Polar Vortex Reveals Kids Aren't Bored With School—They're Just Bored

Tweets change tune after students spend a couple snow days stuck at home.

A 2010 study shows that teens try to bust boredom in one of two ways: evasion or reframing. (Photo: Adam Kazmierski/Getty Images; design: Lauren Wade)

Jan 8, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

To demonstrate just how bored kids get in school, The New Republic recently published an article appropriately titled "Bored to Death: To Learn Just How Bored Kids Are in School Look at Twitter." The piece was accompanied online by a live feed of bored students' tweets, which read as expected. (“Bored in 6th period.” “Right now, I'm in school, and I'm so F****** BORED!!”)

What the magazine didn't expect was the way students have been responding to being sequestered at home in the grip of a so-called polar vortex. Instead of celebrating, kids on Tuesday were tweeting about how bored they were, and many wished they were back at school.

The New Republic article, written by Amanda Wripley, reminds readers how boring it often was to sit in classes all day. Wripley writes, “When Gallup asked American teenagers to choose three words that best described their typical feelings in school from a list of 14 adjectives, 'bored' was chosen most often—by one out of every two students."

Although the magazine's real-time Twitter feed did not anticipate the change in sentiment brought about by the effects of the extreme weather, the story did. Wripley knew that schools were not solely to blame. The boredom of teenagers is a well-known phenomenon, with certain kids suffering more acutely than others. Wripley wrote, "Some people are more likely to experience boredom than others. Boredom is a function, then, not only of a dull situation but of a person’s general disposition—just like anxiety."

Wripley came right out and said, "Twitter is littered with bored-at-home Tweets, too, some of them from kids cutting class."

Looking for solutions to the widespread disengagement expressed by students, Wripley cites a rare 2010 study that revealed two ways that teens responded to boredom.

The good news is that kids seem to have more control over boredom than they might think. In the 2010 Nett study, most of 976 German teenagers surveyed fell into one of two main groups: the “evaders” were the kids who tended to avoid feeling bored by distracting themselves or talking to someone else, the kind who might be quick to Tweet or text at the first sign of monotony. Then there were the “reappraisers”—the kids who coped with boredom by basically talking themselves out of it. They tried to remind themselves of the value of what they were doing and reframe the situation in their heads.

All of the students used multiple coping devices, with varying degrees of success. But the evaders, it turns out, got the worst results. They did more poorly in school and experienced more boredom overall. It’s impossible to say which came first—the evasion or the problems—but it was clear which kid you’d rather your child be. The reappraisers experienced boredom far less often and did the best in school.

Although the reappraisal approach can be taught, Wripley worries that with the proliferation of easy distractions on smartphones, more kids will be drawn in the opposite direction. It's a digital vortex that will have to be fought in both of the spaces where kids declare themselves most bored—at home and at school.

This article was created as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by TakePart's parent company, Participant Media, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.