It’s okay to admit to being bored in class — but why?
We’ve all been there, either as children in school or, later, in college or at work—sitting around, being bored.
Boredom is a curious thing. It feeds on itself. Once your mind begins to wander, it gets harder and harder to re-engage. And, not surprisingly, a child who isn’t engaged in school isn’t going to do very well.
We’re not talking about a kid who just doesn’t like social studies or whatever else. We’re talking about a kid who doesn’t pay attention during class, who doesn’t put much effort into their work, and when you ask why not, they say “because it’s too boring.”
We can argue about who caused the problem. We can tell the teacher to get more animated (most teachers are superheroes, but we’ve all had that one who was dry as toast). We can tell the kid to buckle down and work, reminding them that school doesn’t have to be entertaining all the time. And on and on. But no matter who caused the problem, only one person can solve it:
If you are a kid in school, there are certain steps you can take to re-engage. If you are a teacher, you can examine your teaching style. If you are an administrator, if you are an educational psychologist, if you are a parent of a chronically bored child, there are things you can do to address the situation.
There are also some steps that are not going to work.
There is a limit to how much more a teacher can do when one kid out of thirty or forty is bored. Teachers are human. Expecting a young child to power through boredom the same way a motivated adult can, might be unreasonable. Many parents work close to the edge of survival and simply do not have the resources to intervene in their children’s education as they’d like. Finding a solution means looking carefully at the situation and changing what you can—getting help if need be—not railing against someone else.
It’s worth noting, too, that childhood boredom can be a symptom of several different larger problems—it’s not always, as adults may suppose, that school just isn’t fun.
School might not be challenging enough. Gifted students don’t always earn straight A’s. Sometimes they fail classes because the material is so easy that it feels pointless. Or, school might be too challenging. A learning disability, a vision problem, or some other factor might make school seem hopelessly impossible, so the child disengages. It’s even possible for both to happen at the same time—it’s not unusual for the same person to have both unusual gifts and unusual deficiencies.
A lack of engagement might also result from stress (perhaps problems at home or issues with bullies) which the child doesn’t know how to talk about, and so simply says “I’m bored.”
Finally, remember that children and teens, unlike adult college students, aren’t at school because they want to be but because they’re forced to be. Maybe some would choose school if they had the choice, but they don’t, and that matters. There may be good reasons for mandatory childhood education, but that doesn’t change human nature, and it is human nature, at any age, to want freedom of choice—and to disengage emotionally without it. A related issue is that many children can’t see the relevance of the subjects they study in school. Adulthood and its educational demands seem very far away when you’re in middle school. Sources of motivation usually have to be more immediate to work.
In all three cases (a child with unmet educational needs, a child suffering from stress or trauma, or a child disengaged due to a lack of control or motivation), the kid is going through something that only superficially resembles the boredom of an adult who’d really rather go dancing than work today.
The solutions to the problem of chronically bored children lie in many hands (including those of the child), but finding a workable solution depends on identifying the true nature of the problem.