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I have a 16 year old daughter who, whenever she has free time wastes it on things that I think are futile like Facebook, Tumblr, etc.

She's also performing poorly at school. I've talked to her about improving but she does nothing to change, or the change is ephemeral after my complaining. When I stop to complain, she goes back to her previous behavior. This is bad because it's frustrating and tiring for both of us.

I want to motivate her in science, mathematics, and/or music, or at least in something that is worthwhile for her life since she does nothing productive with her time, but all I can do is complain.

I've gotten advice that instructed me to leave her alone, based on the premise that this is only a phase, but I get worried about she having this behavior forever. What should I do?

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Great Question, I'm sure it is one lots of parents are facing right now! –  balanced mama Jul 9 '12 at 1:37
A teenager wasting their free time? Isn't that the very definition of being a teenager? (also, don't assume the attitude of a 16 year old is the attitude they'll keep for the next 60 years) –  DA01 Jul 10 '12 at 20:30
@DA01 Why does this happen? I have no idea. –  Vÿska Jul 12 '12 at 0:49
Why is TV popular? People like wasting time. –  DA01 Jul 12 '12 at 0:51
TV is not a waste of time. It provides socialization, and provokes thought through allowing the teen to create hypothetical situations to think themselves through. Discussing TV shows, music, sports (and video games depending on the circle) are the primary way teens socialize in my experience as a teen. Not knowing what's on TV means you're pretty much out of the loop for some discussions, won't get the context or humor of situations (can you imagine growing up never having seen the Simpson's)? At one point in my life, I'm pretty sure I heard 2-3 Simpson's references a day. –  bobobobo Aug 16 '12 at 3:23

9 Answers 9

The thing to worry about most is poor performance at school, only because that has the possibility of really cutting off her options in the future. One question you might ask yourself is why she isn't interested in other things. Rather than complain--which clearly isn't helping--do what you can to start a dialog. What is she getting out of facebook? Do her friends have similar performance at school? Why is she interested in Tumblr? Are there things she is interested in?

You might also consider that social networking is a sort of addictive behavior, and it is hard to give up something that keeps triggering your reward centers. She needs to find something else to trigger good feelings, and complaining at her isn't going to help her do that.

If you feel like she needs time away from pretty much everything social network related, is there something that she would like to do to do that?

When one of my younger cousins was feeling similar ennui, I recommended that she go on an Outward Bound expedition (and argued her parents into paying for it). She came back feeling empowered and started taking control of her future. She was a little more defiant, actually, but she was defiant in better directions--she gave up the violin, which she hated, and started focusing on academics and physical fitness, which she loved.

You could send your daughter on a sailing or mountaineering course in late July... she wouldn't have internet access for three weeks. That might help her clear her head and give her a chance to think by herself for a while, which may be exactly what she needs.

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Excellent answer. Especially as anything you can say to her is likely to fall on deaf ears. –  Dave Clarke Jul 8 '12 at 16:22
I think this is a great idea. Kids get stuck in ruts, too and that might be what she's experiencing. Teenagers need something to do outside of school that isn't homework...my most successful high school students always had some kind of extracurricular activity. Some had jobs, some were involved in sports, their church youth groups, or volunteer work. It gave them a sense of purpose outside of just being a student. It also helped teach them important life skills like time management, responsibility, and planning. –  Meg Coates Jul 10 '12 at 18:48
Brilliant, you can't bully motivation into her, it needs to come from within. –  superluminary Mar 24 at 23:19

The main reason she's on Facebook and Tumblr is to interact with her friends. How often do you have people over, or take her to visit her friends? Have you started teaching her to drive? Does she have any extracurricular activities where she gets to see friends?

Also, complaining isn't going to improve her grades. Just make her associate you with annoying discussions about grades. Instead, talk to her about going to the tutoring center, or helping her wither her homework every night.

My parents used to ask me and my sister every night if we'd done our homework. Little things like showing you care in a non-criticizing way can help encourage her to do homework, even if she won't show it.

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I have a 16 years old daughter, whenever she have free time she wastes it on things
that I think are futile like Facebook, Tumblr, etc

First off, I personally think you would find that in this day and age, that is not an uncommon occurance. I'm sure there are plenty of teenagers out there now that are hooked in FB, twitter and any social media site.

2nd. Whos to say those things are futile? Whos to say that in 3 years they could be the biggest thing out there (if they aren't already of course) and that knowledge in their industry is what you have to have to get anywhere in life. What about the contacts she might make though those sites might give her leads to great things in life.

Third. I honestly believe although you can guide your child in a positive and constructive direction, trying to force them down a route will only have the adverse effect. She has to wake up one day and realise that she wants to do something with her life and what that something is without realising she's been pushed in one direction in the other. Basically it has to be her decision for it to be a good decision for her.

4th. We are all different. Some of us don't like maths or the sciences. Some of us don't like the arts. And some of us don't like sports. Don't push her down what kind of ciriculum you like.

So to my point. I think this must be one of the hardest stages for a parent and potentially one of the biggest for a childs life. It can shape who they are to become as a person and the road their life can start down from. I think the best thing you can do is to listen and observe their behaviour. Find out what they are good at and more importantly what they are interested in outside of FB etc

Everyone will have something, some are just better at hiding it than others. Once you find that thing, slowly coax it and show interest. Try and coerce it into being a major focus in her life. Show interest in it, but not too much as it's her thing not yours.

And remember. What you consider worthwhile might not be worthwhile to her. And if that's not the case no amount of forcing or manipulating will do any good. She will move on from the FB and twitter phase. Be there for her when she does. She won't thank you, but she will know!

Now take a step back and think back to your 16year old years. Are you the same person you were then that you were at 21, that you are today? The core values are probably the same, but your interests are probably different. Her's will change too!


I have a 16 years old daughter, whenever she have free time she wastes it on things 
that I think are futile like Facebook, Tumblr, etc.  

Just thank your lucky stars she is not on drugs, alcoholic or pregnant. Now that is defintely way too common in our young of today and something a parent should be truely concerned with!

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let us continue this discussion in chat –  dreza Jul 12 '12 at 3:11

First question: How have you taught her about money? Who pays for her computer and internet time? Because if you're paying for it, and you don't like it, then cut her off. My parents had a very strict rule about paying for things they don't like: they didn't do it. If you wanted it, you needed to pay for it yourself. She's certainly old enough to get a job for herself if she wants one.

This approach had another effect, that of pointing out what it means to be 'free' in today's society (at least in the US): money gets you conveniences and capabilities you otherwise wouldn't have. She can go to a library, a school, or use her friends connections if you cut her off, but those are not particularly convenient solutions.

Second question: Is there any chance of anything useful coming out of her activities? There once was a joke about video games, for instance: Gary Larson's Far Side from the 80s

I remember when that comic was in the newspaper, because my parents made a big deal about how there was no money in these silly video games. Now, they are an enormous industry, and individual players can even get salaries (Korean article about player salaries, Google Translate link).

So, are you sure that nothing good can come out of it? Perhaps by making sure she pays for her leisure time, she can figure out some way to make something of herself through these activities, ways that we can't even envision now.

The trick, in my head, is not to be overly harsh about this. If you just cut her off, cold turkey, she may decide to do self destructive things just to try to teach you a lesson about how mean you are by cutting her off. Maybe saying something like the bills for these services are getting to be too high, so everyone has to pitch in to keep the connections on. Getting her to participate in paying the bills might help, but then again, I don't have nor have I been a teenage daughter, so the specifics of the transition might be trickier.

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Even if she eventually can make money using her experience on FB and other social networking sites, she still isn't getting her school work taken care of too. –  balanced mama Jul 9 '12 at 1:35
Hence the limitation requirement. Still under the roof, still follow the rules-- and those rules should include a limit on conputer time when work hasn't been done. –  mmr Jul 9 '12 at 2:22
Players who get salaries are so rare as to be negligently distracting -- much like professional sports, if not worse. On the other hand, if interest in the internet or games can be turned into an interest in actually designing and building such things, it can be turned into a really good career. –  lgritz Jul 10 '12 at 18:32

First, make sure she only has access to the computer where you are - for example, she has to be on the computer at in the kitchen only. This way you can monitor time spent on what and have the power to take her computer privelege away.

Then, You might go over the idea of "first things first" with her. You can't personally have internet service if you can't pay for it, and you pay for the priviledge of being on Stack Exchange (for example) by going to work and getting your work duties done first.

Her "work" right now is to learn and do well in school. So, for every piece of quality homework she has completed (and you are the judge of its quality) and shows you, she gets 15 minutes online for things like Tumblr or Facebook. Make it clear that other than that, you are the parent and it isn't her option because she isn't taking care of first things first. When she can prove to you that she is taking care of first things first on her own, she can earn the priveledge of setting her own time limits back again.

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That's the point (I don't know If I'm right about that): I don't want to become a surveilance system, I want to make her understand she's wasting precious resources and that she could be using these resources on something better, she may not have me nearby in the future then I need her to understand that crucial thing. What do you think? –  Vÿska Jul 9 '12 at 2:10
I agree that is the ultimate goal, but she clearly needs some help because she isn't policing herself well right now. If you limit and police her for awhile and help her set a better example for herself while she earns the priviledge back she might be more careful and do better next time she has the freedom to not be surveiled. Sorry, apparently I don't know how to spell. Kids need practice before they can get a new skill and time management as well as self regulation is a skill parents have to work on them with in many different ways. Hope that helps to clarify. –  balanced mama Jul 9 '12 at 2:13
I'm really sorry to see that belief is out there. That a teenager can't have limits because teenagers can't be "controlled". It is true that she can go find internet use some where else and she can't be "controlled". That doesn't mean that with mutual trust and a good relationship, she can't understand why limits are being set and how she can CHOOSE to improve her choices in order to get those limits reduced or removed again. That is how they learn and although I don't have a teenager of my own, I have plenty of experience with plenty of them. –  balanced mama Jul 9 '12 at 14:08
My parents were certainly able to exert "control" over me when I was 16! I didn't like it and I made that known, but they didn't budge and, ultimately, I realized that they taught me valuable lessons. What? She's going to whine and complain? I have never had a student who frittered away his/her education come back to me years later and say, "Gee, I'm so glad I spent all that time on Facebook when I should have been doing my homework and focusing on school". There are two choices here, really: Take the laissez-faire approach and allow her to figure it out on her own which might mean she –  Meg Coates Jul 12 '12 at 0:55
doesn't finish high school which is sort of a big deal, or work with her on her time management skills (a set of skills many many teenagers are lacking) and be actively involved in getting her grades back up. She may be at the point where she's so far behind that she doesn't know how to dig herself out alone and she's a teenager which means she's unlikely to ask for help. I have never had a student who had a parent who was truly actively involved in their education who failed because the student knew that their mom/dad cared. –  Meg Coates Jul 12 '12 at 1:00

There are three common strategies:

  • Discipline aka 'stick'. Tell her off, complain, whine. Whatever - she's unlikely to listen.

  • Incentivise aka 'carrot' Can you discuss some kind of reward scheme for getting better grades? E.g. Improving a grade in any subject = trip to movies. Getting an A = trip to theme park. Getting all A's = driving lessons + (cheap, used) car.

  • Communicate (and thus educate) Does she realise that when she's finished school/college she needs to leave home and set up on her own? How will she achieve that? Have you discussed costs of living, options for college/university, a career? How about eliciting a single goal from her and working backwards in time to determine what she needs to do to achieve that? Examples and real-world data will help here.

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Don't belittle her interests.

I don't need a title for that, I just want to scream it at you. What she's interested in at 16 is socialization. If you haven't seen Mean Girls, go see it.

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That movie is based on a book (I have yet to read), called Queen Bees and Wannabees.

If you browse tumblr at all, it is very interesting. What it is is a huge web of people socializing, talking, and interacting. For a teenager, being liked and having friends is everything.

Should you do something?

So I think the advice to "leave her alone" is very bad, or at least misstated. If you "leave her alone", then you're basically neglecting her and leaving her to her own devices -- but she isn't old enough for that yet. That's why you're her parent and she lives with you.

You should never "leave her alone" per se, but you should help guide her with a relaxed hand. Don't overrestrict her, or overfollow her, or micromanage her time. But you should manage her from a high level. Is she performing satisfactorily in school? Then she can do whatever she wants with her free time, including tumblr. Not performing? Then she doesn't get all the privileges. Restrict her time on the internet by turning off the router or otherwise disconnecting it.

Do well or see closed doors

If she doesn't know what she wants to do, she must perform well in school so options are open to her. You have to impress upon her that having poor grades means closed doors in the future. Not going to university means you can only now work this subset of jobs. Having a job in high school such as cashier is a good motivator to want a university education, so that more job options become open.

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I don't know how you might do this at 16 years of age. Likely the girl has seen many people waste their lives ever since she was old enough to notice, and if you'll forgive me for saying it, she's seen you waste your life too. Watching football on television and the like. On top of that, she attends a public school which might be the biggest waste of time, effort, and money in all of human history. How often has she had to sit there twiddling her thumbs while the teacher tried to get the slowest kid in class up to speed? How often has she had to sit there wincing while they repeated the same things over and over in vain attempts to get the school's standardized test scores up? Everything in her life has taught her to waste time, that nothing more exists in the world than vapid entertainment. I do not think you can undo the damage now. Certainly not easily.

If a very young child sees those around them constantly doing things that matter, they won't go crawl into a corner by themselves and do nothing. What did your daughter see those around her doing when she was younger?

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let us continue this discussion in chat –  DA01 Jul 10 '12 at 21:55
Thank you for moving this discussion to chat. As comments are not for extended discussion, and the existing comments have already been imported to the chat room, I'm going to delete the ones here. –  Beofett Jul 11 '12 at 12:12
-1 For: assuming she's in public school, categorically describing all public education as a waste of time, money, and effort, accusing the OP of "wasting" their life through the assumption that they watch football on television "and such", and, most importantly of all, completely failing to actually offer a solution to the original question. –  Beofett Jul 11 '12 at 12:21
A 16 year old being 'bored/unmotivated' is not a sign of a failure in raising them at the age of 5. A majority of the time it's a sign of the kid being 16. –  DA01 Jul 11 '12 at 15:07
Them being "bored" is a sign that our civilization has failed. This happens because they're in a holding pattern where we don't allow them to do anything important or adult, but they've long since mastered the few things we allow children to do. So from about age 13 on up to 19 they're just waiting for college. Though, even that is hardly the challenge they need anymore what with it being watered down to compensate for the atrocious incompetency of our high schools. If you had 6 years of nothing important to do, you'd screw around on Facebook all the time too. –  John O Jul 11 '12 at 15:13

Children's self esteem/worth is built not on empty praise but on accomplishments, and accomplishments don't always happen at random, they are the combination of expectation and opportunity. It is your job as a parent to place those expectations and provide the opportunities, as well as encouragement when the inevitable failures occur.

Your child is past the age that building a snow fort or solving a jigsaw puzzle provides challenge and satisfaction. Your challenge is to find a variety of activities, mundane to spectacular, that will challenge and build your teen's abilities, self-sufficiency and self-worth. Mundane challenges might include doing all her laundry or cooking the family one 3-course meal per week. Spectacular challenges might be learning to play a favorite instrument (not one assigned by the school band), horseback riding, or whatever thrills her. Of course the latter can be used as rewards for the former, but avoid using mere experiences (going to the movies, beach, etc.) as rewards, because while fun and occasionally necessary, they don't actually provide any sense of accomplishment.

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