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Susan Stiffelman Headshot

My Teen's Only 'Passion' Is Her Cell Phone!

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Westend61 via Getty Images
Westend61 via Getty Images

I know you talk about helping children find their passion, but my 15-year-old daughter doesn't seem to have any. The only thing she wants to do is text her friends or go shopping. I don't consider these passions! She used to love creative writing and made up cute plays when she was little, but now it is all about her phone and her friends. How do you help a child care about something?

It may not come as much comfort to you, but your situation is one that is plaguing parents across the country. It used to be that our big challenge was getting kids to turn off the TV and do something "productive." Nowadays, most parents have given up hope that their kids will lose themselves in a book or a piano concerto; now, it's about not losing them down the black hole of their devices or the 24/7 pull of their "cyber" friends. Here's my advice:

• Be realistic. If you want to create space for your daughter to feel passionate about something, you'll have to dial down her access to online entertainment and distractions. Nearly all children will favor the unlimited stimulation of their computers, iPads or cell phones over the harder work of reading, painting, studying, writing or making music.

• Be fearless. I've said it before and I will say it again: it is okay if your kids get mad because you limit their internet/ cell phone so they might explore other activities and diversions. Your daughter is not likely to say, "Gee thanks, mom!" if you start setting some limits on her digital devices. But don't let your fear of her upset cause you to abdicate your role as a parent.

• Reflect on her early years. Many teens forget what interests them beyond watching YouTube videos or playing video games. Often, there's a clue embedded in a child's earliest interests and inclinations. You suggested that your daughter enjoyed making up little plays; perhaps she'd find it interesting to take an acting class for teens, or one related to screenwriting? Help her look for activities outside the house that will expose her to other kids who are passionate about something. Even if it doesn't turn out to be her "thing," it will get her juices flowing.

• Take her to the bookstore. Some kids find that browsing the magazine racks of a large bookstore or news stand can awaken an interest. While your daughter may end up gravitating to the fashion magazines, see if there is something else that she'd be willing to browse through -- with you! These days there are magazines on everything under the sun. Take a few magazines to the coffee shop and look through them together to see if anything piques her interest.

• Expose her to intriguing people. Teens often find themselves taking up a new activity because of having met someone who awakens an interest in them. Consider people in your life who might be a positive influence on your daughter and arrange for a get-together. Perhaps you know someone who volunteers with rescuing wildlife? Or maybe a well-loved aunt has a passion for gallery hopping? Look for trustworthy people who might help your daughter discover untapped interests by sharing with her their excitement about what they're doing in the world.

Be patient. While I do suggest you create some structure around your daughter's Internet and cell phone use, be prepared for her to slump around the house complaining that she's bored. Simply unplugging her from her devices may not immediately result in her picking up a guitar or embarking on a beaded curtain project. Some teens just feel lost for a while. This doesn't mean she won't eventually stumble on a passion. Be supportive, expose her to interesting people and activities, and trust that she will find her way.

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

To learn more, visit her Facebook page or sign up for her free newsletter.

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