The Experience of Boredom in Barbadian Adolescents. A Case Study

Research Paper (postgraduate), 1991

32 Pages, Grade: B+

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Subject A - Doreen
Subject B – Caroline






This paper aims to examine the experience of boredom among Barbadian adolescents today. The idea for the study came from the students of the Alexandra School among whom there appears to be a very high incidence of boredom and in particular from one student with whom the teacher had occasion to converse almost every evening at the bus stop. This student will be discussed in detail as Subject A in Section Three of the study.

It appeared to the writer that the third and fourth formers at the school complained of boredom with alarming frequency; they were bored both at school and at home. Class discussions with some of these students after the Christmas holidays revealed that the majority of them had found Christmas boring. They complained that there had been nothing special about Christmas; it was just another day. There had been nowhere to go and nothing to do “except eat a lot of food and watch television”. The attitude seems to indicate that these young people’s concept of a good Christmas is to have things done for them or given to them and to have opportunities for entertainment placed into their hands. They do not perceive themselves as having a role to play in making Christmas the special event that it is supposed to be.

The writer is concerned that young Barbadians, exposed to the wide range of entertainment and educational opportunities available for young people today, should display such a high degree of boredom. This paper, therefore, comes as a welcome opportunity to undertake some research on the subject in an attempt to find possible explanations for this type of attitude among young people and to propose ways in which they can be helped.

Information for the paper was obtained through a review of the relevant literature, informal discussions with students both on the class and individual levels, interviews with the two students who form the subject of the study and finally, the school records made available by the secretary of the school who also provided information about the school.


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The Alexandra School, on which this study is based, is a governmental assisted older secondary school. It opened in 1894 as a girl’s school with a small enrolment of twenty-four. In 1984, the school became coeducational and today, it has expanded to accommodate a population of 770 students of which the boys account for approximately one third.

With an academic staff of forty-five the school offers a wide range of subjects in the areas of arts, science, technical and business studies. Forms 3-5 are arranged on the basis of options for these areas. On the whole, the Alexandra School enjoys a good reputation and this is probably borne out by the rapidly increasing population which has given rise to some overcrowding and the need for further expansion at the present.


The students on whom this paper is based are all in the early stages of adolescence (13 – 15 years old). Blair and Jones (1964) define adolescence as the period of transition between childhood and adulthood. This transition may be more difficult for some than for others, being affected by various environmental, social and biological factors over which the individual may have very little control. The difficulties arising from this transition may manifest themselves in various adolescent problems of which boredom is only one.

What is boredom? The Oxford Reference Dictionary defines it as “mental weariness caused by idleness or lack of interest”. The various students spoken to had different definitions for the term, but the general idea was that it was a feeling of depression which came upon them when they had time on their hands and nothing to do. The question which arises then is why should young people find themselves with nothing to do? Is it because there are no opportunities for recreation and entertainment, because they have no interests, because of restrictions imposed on them at home and at school or because of the problems coming out of adolescence?

Furnham and Gunter (1989) assert that today’s youth have available to them a range of leisure pursuits both in and out of the home that is surpassed by anything available to previous generations. Ironically, it may be the very fact that there are so many leisure pursuits available to them which makes for boredom among today’s adolescents. Blair and Jones (1964) state that children’s range of interests decreases with increasing age so that at adolescence they have fewer interests than they did in childhood. This, they go on to say does not result from any decrease in energy in adolescents, but rather from the fact that they concentrate more energy into fewer channels especially those of a social and heterosexual nature.

Today’s wide range of options may make the specialization of interests which characterizes adolescence more difficult so that adolescents might flit from one interest to another in a sort of sampling; the result of which would be that no interest was pursued long enough to provide the fulfilment that it should. Blair and Jones further posit that the adolescent period is generally marked by a declining interest in school work.

Some of the more common interests of adolescents as stated by Furnham and Gunter (1989) and Seidman (1958) are music, care of appearance and television. Rogers (1958) has found that children’s preferences for popular music increase as they grow older and that with increased age there is a tendency for children to conform to a single pattern of musical preferences. This observation can probably explain the present preoccupation with Dub music among Barbadian adolescents.

With regard to appearance Silverman (1958) found that care of appearance was an important concern of adolescent girls and reflected their desire for approval, self-confidence and sexual attractiveness. She further stated that a positive attitude towards appearance could be taken as an indicator of self-confidence and high self-esteem while the opposite was a reflection of low self-esteem and a negativistic personality. While Silverman’s findings refer mainly to females, it is now apparent that males are becoming increasingly preoccupied with appearance. Their desire for the latest fashion in clothing, hairstyles, make-up and jewelry is an indication of the value that today’s adolescent boys place on appearance.

Research has shown that television viewing is probably the most popular adolescent interest in modern times. Witty and Kinsella (1958) in their study carried out in America and Furnham and Gunter (1989) in their study in Britain have found that interest in television is almost universal. These conclusions find support in that Dann (1984), which revealed that media-related activities of which television is the principal one ranked highest among the leisure pursuits of Barbadians.

Dann has categorized the forms of entertainment pursued by Barbadians under five headings: media related, cultural, sport, informal association and foreign travel which encompass a wide range of activities. His findings leave no doubt that the leisure opportunities available for Barbadians are many although he does not include such things as personal computers, video, electronic games and other related gadgets which became popular in the ’80s.

The level of interest in sports among Barbadians, as noted by Dann, was very low; participation being more in the capacity of spectators or readers. He comments that “the relative lethargy of Barbadians is outmatched by existing sporting opportunities for there are at least forty different types of sports available on the island.” It is lamentable that sports which provides young people with a large number of leisure opportunities and a good avenue into which they can channel the pent-up energies of adolescence is so little exploited by young Barbadians.

There is a greater tendency among young people to engage in such activities as partying, visiting friends and relatives, going to the beach and attending dances; all of which Dann groups collectively as informal association. A review of the literature related to the subject shows undoubtedly that the experience of boredom among Barbadian adolescents cannot be attributed to a lack of opportunities for leisure on the island.


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Prior to commencing the actual research, the writer obtained general information on the subject through informal discussions with students individually and on the class level. A case study approach presented the writer with the best method of research. Much of the information required was of a personal nature and therefore required a certain degree of confidentiality which could best be achieved through the case study method. For the interviews a number of basic questions were formulated. (See Appendix). It was expected that further questions would arise out of the responses of the subjects.

There was no difficulty in selecting the subjects. As mentioned previously, the idea for the study had arisen, in part, from encounters with a particular student. The student, Subject A, referred to as Doreen, was naturally the first choice. The writer felt that a study of a student of opposite disposition to that of Doreen would provide a more balanced picture of the actual situation. It would indicate what was done by way of entertainment by adolescents who were not bored and would at the same time enable the writer to make comparisons, analyze differences and perceive possible reasons for the experience of boredom among adolescents.

Upon consideration, Subject B, referred to as Caroline, emerged as the best choice. This student is vivacious, friendly and outgoing. She seems to have an excess of enthusiasm for life which she wants to pass on to everyone around her. She never appears to be bored and has, in fact, admitted that she is seldom bored.

The students were approached separately. The writer explained the nature of the study and asked whether they were willing to assist her. Having agreed they were assured of confidentiality and advised that they were free to refrain from answering any question that they considered to be too personal. They were also invited to volunteer any extra information which they felt might be useful for the study. At their request, the subjects were provided with a sample of the questions before the interview. The interviews, which were tape-recorded, were conducted separately in the privacy of the Language Enrichment Room during the lunch period. At the end of each interview the tape was replayed so that the subjects could listen to what had been recorded. Once again they were assured of confidentiality.


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Subject A - Doreen

Doreen is a 15 year old fourth former. She is outwardly friendly, confident and cheerful, but constantly complaints of boredom. Her conception of boredom is that it is a feeling that comes when one has nothing to do, nowhere to go and no-one to talk to. She says it is “a depressed state of mind, a void in time”.

Doreen does not enjoy being at home very much. She dreads holidays and even weekends, to a certain extent. Doreen lives with her father, a lawyer and her mother, a housewife with whom she has a good relationship. However, she feels alienated from the rest of the family - her elder sister and two younger brothers, because of the wide age gap between them; her brothers being much younger and her sister much older than her. She confesses that she experiences periods of loneliness at home because her sister spends very little time with her and she and her brothers do not share the same interests. This and the fact that she has very few chores to do; her mother being at home all day, makes her home life very boring.

To fill in this “void in time”, Doreen spends long hours reading, watching television, listening to music or speaking with friends on the telephone. Her favorite books are fiction and comics while her favorite television programs are comedies such as The Golden Girls, Perfect Strangers, and The Cosby Show. Like most young Barbadians, there is no other music for her but Dub. In addition, Doreen Enjoys corresponding and has many pen friends in countries such as Switzerland, Holland and Finland. She says that she chose pen pals from these countries because she is interested in learning about people and lifestyles outside the Caribbean. Strangely, when asked what her hobbies were the first thing that Doreen mentioned was watching horses. She says that she can spend hours just watching horses.

Doreen is an Adventist and is actively involved in church activities. She is also a member of the church chorale, its volleyball team and the Pathfinders, a semi-military organization within the church which engages in activities such as drilling, craft and camps.

Doreen revealed that she is never short of pocket money since she holds a part-time job at a funeral parlor where she is well paid. Her duties, which she enjoys, include bathing and dressing corpses and preparing coffins. Her working hours are not regular since that depends on the rate of business at the parlor. However, whenever it becomes necessary she works on evenings after school and on weekends.

Although Doreen claims that she is more bored at home than at school she still insists that she hates school. She is, nevertheless, a good student. She usually has a B average, is well behaved, participates in lessons and submits assignments on time. Her conduct is exemplary and her appearance is always modest and neat.

Doreen claims that she has many friends and considers herself to be fairly friendly and outgoing. She likes meeting people and experiences no difficulty in making friends. She admits, however, that she gets along better with boys than with girls. Strangely, in spite of getting along well with boys Doreen is not interested in boys beyond the level of friendship. Despite her friendly disposition, she confesses that she does not like travelling because she fears that she would miss the faces with which she is familiar and she would not know how to deal with strange people in foreign countries. She has, in fact, never travelled. Doreen looks forward to being an adult. She does not think that she will be bored then since she will have her hands full looking after her husband and children.

Finally, Doreen conceded that there are many opportunities for leisure in Barbados and admits that she does not have much spare time on her hands being always involved in one activity or the other.

Subject B – Caroline

Caroline is and active, spirited 15 year old fourth former who stands out in her class because of her enthusiasm and readiness to take the lead on all occasions.

Caroline loves herself and she loves her family. She describes her family as a close-knit one which does many things and shares happy times together. The family consists of two boys and two girls, the father, a contractor and the mother a hotel worker. Caroline is the second child. Like the rest of the family she has chores to do within the home, but this poses no problem since she does not mind pulling her weight in the home. She is provided with an ample allowance and has never felt inclined to take a part-time job.

Caroline considers herself to be very outgoing person; the party type, as are most of her friends. She likes action and not surprisingly her hobbies are mainly of the type which involves other people, action and movement. They include partying, going out with friends, sightseeing, telephoning friends and travelling. She has travelled to the United States of America and Britain and looks forward to much more travelling in the future. Caroline’s involvement in sports is in the capacity of spectator. She confesses that she and her brothers can “get on real bad” at a basketball game. Her favorite sports are basketball, football, volleyball and athletics. Caroline’s Number 1 hobby, however, is singing. She enjoys singing and hopes to become a professional singer one day. In the meantime, she is a member of the St. Clement’s Anglican Choir, The Alexandra School Choir and the Youth Chorale. She also loves listening to music and claims that there is nothing to beat Dub. As Caroline herself admits one cannot be out all the time so she spends some time reading and watching television. The only type of reading matter she really enjoys, however, is romance stories. Likewise, her favorite television programmes are soap operas.

Caroline thinks that a person’s appearance is very important. She confesses that she likes to be in the latest fashion and she likes to look good. She spends hours, sometimes days, planning and preparing outfits for her frequent outings. Caroline is very interested in boys and admits that despite the fact that she has a steady boyfriend she likes to look good for other ‘fellas’. Although she likes boys, Caroline finds that she gets on better with girls and she has lots of girlfriends.

Caroline admits that she enjoys being at school, not because she is very interested in lessons, but because of the opportunities for socializing that school provides. She is a B average student and feels no need to achieve at higher levels. She says that she is not in the least anxious to leave school because “it is lots of fun except at the end of the year when there is so much work to be done in preparation for exams”. Caroline’s favorite subjects are English, Music and Business Studies. Her ambition is to become an accountant. In fact, she intends to pursue both accounting and singing. However, she realizes that in Barbados, the chances of making a livelihood as a professional singer are very slim so she has settled for singing on the side. Caroline is also an active member of the school’s English Club which provides opportunities for debates, panel discussions and speech making and which is responsible for the school’s newspaper and other entertainment magazines put out by the school.

Caroline is one student who asserts very strongly that she is hardly ever bored. Her parents are “modern thinking” and do not impose many restrictions on her socializing activities; consequently, she usually gets to do the things she wants to do. The only time that she is barred from doing as she wishes, she says, is at the end of term when she is punished for low grades. This, she thinks, is probably the only time that she feels bored and the feeling as she sees it is one where “you feel real lousy and depressed. Your mind is unoccupied because you are unable to go places and so you have nothing to plan for.”

Finally, Caroline is of the view that not many young Barbadians experience boredom. She thinks that there are far too many things to do and places to go for anyone to be bored and goes on to state that if more young people would adopt her philosophy on life which is “enjoy life to the fullest”, there would be less occasion for boredom and less incentive for young people to get involved in drugs and crime.


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A person’s attitude towards life is governed to a great extent by his/her personality and this makes it possible for two individuals to react differently in similar or even identical situations.

Sanford and Wrightsman (1970) define personality as “a unique organization of attributes” and assert that no two people behave consistently alike. This view is borne out in the fact that Caroline and Doreen are exposed to generally, the same conditions at school and in the community on the whole; yet their attitudes towards life appear to be vastly different. The one finds ample opportunities for amusement and entertainment and is able to satisfy her needs within the framework of home, school and community. She feels that she is enjoying life to the fullest and has no time to be bored. The other, despite her involvement in various church groups, a part-time job and many friends still experiences a certain amount of dissatisfaction which she conceives as boredom.

The picture of Doreen which emerges from the investigation is that of a young person who, on the surface possesses a high self-concept, is self-assured and contented. She has a part-time job and many hobbies with which to fill her spare time. Her hobbies include activities that can be enjoyed alone as well as those which involve friends. In fact, the only negative aspect of Doreen’s life appears to be the lack of rapport with her brothers and sister which causes her to be lonely at home. Looking at this picture one would therefore, be justified in concluding that this young girl should not be bored.

It would appear that causes of Doreen’s boredom lie much deeper than the nothing to do, nowhere to go syndrome that exists among today’s adolescents. This young girl conceals beneath her air of self-assurance a certain degree of uncertainty and perhaps even loneliness. She appears to be seeking some sort of fulfilment and stability which neither home nor school offers. This is evident in her constant need to be occupied or to be among friends. For example, she complains that weekends are usually boring whereas most young people look forward to weekends when they can be away from school.

Sanford and Wrightsman (1970) refer to Hurlock (1968) who described the emotional life of adolescents as characterized by inconsistencies. This can be applied to Doreen, to a certain extent, when one considers that she hates school yet she is an exemplary student in terms of behavior and average in terms of performance. She is outgoing and has no difficulty making friends yet is afraid to travel for fear that she will be unable to cope with new people and new environments. She does not have much spare time; being always involved in one activity or the other, yet she frequently experiences boredom.

Doreen also appears to be somewhat unusual with regard to her choice of part-time job and some aspects of her behavior. It is unusual to find a young person who enjoys the dismal task of attending to corpses and coffins. This type of occupation is usually regarded as being more suitable for adults. Her preoccupation with watching horses is also somewhat odd in a society like Barbados where horses are not reared as domestic or farm animals. With regard to behavior, Doreen displays a lack of interest in romance that could be considered abnormal at her age. She prefers grim fiction to romance stories and is not interested in boys although she gets along well with them. Doreen is at the age where, according to Silverman (1958), girls become increasingly interested in clothes and make-up as a means of achieving sexual attractiveness. However, although her appearance is always neat there is nothing about her which suggests a desire to attract members of the opposite sex. She does not wear make-up or jewelry.

As has been previously suggested Doreen appears to have needs which her home, school and community do not adequately meet. Consequently, she may feel thwarted in her attempts to find satisfaction. This situation is described by Sanford and Wrightsman (1970) not as boredom, but as frustration.

This frustration generally referred to (by students) as boredom was expressed not only by Doreen, but by several other members of her class; in particular, the boys. In class discussions, many complained that they were bored at home because of restrictions placed on their use of the telephone, their liberty to go out with friends and times set for them to come in at night. One of the primary needs of adolescents is independence and any threat to this is met with hostility and sometimes rebellion. Doreen’s gesture in taking on the part-time job that she has might actually be a manifestation of her need for independence and self-assertion. Whatever the case, it would appear that students may be using the term boredom in a general sense to refer to other dissatisfactions that they experience. In this respect a more detailed investigation into what students really perceive boredom to be would be worthwhile.

Caroline presents a strong contrast to Doreen. Her personality does not appear to conceal any hidden problems or dissatisfactions and she apparently experiences no difficulty in finding fulfilment for her needs in the things around her. She can probably be regarded as one of those persons for whom adolescence poses no major problems. However, as mentioned previously individuals react differently to this period of transition and there are many factors such as conditions at home and at school, relationship with parents, siblings and peers and not the least, personality which influence the individual’s reaction. In the case of Doreen a number of factors come into play; among them relationship with siblings and personality. Teachers should be on the watch for and sympathetic towards students with problems such as these which may influence their performance at school.

The investigation further revealed that there is a need for young people to exert a certain degree of independence of each other and to select worthwhile leisure pursuits. Restrictions placed on the use of the telephone and other socializing activities would not be as painful if adolescents did not rely so heavily on one another for diversion. There are a number of home based and practical pastimes such as reading, craft, handwork, painting, music and even household chores which provide useful entertainment and which can be pursued with or without company.

The television, as noted in Section Two, plays a vital role in entertainment today and indeed as Witty and Kinsella (1958) comment “it has great opportunities for worthwhile entertainment and education”. However, television, as powerful as it may be, offers purely passive recreation and as one parent, cited in Witty and Kinsella stated, it seems to be “converting today’s children into a race of spectators”. The consequences can be far-reaching and are already manifesting themselves in our youth who seem to see it as their right that recreation should be provided for them and that they need do nothing to merit it. This further gives rise to a deep-rooted lethargy which is described as boredom. One might again refer to Dann’s (1984) findings with regard to the low level of participation in sports among Barbadians.

Opportunities for involvement in popular theatre are now becoming increasingly common in Barbados and young people should find in this a very rewarding pastime. In addition, Barbados boasts a large number of social/community organizations such as clubs, youth groups, paramilitary, church and school organizations which are open to young people. If young people would take hold of the opportunities that exist for them and become activity involved in their own entertainment the complaints of boredom would be greatly lessened.

Obviously, the adolescent period presents difficulties for some students. Teachers should, therefore, endeavor to understand the type of adjustment mechanisms employed by adolescents which may manifest themselves as disruptive or otherwise unacceptable behaviors in the classroom. As important as actual teaching, is the need for teachers to help students through this difficult period. They should try to understand the motives for unacceptable behaviors on the part of students in order to be better able to assist, support and encourage them. The transition can be further mitigated by careful planning and preparation on the part of teachers. If lessons are made to be interesting, as well as instructive and if students can be made to see some positive benefit in them, then they are less likely to be bored.

Young people may mistakenly describe other problems as boredom, but whatever the problem, the fact remains that they need to be helped and teachers who understand the problems of adolescence can do much to make the adjustment into adulthood successful.


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Of the two subjects interviewed, one hated school while the other saw in school an opportunity to socialize. Further discussions with other students revealed that many of them considered school to be a prison in which they were incarcerated against their wishes. One is forced to consider the possible reasons for this attitude on the part today’s students.

At Alexandra, as at most of the secondary schools in Barbados, students are streamed according to performance and ability up to the third year and even in the senior classes they have no great say in the selection of courses. It might be far better to allow students greater autonomy in the selection of the subjects which they are made to do and which may determine their future careers. There can be little merit in burdening students with work which holds no appeal for them and for which they can perceive no future value.

The educational system in Barbados allows secondary education for all. This may not be as progressive as it sounds since the type of education offered at secondary level is mostly academic up to the third form level. Admittedly, a number of technical and business related subjects have been introduced into the curriculum, but the emphasis is still on the core subjects, English, Mathematics, Science and Modern Languages up to third form. This is a source of frustration for students who are not academically inclined and this frustration, expressed as boredom, may reveal itself in the form of disruptive behavior, lethargy and indifference, among other things.

What then is the solution? Perhaps students would benefit from more technical/vocational education at late primary and early secondary levels. This means not merely the introduction of a few technical/vocational subjects into the secondary school curriculum, but the introduction of technical/vocational schools for those students who are inclined towards that field. One such institution, the Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic exists, but accommodates only post-secondary students.

The educational system, in any country needs to be changed from time to time to meet the needs of students.


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Please add anything that might help the writer to know why young Barbadians complain of boredom.

1. Are you usually bored? Do you feel bored at school, at home or are you just generally bored?

2. What are some of the things you like to do? Do you go out and do them? If not why?

3. Do you consider yourself friendly and outgoing?

Do you have many friends?

Are you bored because you do not have friends?

4. Do you like talking on the phone? Do you spend much time doing this?

5. Do you have brothers and sisters at home? What number are you in the family?

6. Do you live with your parents?

Are they young or middle-aged?

7. Are you involved in any groups or clubs?

What groups and clubs are there for young people in Barbados?

8. Do you like sports? What are your favorite ones?

9. Do you play any sports? Which ones?

10. Do you usually have a lot of leisure time? What do you do to occupy yourself then?

11. Do you have lots of household chores?

12. Do you usually have enough pocket money?

13. Do you have a part-time job?

14. What are some of the things you could do to stop being bored?

15. Do you think you will be just as bored when you become an adult? Why/ not?

16. Do you think you would be just as bored living in another country? Why?

17. Would you say that young people in Barbados are generally bored or is it a problem that exists with a few people (like yourself perhaps)?

18. What are some of the things that boredom can lead to? (your opinion)

32 of 32 pages


The Experience of Boredom in Barbadian Adolescents. A Case Study
University of the West Indies  (School of Education)
Psychology of Education
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Experience, Boredom, Adolescents
Quote paper
Joyette Fabien (Author), 1991, The Experience of Boredom in Barbadian Adolescents. A Case Study, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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