[Paleopsych] "Why are you bored?": an examination of psychological and social control causes of boredom among adolescents. Linda L. Caldwell; Nancy Darling; Laura L. Payne; Bonnie Dowdy.

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"Why are you bored?": an examination of psychological and social control causes 
of boredom among adolescents. Linda L. Caldwell; Nancy Darling; Laura L. Payne; 
Bonnie Dowdy.
Journal of Leisure Research, Spring 1999 v31 i2 p103(1)

The purpose of this study was to better understand the causes of boredom using 
psychologically based and social control models of boredom . For this study, 82 
8th grade students completed two questionnaires, a face to face interview, and 
participated in a four day activity diary over a two week period of time. 
Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) was used to assess the extent to which 
adolescents' level of boredom differed depending upon their reason for 
participating in the activity and on the individual characteristics they 
brought to the situation. Both psychological and social control variables 
helped to explain boredom. The results are discussed from a developmental and 
practical perspective.


Research on boredom has spanned decades and has been approached from a variety 
of philosophical, sociological, and psychological perspectives. During this 
time, discussion in the literature has addressed causes and consequences of 
boredom. The only apparent consensus is that boredom is a complex phenomenon. 
Understanding boredom during adolescence is even more challenging because 
boredom is compounded by concomitant developmental processes. These 
developmental issues, such as autonomy development, changing cognitive 
abilities, evolving relationships with parents, and the liminal quality of 
behavioral demands, make boredom particularly salient for youth. In addition, 
the amount of free time available to adolescents and the increasing control 
they have over this time compared to their childhood years suggests free time 
may provide a new challenge to adolescents as they take on increasing 
responsibilities for structuring their own time.

The increasing focus on boredom during adolescence is, in part, due to the fact 
that boredom has been linked with a number of problem behaviors such as alcohol 
and drug abuse (Iso-Ahola & Crowley, 1991; Orcutt, 1985), higher rates of 
dropping out of school (Farrell, Peguero, Lindsey, & White, 1988) and vandalism 
(Caldwell & Smith, 1995). Clearly, none of these behaviors are developmentally 
or societally productive. Thus, the general purpose of this study was to better 
understand the phenomenon of adolescent boredom in free time.

Theories of Boredom

Existing research provides us with an understanding of the associated outcomes 
of boredom in free time, but the body of knowledge is less clear regarding the 
causes of boredom. Two major perspectives help us understand the causes of 
boredom : psychological theories and social control theories. These theories 
are discussed in the following section, and where appropriate, developmental 
considerations are addressed.

Psychological explanations suggest that boredom stems from (a) a lack of 
awareness of stimulating things to do in leisure (Iso-Ahola & Weissinger, 
1987); (b) a lack of intrinsic motivation, and in particular 
self-determination, to act on the desire to alleviate boredom (Iso-Ahola & 
Weissinger, 1987; Weissinger, Caldwell, & Bandalos, 1992); and (c) a mismatch 
between one's skill and the challenge at hand (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). 
The latter is also known as the understimulation model of boredom (e.g., Larson 
& Richards, 1991).

Cognitive psychology suggests that adolescents are maturing in many ways that 
might influence perceptions of boredom . As adolescents grow older, they mature 
in their capacity to temper or regulate their interactions with their 
circumstances (Elliott & Feldman, 1990). At lower maturation levels, once 
boredom is perceived, adolescents might lack the ability to (a) identify 
changes that could be made and/or (b) perceive ways in which they could act on 
the desired change. In addition, the speed, efficiency, and capacity of basic 
cognitive processes change (Keating, 1990) which might contribute to being 
understimulated, and thus bored. For example, some tasks may seem to be 
repetitive as cognitive abilities mature, thus producing feelings of boredom.

Psychologically based theories, however, have been based on adult populations 
and have not addressed the specific developmental tasks of adolescence. The 
developmental process of autonomy development (Steinberg, 1990), for example, 
suggests that boredom may be a response of resistance to external control, such 
as the influence of parents or other adults (Larson & Richards, 1991). This 
type of boredom might occur in situations when an adolescent is unable to 
exercise autonomy and at the same time is unable to physically leave the 
situation; in this case the adolescent may disengage psychologically through 
the experience of boredom (Eccles et al., 1993). Social control and resistance 
theories of boredom imply that boredom becomes a standard means of 
communication that turns into a routine aspect of the adolescent culture. This 
perspective suggests that free time activities that are structured by the 
dominant adult culture might be likely to produce boredom in adolescents 
because they interfere with the normative developmental impetus towards 
autonomy (Shaw, Caldwell, & Kleiber, 1995). For example, Larson and Richards 
(1991) stated that ". . . the frequent occurrence of boredom in adolescence is 
a product of subcultural (or personal) resistance to adult and school 
authority. . ." (p. 422).

Related to the social control perspective, the forced-effort theory of boredom 
(Larson & Richards, 1991; O'Hanlon, 1981) indicates that boredom occurs when 
individuals are forced to expend cognitive energy and effort on tasks construed 
as homogeneous. For adolescents, this boredom response might occur when 
parents, teachers, or coaches obligate routine, practice activities. In this 
case, participation is extrinsically motivated either by social pressure or by 
their instrumental role in the attainment of intrinsically motivated goals.

Both the forced-effort and social control/resistance theories of boredom play a 
role in adolescent boredom in a school context (Larson & Richards, 1991). Thus, 
extracurricular activities may offer opportunities for adolescents to engage in 
compelling leisure experiences. Obligatory activities, however, may undermine 
the potential for adolescents to exercise autonomy and increase the likelihood 
that adolescents experience boredom within these settings. As adolescents are 
in transition from a position of dependence on parents to one of increased 
freedom (i.e., autonomy), the negotiation and balance of decision making power 
is often problematic (Steinberg, 1990). Steinberg (1990) suggested that until a 
mutually comfortable position between parent (or by extension, other adults) 
and adolescent is achieved, tensions are likely. Thus if an adolescent 
perceives too much control of his or her actions by parents, social control 
theory suggests that boredom is a typical response.

This study used psychologically based and social control models to extend our 
understanding of adolescent boredom in leisure. The study has two levels of 
analysis, individual difference and situational. Table 1 summarizes the 
theories of boredom , related variables in this study, and corresponding 
hypotheses. At the individual difference level, we examined two variables that 
reflect differences in responses to boredom across situations (i.e., leisure 
experiences). The first variable, parental monitoring, reflects the social 
control/resistance model of boredom. The second individual difference variable 
was level of intrinsic motivation and reflects psychological theories of 
boredom. Both of these variables allowed us to take into consideration factors 
that might contribute to boredom across situations. At the situational level, 
we examined factors associated with boredom within an individual by examining 
three possible reasons for participating in a particular activity: Had to, 
wanted to, and had nothing else to do. Each reason stemmed from either a social 
control or psychologically based perspective. These variables are described in 
more detail below.

Individual Difference Variables

The general level of intrinsic motivation perceived by the adolescent and the 
general level of parental monitoring of the individual are important because of 
their potential to moderate or mediate the experience of boredom . Weissinger 
et al. (1992) suggested, for example, that individual difference variables such 
as desire for intrinsic rewards will generalize across situations, and thus, 
are important considerations in understanding boredom . In this study, 
intrinsic motivation was important because of its (a) recognized importance to 
leisure experience (e.g., Gunter, 1987; Iso-Ahola, 1979; Neulinger, 1981) and 
(b) relationship to the experience of boredom from a psychological perspective 
(e.g., Weissinger et al., 1992).

The general level of parental monitoring perceived by an adolescent taps the 
extent to which the adolescent exercises autonomy and self-determination in 
leisure experiences versus the extent to which activities are controlled and 
monitored by parents. Although this variable is new to the leisure literature, 
previous work has suggested that level of parental monitoring does have some 
influence on the leisure of adolescents (e.g., Caldwell & Darling, in press), 
especially engagement in problem behavior and substance use (Steinberg, 
Fletcher, & Darling, 1994).

Situation Level Variable

At the situational level, we assessed the reason for participating in the 
activity. Three reasons, "I had to," "I wanted to," and "I had nothing else to 
do," directly reflect common reasons given by adolescents to explain their 
behavior. Each of these reasons relates to a psychologically or social control 
based theory of boredom. The "had to" situation reflects the feeling that 
someone (parent, teacher, coach, etc.) exerted influence on the adolescent 
producing a feeling of obligation. Boredom associated with this reason is 
thought to be a result of the social control/resistance models of boredom . The 
"wanted to" situation reflects self-determination and intrinsic motivation. We 
viewed the role of self-determination and intrinsic motivation as indicative of 
the psychologically based theories. The "nothing else to do" situation suggests 
a lack of stimulation, lack of optimal arousal, and/or lack of awareness of 
leisure opportunities, stemming from the psychologically based theories.

Contexts of Boredom in Free Time

We felt that it was important to understand the context of boredom . Different 
leisure contexts and activities may be associated with different outcomes 
(Caldwell & Darling, in press; Caldwell, Smith, & Weissinger, 1992b). In 
addition, Weissinger et al. (1992) suggested that a study examining both 
context and dispositional factors with regard to boredom in leisure was an 
important "next step" study. Their finding was supported by the work of Larson 
and Richards (1991) who concluded that both context and individual difference 
variables were important in understanding adolescent boredom in and out of 
school. Thus, we felt it important to understand whether or not differences in 
boredom existed depending on the type of activity.


This study sought to understand the causes of boredom in free time among 
adolescents using both the psychological and social control/resistance theories 
at two levels of analysis (individual and situational; see Table 1). We 
predicted that regardless of level of analysis, when adolescents felt as though 
they were autonomous and self-determined they would be less bored. Conversely, 
when adolescents felt controlled, they would experience boredom. Thus, at the 
situational level we hypothesized that the "want to" situation would produce 
the lowest levels of boredom; we could not hypothesize which of the other two 
reasons for participation would better predict boredom . At the individual 
difference level we hypothesized that high levels of perceived parental 
monitoring would be predictive of higher levels of boredom. We also 
hypothesized that low levels of intrinsic motivation would predict higher 
levels of boredom. We examined the relationship of context to level of boredom 
in post hoc analysis and thus made no predictions.

Methods and Procedures

Data for this investigation came from phase two of a three year longitudinal 
study conducted in a middle school in central Pennsylvania. In phase [TABULAR 
DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] two, all students in grades six through eight were 
asked to volunteer to complete an in-school questionnaire about parents, free 
time, friends, school achievement, identity, and self esteem. The present study 
used data from all grade eight students who volunteered to participate in an 
extended study. As part of this extended study, grade eight students who 
participated in the in-school survey were contacted by phone and asked to 
participate in a one hour in-depth interview (about dating as well as 
relationships with their friends and family), participate in an activity diary 
(about leisure activities), and to complete a follow-up questionnaire (about 
school achievement, parental monitoring, and other parenting practices). The 
data reported here come from the activity diary, in-school survey, and 
follow-up survey portions of the study.

A process of active consent was used. All students whose parents signed and 
returned the consent form (indicating either approval or refusal) received a 
coupon for a free Dairy Queen Blizzard. If students participated in the 
extended study, they received a movie ticket. For the phase two study, a total 
of 600 recruitment letters were sent to all parents of middle school students. 
Out of the 600, 398 parents gave permission for their children to participate 
in the general study (66% response rate). Of the 398 students, 143 were in 
grade eight. (Thus 72% of all grade eight students' parents provided consent.) 
Of these 143 grade eight students, 86 (60% of the 143 students who were allowed 
to participate) participated in the in-depth interview and follow-up survey and 
82 (57%) students participated in the activity diary portion of the project. 
Scheduling conflicts were the most common reason for refusal to participate in 
the study. Participants predominantly identified themselves as white (92%), 
with 56% of the mothers and 60% of the fathers having graduated from college. 
The sample was 51% female, with a mean age of 13.2 years (s.d. = .44).

Instrumentation and Procedures

The in-school questionnaire was self-administered in large group settings 
(cafeterias and study halls) and took approximately 30 minutes to complete. The 
research team administered the questionnaires to the students. Questions were 
asked about parents, friends, leisure, school achievement, intrinsic 
motivation, boredom in free time, and problem behaviors (e.g., vandalism, 
substance use, etc.). Grade eight students who agreed to participate in the 
extended study completed a follow-up questionnaire at home and brought it with 
them to the personal interview. These grade eight students indicated their 
consent to continue their participation by filling out a sheet of paper asking 
for the continued cooperation. Each student who agreed to continue was then 
provided with a take-home questionnaire. Questions on the follow-up 
questionnaire and interview focused on parental monitoring, information 
disclosure to parents, conflict over rules, adolescent autonomy, self-esteem, 
and dating. These grade eight students were contacted by a research assistant 
and one-on-one interviews were scheduled with a trained interviewer. Once an 
adolescent participated in the in-depth interview and completed the follow-up 
questionnaire, he or she then began the activity diary component of the study.

The activity diary was used to assess the daily free time behaviors and 
experiences of the adolescents in the study. The instrument was pretested on 
several eighth graders to ensure the questions and response categories were 
easily understood. Data were collected via phone interviews Monday through 
Thursday between 7:00 and 9:30 p.m. All phone interviewers completed a two 
session training program prior to the phone interviews. Participants were 
randomly scheduled to be interviewed four times over a two week period, 
although the two week period differed for each adolescent. Initially, data were 
to be collected on weekend days and weekdays. Interviewers had a difficult time 
scheduling interviews on weekend days, however, so the research team decided to 
collect data on Monday through Thursday evenings only. Although this meant that 
we have no weekend data, the data are more homogeneous and reflect the weekday 
pattern of activities and experiences of the grade eight students in this 
sample. Data collection for the activity diary portion of the study began in 
March and continued through mid-June.

After a brief introduction, the adolescent who was phoned was first asked to 
identify the main activity done that day between after school and dinner time, 
and then between dinner time and bedtime. The interviewer chose one of the 
activities to be the focus of a series of follow-up questions. The focal 
activity chosen represented a leisure situation. Thus, if the adolescent did 
homework and hung out with friends, the interviewer chose hanging out to be the 
focal activity. In the rare case where neither of the two activities were 
leisure oriented, the interviewer randomly chose one. If both activities were 
leisure, one was chosen at random.

All questions asked in the activity diary interview related to the focal 
activity. A variety of questions were asked, and covered topics such as 
experience (e.g., boredom), with whom the youth participated, location of 
activity, reason for doing activity, and so on.


The dependent variable, level of boredom for each activity, was assessed 
through a single item that asked participants to respond to how bored versus 
how involved they were in their activity where 1 = very involved and into it 
and 5 - very bored. Although several scales exist that measure boredom and 
reflect a more dimensionalized perspective, we used a single item to make it 
easier to respond over the phone and to reduce the burden of response time. As 
it was, the phone diary took about 20 minutes to complete. This single item 
seemed adequate for our purpose, which was to simply know if they were bored or 
not. Pre-test member checks indicated this was a valid measure for assessing a 
13 year old's perception of whether a situation was boring or not.

Situation Level Variables. Reason for participation in the activity was 
assessed using a single item "Why did you participate in the activity?" 
Response choices included "had to," "wanted to," and "because there was nothing 
else to do." Again, a single item was used and pre-test member checks indicated 
this question and response categories adequately captured the intent of the 
question. Adolescents' comments indicated this variable had high face validity.

The other situational level variable was the specific activity in which the 
adolescent participated. This variable was created by classifying each activity 
into one of six categories: media/home-based; school-based (e.g., arts, 
sports); social; outdoor/active; miscellaneous (e.g., church service, driving 
from the airport, and being interviewed); and maintenance/work. Decisions about 
classification of these activities was done by the team of researchers and was 
relatively straight forward. Although the categories are not mutually 
exclusive, for the purposes of this study this classification scheme was 

Individual Difference Level Variables. Parental monitoring was assessed by a 
standard monitoring index (Patterson & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1984). Responses from 
this item came from the follow-up questionnaire. In this case, we used the 
mother as the parent of interest because typically mothers are more involved in 
parenting at all ages, especially monitoring children (Steinberg, 1990). 
Students responded to the stem "How much does your mother REALLY know" for five 
situations, including: "Where you go at night? How you spend your money? What 
you do with your free time? Where you are most afternoons after school?" 
Responses were coded on a three point response format, with 1 represented 
"knows a lot," 2 represented "knows a little," and 3 represented "doesn't know" 
(Cronbach's alpha = .80).

Intrinsic motivation was measured with a nine item index adapted from Harter 
(1981). This measure was comprised of the following items that were included on 
the in-school questionnaire: "I like challenging work," "I like to figure 
things out for myself," "I'd rather figure out mistakes on my own," "I like 
solving hard problems on my own," "I know how I'm doing without a report card," 
"I like hard school subjects," "I know how I'm doing without a teacher telling 
me," "I find difficult work interesting," and "I know if something is good when 
I turn it in". The response format was 1 = this is not at all like me and 5 = 
this is really like me (Cronbach's alpha = .86).

Analytic Strategy

This paper used a three-fold analytic strategy. First, descriptive statistics 
were examined. Next, inferential analyses were performed to assess the 
predictors of boredom at the individual difference level and the situation 
level. Finally, post hoc analyses were used to illustrate the nature of the 
relationships found and to gain insight into the differences between the 
predictors of boredom across activity types. Gender was included in the 
analysis due to past research that has indicated significant gender differences 
in all variables of interest to this study (e.g., Shaw, et al., 1995).

Analysis of the diary data was complicated by the non-independence of 
observations because each adolescent reported on activities for four different 
days. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM), a technique specifically designed to 
decompose variance into common source and situational variance (Bryk & 
Raudenbusch, 1992), was used to assess the extent to which adolescents' level 
of boredom differed depending upon their reason for participating in the 
activity and on the individual characteristics they brought to the situation 
(i.e., perceived parental monitoring, intrinsic motivation, and gender). In 
these analyses, HLM parses variance into a situational component (differences 
within an adolescent's level of boredom across different situations as 
predicted by reason for participation) and an individual component (differences 
between different adolescents' boredom predicted by gender, perceived parental 
monitoring, and intrinsic motivation). The former category is considered 
situational because reason for participation varied across different leisure 
situations or occasions, while the latter reflects characteristics individuals 
bring to all situations in which they participate.

HLM analyses provides two types of information: (a) an estimate of the 
component of variance in the outcome measure (boredom ) that can be attributed 
to individual differences between people and to differences within people 
across situations, and (b) information about the extent to which each variance 
component can be predicted by its respective predictors (reason for 
participation, gender, intrinsic motivation, and perceived parental 
monitoring(1)). These analyses rely on data from 81 individuals observed across 
234 situations. Because each adolescent reported on only four different 
situations, the model adopts the assumption of traditional regression models 
that the relationship between reason for participation and boredom is uniform 
across individuals.


Descriptive statistics illustrating the relationship between reason for 
participation and adolescents' levels of boredom , intrinsic motivation, and 
perceived parental monitoring are presented in Tables 2 and 3(2). In general, 
these descriptive findings support the general pattern hypothesized to underlie 
the relationships: when adolescents engage in activities because they want to 
they report lower levels of boredom during the activity, and higher levels of 
intrinsic motivation compared to those adolescents who are participating in 
activities because they felt they had to do it or had nothing else to do. 
Contrary to our hypothesis, however, perceived parental monitoring was higher 
for those 8th graders who wanted to do the activity. Overall, males reported 
slightly higher levels of boredom, lower levels of intrinsic motivation, and 
lower levels of perceived parental monitoring than females.


Descriptive Statistics of Reason for Participation, Intrinsic
Motivation, and Parental Monitoring
                                                         Nothing Else
                            Had To         Wanted To         To Do
                          Mean (s.d.)     Mean (s.d.)     Mean (s.d.)

Boredom                  2.69 (1.34)     1.72 (.83)      2.64 (1.11)
Intrinsic Motivation     3.14 (.83)      3.44 (.87)      3.12 (.90)
Parental Monitoring      1.58 (.50)      1.63 (.49)      1.46 (.50)
N                       54             208              57

Note: Boredom coded as: 1 = very involved and into it, 5 = very

Intrinsic Motivation coded as: 1 = low intrinsic motivation,
5 = high intrinsic motivation

Parental Monitoring coded as: 1 = doesn't know, 2 = knows a little
bit, 3 = knows a lot

Predicting Boredom. HLM was used to predict levels of boredom from individual 
difference variables (i.e., intrinsic motivation, perceived parental 
monitoring, and gender) and situational variables (i.e., reason for 
participation). Reading and interpreting a conventional HLM table is not 
necessarily intuitive. Table 4 reflects the results of a series of steps in HLM 
that one conducts to get to the "bottom line." Although the most important 
results are reported at the top of the table, critical diagnostic information 
is contained in the middle and bottom. The information in the middle of the 
table, which is the first piece of diagnostic information, essentially tells us 
that we can proceed with our interpretation - the model contains sufficient 
variance to warrant investigation.

The next question to ask is how much of the observed variation in boredom can 
be explained by differences at the situation level (that is, within person), 
and how much by individual differences (that is, between persons). Baseline 
model statistics (lower portion of Table 4) indicate how much total variance 
can be explained by the model whereas the current model shows how much our 
model is actually explaining. Examination of the baseline model suggests that 
23% of variance in adolescents' reported boredom can be explained by individual 
differences while the remaining 77% is attributable to situational differences 
plus error. The variance attributed to the individual difference level (23%) is 
calculated by dividing the baseline variance due to individual differences 
(.2649) by the total variance (.2649 + .9064). The [R.sup.2] scores are the 
proportion of variance at that level that is explained based on the proportion 
of variance that is possible. In addition to providing insight into the 
relative proportion of variance attributable to situational and individual 
differences, these baseline figures are also important because in an HLM 
analysis the ability of variables to predict the outcome is judged against only 
that proportion of the variance at the same explanatory level as the variable. 
Thus in examining the proportion of variance that can be explained by 
situational factors, we examined the proportion of variance within person 
attributable to reason for participation. Similarly, the success of intrinsic 
motivation, perceived parental monitoring, and gender in predicting boredom is 
examined relative to the between person variability.

Descriptive Statistics for Perceived Parental Monitoring, Intrinsic
Motivation, and Boredom by Gender

              Boredom     Intrinsic Motivation    Parental Monitoring
               M (sd)            M (sd)                   M (sd)

Males      2.12 (1.13)        3.28 (.87)                2.36 (.59)
Females    2.00 (1.04)        3.38 (.90)                2.50 (.48)

Boredom coded as: 1 = very involved and into it, 5 = very bored

Intrinsic Motivation coded as: 1 = low intrinsic motivation,
5 = high intrinsic motivation

Parental Monitoring coded as: 1 = doesn't know, 2 = knows a little
bit, 3 = knows a lot


Relationship of Activity Type to Reason for Participation

                                                         Nothing Else
                            Had To       Wanted To           To Do
                            % (N)(a)       % (N)              % (N)

Home based                 8.2% (4)     51.0% (25)       40.8% (49)
School based              31.5% (23)    67.1% (49)        1.4% (1)
Social                     2.9% (2)     76.5% (52)       20.6% (14)
Outdoor                    1.9% (1)     85.2% (46)       13.0% (7)
Miscellaneous             17.5% (7)     60.0% (24)       22.5% (9)
Maintenance/Work          48.6% (17)    34.3% (12)       17.1% (6)

a N reflects the number of times an activity in the category was
used as the focal activity for the activity diary interview.

The top of Table 4 provides information to test our hypotheses. The estimated 
coefficient for base boredom (2.056) represents the mean level of boredom 
across situations. The estimated coefficients for gender, intrinsic motivation, 
perceived parental monitoring, and reason for participation ("had to v. want 
to" and "had to v. nothing else to do") are the regression coefficients 
representing the relationship between each variable and boredom.

At the individual difference level, results indicate that adolescents with 
lower intrinsic motivation and lower levels of perceived parental monitoring 
are more likely to be bored (p [less than] .05). Gender does not predict 
individual differences in boredom. Using data from the bottom of Table 4, we 
see that 21% ([R.sup.2]) of the 23% of variance in boredom attributable to 
individual differences is explained by intrinsic motivation and perceived 
parental monitoring.

Because HLM cannot analyze categorical data, the three reasons for 
participation were dummy-coded into two dichotomous variables, with the "had 
to" condition serving as the reference category (coded 1). As indicated on the 
top of Table 4, adolescents participating in an activity because they "wanted 
to" were less bored than when they participated in an activity because they 
"had to" (T(1,234) = 4.31, p = .000). However, no difference existed between 
how bored adolescents were when they participated in an activity because they 
"had to" or because they "had nothing else to do" (T(1,234) = .239, p = .812). 
Ten percent ([R.sup.2], bottom of table 4) of the 77% of the within-person 
(i.e., situational) variance in boredom can be attributed to adolescents' 
reason for participating.

Influence of Context on Reason and Boredom. Does the reason adolescents 
participate in leisure activities" vary by activity type? Descriptive 
statistics presented in Table 5 suggest that they do. For outdoor, social, 
school-based, and miscellaneous activities, adolescents were more likely to 
"want to" do the activity, followed by "nothing else to do," and "had to" 
(except for school-based activity, where "had to" was the next most common 
reason). Although adolescents were more likely to "want to" participate in 
school-based programs, almost one third of the adolescents reported they "had 
to" participate in these activities. The only other activity with a relatively 
high proportion of "had to" responses was maintenance/work activities. There 
was almost a 50-50 split on reason given to participate in home-based 
activities between "nothing to do" and "wanted to." Not surprisingly about 41% 
of the time adolescents had nothing else to do, which was associated with some 
type of home-based activity. Social and miscellaneous activities (e.g., driving 
from airport) were also associated with having nothing else to do about 20-23% 
of the time.

The Effect of Reason on Boredom by Activity: To gain further insight into the 
nature of the relationship between reason for participation, activity type and 
boredom, mean levels of boredom were calculated separately by reason for 
participation within each activity type (Table 6). Again, due to the 
nonindependent nature of the data, tests of significance were not performed. 
Although evidence for variability in boredom across activities existed, within 
each activity type the "wanted to" situation was associated with the lowest 
level of boredom . These results are consistent both with the HLM analyses and 
also with the interpretation that the relationship between reason for 
participation and boredom is not due to motivational differences in activity 


The purpose of this study was to help us better understand why adolescents are 
bored by contrasting two perspectives of boredom : psychologically [TABULAR 
DATA FOR TABLE 6 OMITTED] based theories and theories related to social control 
and resistance. Through a series of analyses, we have painted a picture of 
adolescent boredom as experienced in free time activities using information 
about individual differences and situations. At the situational level, the 
results were as predicted. Having no choice (i.e., feeling pressured by 
external factors) or perceiving nothing to do (i.e., no optimally arousing 
options) were predictive of boredom, whereas being self-determined in activity 
choice (wanted to) was strongly associated with being involved (and not bored) 
in the activity. Furthermore, most of the variance in boredom came from 
situational factors (77% of the total possible to be explained), suggesting 
that adolescents are more prone to be influenced by "the moment" rather than 
those presumably stable individual difference characteristics they possess. At 
the individual difference level, we found mixed support for our predictions.

In the next sections we will discuss in more detail these findings, and where 
appropriate, offer developmental explanations or speculations. In particular, 
we will discuss developmental issues of autonomy, identity, and attention 
focusing. In some cases methodological issues will be discussed.

Social Control

Social control theory suggests that adult control may be associated with 
boredom in adolescent leisure experiences. We found mixed support for this 
contention, although the evidence to the contrary only explains a small 
proportion of variance and may be an artifact of measurement. In this study, 
the lack of autonomy ("I had to") clearly was positively associated with 
feelings of boredom. Perceived parental monitoring, however, was negatively 
associated with boredom . In the leisure literature, the role of parents in the 
leisure of adolescents has been minimally addressed. Although parental 
influences on youth leisure experiences have been explored from a purchase 
decision perspective (Howard & Madrigal, 1990) and from situations where 
parents were spectators in adolescent competitive sports (Left & Hoyle, 1995), 
neither of these studies examined consequences of parental involvement on the 
outcomes (e.g., enjoyment, identity, and boredom) of adolescent leisure 

In trying to understand why lower levels of parental monitoring were associated 
with boredom , it is important to consider the developmental stage of these 13 
year olds. At 13, it is still probably considered reasonable and safe for 
parents to know where, what, and with whom the adolescent is engaged; thirteen 
year olds are in the early stages of making the transition to increased freedom 
in decision making. Thus, parental monitoring may not have been construed to be 
lack of autonomy, but rather was seen as supportive. Parental monitoring is 
associated with the authoritative style of parenting that is associated with 
enhanced engagement and performance in school (e.g., Steinberg, Lamborn, 
Dornbusch, & Darling, 1992). Our findings suggested that it is possible this 
effect carries over into a leisure context.

Other possible reasons may explain that higher levels of perceived monitoring 
by parents was associated with lower levels of boredom . First and most 
obvious, it could be that a parent had facilitated the experience in the first 
place, alleviating the adolescent from having to think of something to do. If 
this were the case, however, there would be a fine line between a parent 
facilitating an experience and a parent usurping autonomy. In other words, 
rather than having the perception that parental involvement with one's actions 
in free time was 'legitimate,' an adolescent might construe this involvement as 
over-controlling. In this case, according to both developmental theory and the 
social control/resistance theory of boredom, this situation would produce 
boredom . Thus, a future research question to address would be to determine 
whether level of perceived parental control was 'legitimate' or not, and how 
these perceptions relate to boredom.

Measurement issues are also important to consider. Our measure of parental 
monitoring was a general one, and not specific to the situation. As we saw from 
the HLM analysis, situation specific reasons for participating in the activity 
were stronger than individual difference variables. Finally, it is possible 
that parental monitoring was not a good measure of autonomy from parents. In 
sum, parental monitoring and parental influences on adolescents have not been 
well addressed by leisure researchers and this study suggests that further 
inquiry into this line of thinking might be productive.

Social control not only comes from parents, but also from other adults such as 
coaches and leaders of extracurricular activities. About one third of the 
adolescents in this study reported they "had to" do some of the school based 
extracurricular activities. A frequent activity reported on during the period 
of the activity diary was a play in which many adolescents participated. In 
many cases, these adolescents really wanted to participate. In other cases 
(almost one third of the time), they felt obligated, and as we reported, 
feeling obligated to participate was linked with a higher level of boredom . 
These results are consistent with Larson and Richards' (1991) finding that 
adolescents reported being bored 30% of the time during extracurricular 
activities. Note, however, that adolescents may want to participate in the 
extracurricular activity in general, although on a particular day they may have 
preferred doing something else. If further study supports these relationships, 
then the structure of after school activities should be consistent with the 
developmental process of autonomy formation and allow for more adolescent 
ownership of these activities so that choice and self-determined behavior are 

We have addressed the social control perspective considering adult structures 
and obligations as the controlling factor. Another consideration for future 
research is to examine whether the social control that peers have over each 
other produces the same results. The interactive decision making among 
adolescents in terms of deciding what to do may leave some adolescents feeling 
pressured or at least feeling like they lack control in some situations 
(Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984; Hultsman, 1993). Evidence from an 
interpretive study on boredom of at risk youth suggested that social control 
stemming from peer expectations is associated with boredom (Brake, 1997) but 
this relationship is a complex one.

Nothing to Do

The lack of anything else to do as a reason to participate in an activity was 
associated with higher levels of boredom than self-determined behaviors. Doing 
an activity because "I wanted to" implies that through self-determination and 
autonomy, adolescents are making an active choice of something do to. From a 
cognitive psychology perspective, this implication suggests that (a) these 
adolescents know of interesting things to do and (b) they have the skills and 
ability to carry out their desires. Perceiving nothing else to do indicates the 
opposite. In one sense, perceiving nothing to do might be the result of the 
inability to decide what to do. Kleiber and Rickards (1984) have suggested that 
although having free choice is critical to adolescents as they learn to 
increase their autonomy, actually deciding what to do might be extremely 
difficult. In part, Kleiber and Rickards suggested that this is because 
choosing an activity can be perceived as a reflection of who one is, and 
adolescents are faced with balancing the personal, peer, and parental demands 
on who they perceive themselves to be. Thus, doing something because the 
adolescent perceived nothing to do might actually be the result of an inability 
to choose something that satisfactorily balanced these perceived demands. Or, 
it could be that there was actually nothing to do.

Whether having nothing to do was real or imagined, or whether having nothing to 
do was based on an inability to choose something satisfactory, we do not know. 
The fact is that some adolescents in this study participated in an activity by 
default. In this case, the default choice did not carry the benefits of 
actively and deliberately choosing an activity. This conclusion is supported by 
much of the work of Silbereisen and his colleagues (e.g., Silbereisen, Eyferth 
& Rudinger, 1986) who discussed adolescent development from an "action in 
context" perspective. This perspective suggests that adolescents who are active 
producers of their own development (that is, make self-determined and 
deliberate choices) are healthier and more productive. In our research, we 
found a lack of deliberate choice undermined the leisure experience.

Larson and Kleiber (1993) suggested that because early adolescence is a 
critical period where one learns to focus one's attention, leisure activities 
that allow for, or even demand, self-controlled actions rather than 
other-directed activities (e.g., parents or coaches) are important to 
adolescent development. If adolescents could learn skills to help them direct 
their attention and focus on pleasurable leisure activities, they might learn 
to reduce the perception that there is nothing to do. It appears that some 
adolescents evolve naturally into the ability to self-direct, control, and 
focus their attentions but that others need assistance in learning how to do 
this. The ability to focus and direct one's attention increases with age; early 
on, adult structures actually help facilitate directed attention (Larson & 
Kleiber, 1993). But, as just seen, having to do a leisure activity due to adult 
structure is related to increased boredom. Thus, again, a balance needs to be 
achieved between levels and type of control offered by adults. This suggests 
that gauging the developmental level of the adolescent in terms of ability to 
focus and control one's attention is important in judging the degree of 
structure or guidance needed. Future research could address this issue.

Other perspectives that provide insight into the default choice of nothing else 
to do suggest that boredom is an experience of inner conflict (e.g., Bernstein, 
1975; Frankl, 1969; Keen, 1977) or ennui (e.g., Healy, 1984; Kuhn, 1976). These 
types of boredom are more deep-seated, chronic, not dependent upon external 
factors, and possibly more pathological. Harlow (1997) suggested that boredom 
is fashionable among today's youth, citing recent song rifles as evidence 
(e.g., "Boring Summer" by CIV, "Bored" by the Deftones, "Being Bored" by Merril 
Bainbridge, and "Boring Life" by Far). He stated that music critics refer to 
this music as "angst and roll," and defined angst as melancholy and disdain for 
life's type of existential crisis. We do not know whether or not those 
adolescents who reported participating in an activity because of nothing else 
to do experienced this type of ennui as a way of being, or if truly there was 
objectively or perceptually nothing else to do. Future research on adolescents 
and boredom should not ignore this potentially productive perspective. This 
research might stem from an identity formation perspective. As adolescents 
mature, discover and create who they are, discovering or creating an identity 
based on boredom or ennui is not developmentally productive.

Our study findings are consistent with the long held understanding that 
intrinsic motivation and self determination, as hallmarks of leisure, are 
antithetical to the experience of boredom and are associated with high levels 
of being involved in an activity. To the extent that we can facilitate 
adolescent choice of activities, mitigate adult control and structure, or 
reduce feelings of obligatory participation, we can reduce feelings of boredom. 
>From a developmental perspective, this autonomy enhancing potential of leisure 
is important.

This study has suggested that not only is boredom a complex phenomenon, 
especially when viewed within a leisure context, but also boredom might be 
linked to developmental processes such as autonomy development, cognitive 
agility, and possibly identity development. Future research that employs 
innovative and/or mixed method approaches is needed to continue to unravel the 
puzzle of adolescent boredom in leisure.

Author Identification Notes: Linda L. Caldwell, School of Hotel, Restaurant and 
Recreation, Management, 201 Mateer Building, The Pennsylvania State University, 
University Park, PA 16802, 814 863-8983, LindaC at psu.edu. The authors would like 
to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback.

1 Type of activity was not included in the HLM analysis due to its 
polychotomous nature. Variables with more than three levels are not easily 
dealt with in HLM analysis; thus we used type of activity in planned post hoc 
descriptive comparisons.

2 No statistical tests are reported testing differences in mean levels across 
groups due to the nonindependence of observations. That is, this analysis has 
repeated measures of categorical, independent variables, for which no 
statistical analysis is available.


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