How a sense of purpose can combat boredom

A report from Child Helpline International in 2014 on issues in high Human Development Index (HDI) countries states that: “Interestingly…quite a large number of children and young people complain of boredom and loneliness. They contact child helplines to share their concerns and worries” .

A story by Kiran


It got me thinking to say the least, especially after reading that these same high Human Development Index (HDI) countries also receive many calls about suicide: “Child helplines in New Zealand received 19,152 contacts about children and young people dealing with suicidal tendencies” (Child Helpline International, 2014).

Boredom and loneliness – did you expect that?

It really hit me – there’s something clearly not quite right. Why are youth in highly developed nations suffering from boredom and struggling with suicidal tendencies? There was not just one voice or reason for me to care about but 19,152 of them! Thinking about the prevalence of this issues among young people made me extremely aware of comments, messaging, and support systems. I wanted to inquire more why this might be the case.

  • Child helplines in New Zealand received 19,152 contacts about children and young people dealing with suicidal tendencies.

I started doing research and came across the article “Community-Based Youth Leadership: A Pathway to Civic Engagement from the Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development”. The first lines read: “Democracy requires people to learn, listen, dream and work together as they unleash their collective potential and create a just and equitable society. Too often, young people are excluded from democratic deliberation or relegated to age-segregated opportunities with little impact on democratic structures, such as service learning and youth advisory commissions. This tendency to minimize the contributions of youth is ironic since young people’s enthusiasm, idealism, and capacity for innovation have helped to catalyze democracy over time and around the world” (HoSang, 2003; Yates & Youniss, 1999 cited in Wheeler & Roach, 2005).

Social activation: enabling people to contribute to society in a meaningful way

What stood out for me from this, it was the idea of young people having way more potential then what the current social infrastructures allow them to express. Things don’t have to be that way – infrastructures can change and communities can learn to support their youth through a process called social activation. But before I talk more on social activation, I want to share my definition: “It’s about creating a space with tools that enables people to contribute to society in a meaningful way.”

  • Infrastructures can change and communities can learn to support their youth.

I believe that more and more young people are realizing that the existing platforms, – meant for them to engage in the civic society, trigger social change and express creativity-, haven’t experienced enough innovation! These platforms are, to a big extent, outdated and irrelevant for today’s youth. For young people in high HDI countries education is mandatory and well-attended. In many instances, students see their teachers more than they see their parents. But the education system is also lacking:

“Education can be stifling, no question about it. One of the reasons is that education — and American education in particular, because of the standardization — is the opposite of three principles I have outlined: it does not emphasize diversity or individuality; it’s not about awakening the student, it’s about compliance; and it has a very linear view of life, which is simply not the case with life at all.” – Interview of Sir Ken Robinson, 2013

Youth must find outlets for creative expression and community involvement

So education is a big part of it! Still the other part is what we, the youth, do when we aren’t at school. If education is stifling then young people must find other outlets for creative expression and community involvement, under the assumption that creative expression or the freedom of expression is a human need. From my experience of running a youth organization – the Young Innovators Collective in New Zealand -, I noticed that many young people engage with sports, church groups and school extracurricular activities.

But the keyword here is many – meaning some youth are left out! I’m only focusing on these two factors – engaging with activities outside school and the school system itself. I will purposefully not delve into many other factors that may be influencing social environment and well-being. This is more a comment on my own inquiries and conclusions, rather than a well-researched analytical comment on the reasons for issues faced by youth. So there are young people that the system doesn’t stimulate in a way that unlocks their full potential, thus they may not be a part of any community outside school. My belief is that these are the young people in need of support as they are vulnerable and susceptible to becoming bored and lonely.

Activating youth gives them a reason to start thinking about new possibilities

The Young Innovators Collective had an assignment to deliver six workshops focused on activating the youth into taking action in their local community. The workshops were organised for 15 young people representing a youth council in Auckland. The start was tough, I wasn’t sure they wanted to be there and they weren’t respectful of each other. It wasn’t the best environment in the world allowing a young person to thrive. In our first workshop we spoke of purpose, and I got them to explore what they loved, hated and wanted to change in their local communities. They all created a long list of things they wanted to change. From there, we dived into a series of questions – why did they wanted to change that particular issue or system? They found out common issues between each other’s lists. This gave them a reason to start thinking about new possibilities to try and change something.

During the six workshops, I had come up with short exercises to allow them to start challenging what exists and what is possible. Slowly they started to find common ground to talk and respect each other: they found a common purpose to be around that table! They acknowledged that if 2-3 people came together, they could make a change easier or come up with more ideas, both outcomes which excited them. In the last workshop I gave them the opportunity to present – 5 minutes each – a personal project that they’ve been working on for the last 2 months since the workshops started. It was magic! Everyone was listening, applauding, presenting in the most respectful, incredible and creative manner! The group facilitator, who had been working with them for a couple years, told me that this outcome had “brought a tear to my eye.”

There are young people that the system doesn’t stimulate in a way that unlocks their full potential.

I can’t help but think: if we are to help young people understand how they can work together and be a part of a larger community, and if we give them the opportunity to be themselves, then we can give young people more of a purpose and common ground to alleviate the loneliness and boredom! Together they will be on a mission to fully express their selves in whichever creative way they like, thus making the world a better place in the process. So if there’s one thing I took away from all of this, including this story as a reflection of my own thoughts, it is this: Never doubt the capability or capacity of a young person without first questioning the relevance of the platform upon which they stand!

Never doubt the capability of a young person without first questioning the platform upon which they stand

But I hope that the conclusion others get from this story, is that boredom and loneliness might have something to do with a lack of purpose. And lack of purpose might have something to do with the social infrastructure that doesn’t quite exist (yet) for young people to be a part of something where they can feel safe to express themselves and do more of what makes them come alive.



Child Helpline International (2014) CHI Briefing Paper No 1 Children in high HDI countries suffer from boredom, higher suicidal tendencies and the urge to harm themselves

Interview Sir Ken Robinson (2013):

Wheeler & Roach (2005), Community-Based Leadership. Full article at