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Boredom, Violence and Passion

Studies have shown boredom can lead to teen violence and having a passion helps.

CCO Creative Commons
Source: CCO Creative Commons

The prevalence of mass school shootings and the increase in gun violence among teens has left many of us not only in disbelief but also struggling to understand the whys of the problem. Putting gun legislation aside, let’s consider why teens even consider arming themselves with guns—and then making the decision to pull the trigger on themselves and/or others.

One of the reasons why a teen might even possess a gun is because of suicidal thoughts. Dr. David Grossman (2018), a Kaiser Permanente Pediatrician-Researcher, said that teens who are depressed or having issues with substance abuse are more likely to commit suicide. Dr. Grossman advocates routine screening for depression in all teens, and then offering treatment to reduce harming themselves or others. Depression screening, he says, is also a way to raise parent and school awareness.

Raising awareness is the first step, but in most cases, there is no simple answer to saving the lives of adolescents and their peers. However, one thing is clear: in each of the cases of mass shootings, particularly in schools, the murderer was psychologically unstable; and many would agree that he should have been forbidden to have access to a gun in the first place.

We need to examine more closely the states of mind of teens who engage in risk-taking behaviors. This type of study should be at the forefront of future research about young people who get in trouble. To facilitate this process, we need to have more school psychologists in place, which would increase the chance that these individuals would be identified before taking action. What to do with them once they’re identified, though, is fodder for another discussion, but I have some ideas. Many of the kids who engage in risk-taking behaviors are simply bored, and bored teens mean trouble. Many teens who engage in risky behaviors are left to their own devices and might not have appropriate role models.

Let’s take my eldest daughter, for example. While she’s now a stable mother in her 30s, her adolescence was marked by boredom and turbulence. She did not commit any acts of violence—except when it came to herself. She covered her body in tattoos and piercings and engaged in certain troubling behaviors that led to her being sent away to an emotional-growth school in Utah for eight months. Others might choose different risky behaviors that could place themselves or their peers in peril.

During my daughter’s program in Utah, my husband and I learned many lessons, but the most important one was that it’s not a good idea for teens to be bored, and when they are, it’s a sign that they need to find a passion, something positive that holds their interest—whether it’s the arts, sports, or community service.

When my daughter’s grandfather heard this, he went out to buy her a camera, and that simple gesture changed her life. We always knew she was visual, but early on we did not connect the dots on that one. Getting that camera was life-changing for her. It distracted her from previous risk-taking behaviors, such as selling drugs and body mutilation.

Studies have shown that there is an increase in the number of crimes during the summer months because of boredom. Sometimes students don’t know where to turn or what to do, so it takes astute teachers and parents to identify children’s natural interests and passions and encourage them in that way. I’m not blaming adults for their kids’ misconduct, but sometimes they can be a contributing factor. Just consider those parents who work long hours and multiple jobs and leave their kids to fend for themselves—sometimes their kids’ peers, who may also be lost, are their only influences.

If boredom is at the core of teen risk-taking, then we need to address that issue. A recent study by Biolocati et al. (2018) investigated the relationship between teens being bored and the chance of risk-taking or extreme behaviors and found that those who were bored took more risks. Minimizing boredom involves engaging teens in activities of interest to them, or passions that are crying out to be realized.

Boredom and a lack of passion can definitely result in anger and depression, which might be at the core of so many of the problems facing today’s youth. A longitudinal study by Spaeth et al. (2015) identified the connection between boredom and delinquency. It examined many factors, such as gender, peer rejection, lower-versus-higher school tracts, family relationships, temperament, rural-versus-urban living, and depression. The latter could be preventing teens from even seeking out activities to overcome their boredom; therefore, depression must first be identified and treated. The study’s results indicated that good relationships with family members and peers minimize boredom in teens. How many times have we heard that a mass shooter or risk taker was a loner? These issues need to be addressed! Peer acceptance is vital during adolescence, and not being accepted can also result in risk-taking and/or attention-seeking behaviors. In summary, the study showed that boredom among teens is complex and needs even closer examination.

As Glen Gehler, PhD, wrote in his article “Mental Health and School Shootings,” it’s vital that we bring awareness to mental health in this country by calling for legislative assistance.


Gehler, G. (2018). “Mental Health and School Shootings.” Psychology Today. February 15.

Grossman, D. (2018). “Kaiser-Permanente Pediatrician-Researcher Discusses Teens and Gun Safety.” Kaiser-Permanente Newsletter.

Spaeth, M., K. Weichold, and R. S. Silbereisen (2015). The development of leisure boredom in early adolescence: Predictors and longitudinal associations with delinquency and depression. Developmental Psychology. Vol 51. Issue 10. pp. 1380–84.