Boredom: Toxic to the Brain?!

Engaging student interest is a top classroom concern for the teachers we've consulted, second to self control and social conflict management between students--- all of which interrupting the learning process in classrooms. In an era of instant gratification and the fast pace of technology, 80% of high school students cite boredom as the main culprit behind their decision to drop out, mixed with the feeling that course material is neither interesting nor relevant to their lives.

As the parent of a kindergarten student and 4th grader, I haven't even considered the drop out factor, I guess because I'm not dealing with any teenagers yet! I will say, that my little ones already use the "B" word (boredom) and these statistics have my ears wide OPEN. These stats have also compelled me to explore how teachers might find more success at engaging students in today's fast paced world. And so I search for answers...

In an Edutopia article written by Judy Willis M.D., Neurologist, Teacher & Author, she confirms the statistic of boredom and compounds the concern by stating that boredom is not only an epidemic but a further concern for the neuro-toxic contributions it makes to our children's brains! What?! Boredom is neuro-toxic?! YES! Well, sort of. It's the STRESS, actually, of being bored on a regular basis.

Dr. Willis explained that boredom as, "researchers describe, is a mismatch between an individual's needed arousal and the availability of external stimulation. In a classroom overburdened by excessive curriculum, this mismatch is problematic as students' varied range of background knowledge and mastery cannot be engaged by uniform instruction. The chronic stress of sustained or frequent boredom correlates with neurophysiologic changes that impact cognition, memory, social and emotional behavior -- changes that affect school success. Worse, over time, high stress increases the risk for many other medical conditions."

Luckily, Dr. Willis outlines interventions and directives to help educators engage students. Such directives as the following:

  • Boosting continued efforts to provide engaging and personally relevant learning experiences
  • Helping students build the executive functions of emotional self control to give them strategies for stress reductions

In addition to these suggestions, Dr. Willis gives clear directives to boost relevance, mindfulness & metacognition strategies and attentive focus & distraction inhibition for more successfully engaged students. We feel Dr. Willis' Edutopia article is well worth a read for parents and educators, alike and have included a ink to the full article here.

As a mom and an advocate for mind based learning, boredom in classrooms scares me. The cost is too high. But neuro-toxic boredom is just unacceptable. Thank you, Dr. Willis for your direction.