EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


June 29, 2014

Rather than turning to pills, try to find cure for boredom

Dear Doctor,

The school our son has attended had us in for a meeting. They think he has attention deficit disorder. He is very bright, reads a lot on his own and is interested in many things. He says he is just bored. Next year he will be in high school and we don’t know what to do.

Ma of Bored

Dear Ma,

First, listen to him and not the “experts.” He probably is bored. We are engineered, neurologically speaking, to be that way. Attention is neurologically connected to different brain functions. For example, think about a particular moment in your life when emotion was aroused. You likely recall it in some detail. Setting and context are extremely important in memory and, therefore, attention.

Interest is also a factor. We tend to learn better if we are interested in a subject. The brain does a poor job with multitasking. Several systems are involved in whatever task we are about. Attention is complex and it involves many functions.

Our culture loves “fixing” things. Pills are just the answer. The problem may be closer at hand and in the very nature of attention.

Here is a mind bender: There is very clear evidence that attention wanes, in most of us at least, after 10 minutes of presentation on a given subject. A sermon, corporate presentation, or a school lesson loses its impact after about 10 minutes. We crave relief and variety. Wise teachers are great with theater. They grasp the intellect and the emotion. They also know how to shift topic and focus within the 10-minute interval. When experts in any field drone on, they lose their audience.

We also know that 90 percent of what one learns in high school is lost from memory and it happens quickly. This should be humbling for curriculum managers, but I have not noticed it.

Take your son for some coaching on ways to learn and make boring material at least manageable.


Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. Email him questions or comments at lrryllrsn@CS.com.

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