, it’s often in terms of giving a quick “no drinking, no drugs” lecture before dropping them off at the homecoming dance.
Sometimes, though, the catalyst for drug addiction and alcohol abuse is closer than we think. Teens who say they are bored are about 50% more likely to engage in risky activities, like alcohol or drug use, than their non-bored peers. Those who reported they were bored “frequently” had a higher risk of abusing substances than teens who said they were bored “occasionally” . A study of British teenagers found that 8% of 16 to 17-year-olds said they drank alcohol at least once a week because they felt bored, while 29% said they had consumed alcohol at least once because of boredom .
The Boredom-Substance Abuse Link
Although many people dismiss boredom as a harmless state of mind, evidence suggests that chronic boredom has a negative effect on mental health. Experiencing boredom has been linked to feelings of depression, hopelessness, and loneliness. Furthermore, boredom has a negative effect on life satisfaction and feelings of autonomy . Negative emotions, like depression and hopelessness, are known risk factors for substance abuse.
In fact, one element of boredom is that the person does not feel in control of their situation or surroundings. Think back on times when you’ve recently felt bored. Perhaps you found yourself daydreaming during a meeting; maybe you felt frustrated because you had to sit through yet another of your daughter’s soccer practices.
It’s possible that some teens feel bored because they cannot control their environment. An adolescent may not be able to drive or find a ride to visit a friend’s home, or maybe he or she feels bored by the history assignment they’re supposed to be working on. This lack of control can lead to frustration, which may drive a teen to seek control through alcohol or drug addiction.
Researchers have found evidence that substance abuse is strongly connected with people who are prone to feeling bored . For example, one study of addicts in a methadone clinic found that their level of boredom was the single most reliable factor for predicting whether the addict would relapse .
An additional factor can play a role in bored teenagers and alcohol or drug addiction. One way to battle boredom is to connect with peers. It’s possible that some teens turn to drugs as a way to create and maintain peer relationships. In fact, social influences can play a significant role in a range of risky behaviors, from sexual activity to alcohol and drug use . If teens cannot find something healthy to focus on, they may latch onto substance-using peers.
Tips For Parents To Avoid Substance Abuse
- Encourage healthy activities. While it’s not necessary to schedule every moment of a teenager’s life, encouraging him or her to pursue a hobby or interest can fill their time with substance-free activity. In addition, building skills and conquering challenges through activities will raise self-esteem and self-confidence, making teens less likely to jump into substance abuse. Perhaps your music fan would love to take guitar lessons, or the sports fanatic would enjoy keeping stats for a school team. If your budget doesn’t allow for extracurricular activities, suggest that your teen volunteer to help a cause they’re passionate about, whether it’s caring for abused animals or tutoring elementary school students.
- Plan ahead to combat boredom. If you’re working overtime and the teen will be left home alone, make arrangements for them to spend time with trusted adults or friends. For example, ask an aunt or uncle to take the teen to a movie, or arrange for him or her to stay with one of their friends under adult supervision.
- Talk about drugs and alcohol. As a parent, it might feel as though your teen becomes automatically deaf as soon as you open your mouth. However, your adolescent listens to you more than you probably realize. Rather than lecturing, have a conversation about drug and alcohol use. Lay out your expectations for behavior as well as consequences for not meeting those expectations.
- Consider a job. Academics are critical, and some parents are reluctant to allow a teenager to work during the school year. Yet, a job is one way to keep him or her busy. If your child is old enough, encourage them to find an after-school job. A teenager who is working is a teenager who isn’t sitting bored by himself or hanging out with friends who use substances.
- Turn off the instant entertainment. From smartphones to video games, modern culture has produced an environment that offers easy entertainment. The problem is that 24/7 consumption can make it harder for a teenager to figure out which healthy activities interest them. Consider dialing back the on-demand entertainment in your home, and instead replace it with activities. For example, collaborate with the parents of your teen’s friends to take turns hosting a Friday board game night.
Don’t let alcohol or drug addiction destroy your teenager’s life. If he or she is dealing with regular boredom, guide them into the healthy activities, like a hobby or job, that will fill their time and provide something on which to focus. However, if you suspect your teen is already abusing substances, talk with an addiction treatment center now.
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