Boredom or ADHD

Dear Therapist:

My 10-year-old son constantly needs to be entertained. He is never able to just sit still and keep himself busy. He enjoys listening to Jewish tapes of stories (Rabbi Erps, Rebbe Hill, etc.) but he will listen for 5 hours straight. And he will constantly kvetch about not being able to listen if we don’t allow it. Is it healthy for someone to spend that much time like that? It’s like he has become obsessed with this stuff and like he is addicted to it. I’d appreciate your thoughts and recommendations. Thank you.


There appear to be a few areas of concern. You speak of your son’s constant need to be entertained. Without further information, I don’t have a sense as to whether this is within normal range or if it may be indicative of a problem (ADHD for instance). Many kids—and indeed some adults—don’t enjoy downtime. Children oftentimes complain of boredom. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a problem; most often they are simply letting their parents know that they’re bored and want something to do.

However, when a child continually exhibits other symptoms (for ADHD these include: trouble focusing, listening, and organizing, distraction, forgetfulness, and losing things), there may be a larger problem. Your son’s inability to sit still and keep himself busy—without other symptoms—may be normal, depending on factors like duration and severity, as well as availability of, and interest in, other activities. For instance, perhaps he doesn’t have siblings or available friends with whom he can play, he doesn’t enjoy reading, and there are no other obvious outlets that interest him. In this case, his need to be entertained may be attributable to simple boredom. If, however, there are people with whom he can play, he enjoys reading but has trouble focusing for long periods of time, and there are plenty of ways for him to entertain himself, he may have a focusing issue.

The fact that your son can spend hours listening to tapes may mean that he doesn’t have a general problem with hyperactivity or attention. Introducing him to other forms of entertainment can help him to expand his interests. Perhaps there are books that he would enjoy or neighbors with whom he would enjoy playing a board game. Or his ability to listen to tapes for hours might be his way of dealing with attention problems. People with ADHD often hyper-focus in order allow them to temporarily banish a constant barrage of thoughts.

You refer to your son’s obsession with, and apparent addiction to, these tapes. The distinction between an internal problem and a situational one again relates to whether there are readily available forms of entertainment of which your son can avail himself. If you think that your son may have a problem that is not explainable by circumstances, you can have him assessed by a mental health professional.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317

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