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My 13-year-old daughter has absolutely no interests or hobbies and never had. When she was younger we tried to force her to do some sport but she constantly refused and cried whenever it came up. We also every so often try to suggest her activities, e.g. "why don't you xy a bit (xy e.g. go for a walk, read a book, paint, decorate, learn crochet, try out new hair styles, go to a mall...)" but she always refuses. I suggest her various things (either doing together or alone).

When being asked by other people what her hobbies are she always replies sleeping or doing nothing. Apart from that behavior she is a nice child who obeys when being asked to help and do homework.

Can we force her to go to our condo gym or pool to do at least something instead of sitting in bed all day after school? Or should we let her have her way and leave it be?

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    If she has no interests or hobbies, how does she occupy her time? Surely she has some activities that she does with friends and acquaintances and reads some books. She doesn't just spend all day in her bedroom starting at a wall when left alone, right? Give us a clue about what kind of person she is and how she currently spends her time. Sep 4 '17 at 20:41
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    Well, the staring at a wall after her phone is taken away part sounds like the behavior of many typical young teens. My daughter does that, too. But how about after she gets tired of doing that? Then what? Books? Music? Also, if she's 13 she probably hasn't had her cell phone for that many years. What did she like to do with her time before she got her cell phone? Sep 4 '17 at 20:56
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    Who is she texting? And about what?
    – user26011
    Sep 4 '17 at 22:30
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    Have you asked her "what is it that you wished you could do but never could" or something of the sort? Or what her long term goals are, if she has any?
    – corsiKa
    Sep 5 '17 at 2:29
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    @SamuelWeir "Also, if she's 13 she probably hasn't had her cell phone for that many years." You might be amazed to find that a lot of teens are getting cellphones as early as 9 or 10 or even earlier, and the things they did at that time is obviously quite different than what you'd expect a 13 year old to do. So the follow up question has, I suppose, some merit, but I think in today's world, perhaps not so much.
    – corsiKa
    Sep 5 '17 at 2:31
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I noticed you only mentioned physical things. I am a big believer that kids need to move their bodies too, but I never had a hobby of any of those. If your interest is having her be more physically active, maybe make a routine where you bike ride with her on certain days or take walks together. You can even do a workout together at this age, or try yoga together.

Does she show interest in anything else, such as reading even? There are a million things you can try out there. There are many types of art, music, dance, theater, etc.

Then there are also skills, like sewing, crochet or knit, even tatting is quite lovely and easy to take along with you. There is also cross stitch and embroidery. Cross stitch has recently made a comeback with lots of children as there are so many patterns now kids find amusing, like patterns that have naughty sayings (maybe beyond what you would like), but also things like "Rainbows are the farts of unicorns" with a picture, etc. There are many that are for games as well like Mario Brothers and games that happen to have been in pixelation or still are. My sons even like cross stitch for this reason.

Jewelry making can be incredibly fun and also very diverse. You can do everything from simply braiding or macrame with cord to learning how to handle jump rings and chains.

I live in a pretty rural place without much to offer and all those are things you can easily locate here. We also have horseback riding lessons for very reasonable, a nature conservancy, etc.

My personal belief is that a person without a passion just hasn't found one yet. I truly believe that. My younger children have things they enjoy, but the oldest (of the little ones) is 10 and hasn't yet found his either. I would suspect he will in the next 4 years, so we just keep trying new things. We will just look until he does.

I don't force my kids to do things, but I also sort of act like it's not a question. I say "Come on, let's go...." and then say whatever it is. We try it out. If we like it, we do it again, if not, no worries. We could try a new thing every week and never run out of things to try.

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  • How broad is a passion, for you? Does it have to be something productive?
    – Weckar E.
    Sep 6 '17 at 11:50
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    I am not sure reading a fiction book is under the technical definition of productive, but especially as a child learning to improve reading skills, vocabulary, etc, for me it's plenty productive enough for a passion. Likewise bird watching could be someone's passion and it's productive in the sense again that you do a lot of learning in that hobby. I'm not sure how you define productive. My one son loves minecraft, he improves skills, makes cool things, uses creativity. It doesn't produce anything tangible (like fiction reading), but I think it's impact on him has productivity.
    – threetimes
    Sep 6 '17 at 12:14
  • Thanks for that clarification. Your statement of "My personal belief is that a person without a passion just hasn't found one yet. I truly believe that. " got conflated in my head with a statement I've heard that everyone should be able to turn their passion into their job.
    – Weckar E.
    Sep 6 '17 at 12:21
  • I agree with you @threetimes, and it should be remembering more often that the way to find thing that you love is trying doing various things, not spending the day chatting :-) Sep 7 '17 at 14:06
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When I was 13 I recall my socializing was arguable the most important part of my day after school. I spent most of my time on the phone chatting with friends or on the computer typing to other people. I didn't really explore any new hobbies or interests during that period and instead focused on that. I suspect your daughter is likely in the same position where texting occupies most of her time after school and few other activities are motivating. I don't think this was unhealthy for me as I learned a lot of important social skills through trial and error during that period. Many functioning adults I know don't have a hobby either and they do just fine. I think I'd be inclined to leave her be and let her have her way.

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There are a few things to consider:

  1. It is typical for young teens to be moody, distant, and even display a lack of interest in activities. However, I would watch her behavior carefully, as these can also be indicators of depression. Children and teenagers, a like, should find joy in some type of extracurricular - e.g., art, music, reading, writing, cooking, STEM activities, socializing (beyond online contact only), sports, etc. There is a lot of brain maturation and development that occurs during adolescence; solitude and a lack of interest may be because of this natural maturation or it may be a sign of more serious emotional dysregulation. If you are concerned, you may want to seek guidance from her pediatrician.

  2. How much time does she spend on the phone? Did she spend a lot of time on a tablet, phone, or other device prior to getting her own phone? If the answer is yes, she may need to "detox" from technology for a while. What I mentioned in #1 above can also occur when the developing brain has prolonged exposure to devices. The constant (instantaneous) stimulation received by the brain ends up blunting children and adolescents' "pleasure" inputs so other activities (in comparison) are not as enjoyable. Unplugging for a few weeks, and then limiting screen time to 20-30 minutes per day usually helps. After about 1-2 weeks into the "detox", she should start to respond to the various activities you expose her to. Maybe she will find joy in one of them. It takes at least good 3 weeks to make a permanent change in habits (sometimes longer), so it might be rough for a while (especially at the onset). But in the long run, she may be a happier teen.

  3. Lastly, whom is she texting? Or is she on other social media apps? Although you do want to give her space (as this is an important part of her transition to adulthood), it is also important to make sure she is interacting in a healthy way with others online (helps with point #1).

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    Actually, forming/breaking habits to the degree where they are actually habits can take up to 15 weeks. Limiting screen time is also rather difficult when it is required for homework.
    – Weckar E.
    Sep 6 '17 at 11:48
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    @WeckarE. Yes and no. It is variable based on a number of factors such as how ingrained the habit is, the flexibility of the neurological system, and the rigidity of "conditioning". Researchers have found A LOT of variability w/ regards to the automaticity of "new" behaviors (e.g., 18-254 days; Lally et al., 2010). You are correct that the 21-day "rule of thumb" is not a steadfast rule, and I have edited my answer to reflect this... i.e., "It takes AT LEAST a good 3 weeks..." However, she should begin to see some change w/in that time, esp. if the new behaviors occur on a regular schedule.
    – Dr. Mom
    Sep 7 '17 at 2:42
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I'm a younger person (in my 20s), and I think the definition of hobby is the issue when dealing with older folks. My parents also tried to get me involved in conventional hobbies like sports, dance, yoga, and crafts. While some of those I enjoyed eventually (like crafts) or not (like sports), I did eventually discover a hobby that is my true passion: fandom.

Specifically, I got really involved in reading stories about my favorite fictional characters. At first it was cringy stuff, but I got to liking more mature stories about friendship and social issues. I also went from consuming stories to analyzing them, helping people edit, to writing my own. The community helped me learn a lot of the writing skills that school didn't teach us. It also led me toward programming to make beautiful webpages, which is on my resume now. Other people like to do fanart, make fan critic videos, run blogs, or design costumes, and even eventually start selling their work.

However, the one constant for most of us is that we don't talk about fandom, especially at a younger age. Its something people will make fun of, often by older adults. And because fandom leans heavily LGBTQA+, it also is a safe space for closeted kids or those who are questioning, further leading them to hide this side of their lives.

So to our families, this all looks like we never want to get off the screen and do something, even at my age. But its a passion, community, and lifeline for vulnerable kids who get picked on by peers and adults. Plenty of older people stay in fandom, although adults tend to get less involved when real life lets us find people like us (and even marry them and read kids fanfiction bedtime stories*). In contrast, most people I know quit their childhood hobbies like sports, music, and painting in favor of scrolling through instagram.

Maybe your daughter isn't in fandom. She could be involved with rpg games, where people write one original character of a story alongside others. Or reading manga, or making memes, or programming, or any number of other great hobbies that are not mindless consumption.

I would suggest asking non-judgementally about what she does on the computer instead of assuming its worthless. Could it be? Sure. But it could be she has a real passion, and like my family, yours will never know if you pre-judge.

*CBS actually interviewed the authors of this famous fanfiction. Their fans have gotten so old, now they read their own kids this story alongside the actual Harry Potter books. https://youtu.be/1GoBTzVfn0I

Also, one of the founders of my favorite fanfiction site became a published author of original fiction. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naomi_Novik

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I would make her do at least 2 extra-curricular activities (sport, club, musical, etc.) per year (1 in Fall, 1 in Spring) of her choice. She can change activities at will but must be involved. Maybe allow 1 of the 2 extra curriculars to be a part time job if she wishes, but not both. Highly motivated students have part time jobs and extra curriculars.

This is a very important time in her life that most likely will begin the trajectory for the rest of her life. She should experiment and find her passions now, in school, while she can afford the time, has a supporting environment (both socially, and logistically with formation of teams, groups, etc of similar interest), and plenty of willing mentors. Finding your passions later in life is much more difficult and it is harder to change your trajectories while maintaining a full time job because of bills, family, etc.

I would also venture to say it's not mentally healthy to not care about anything, and probably affects attitude in the long term.

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    13 is too young to have a job in most places (unless it's something unofficial like mowing lawns or walking dogs).
    – Acire
    Sep 6 '17 at 11:01
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    "Highly motivated students have part time jobs and extra curriculars." She may actually not be highly motivated.
    – Weckar E.
    Sep 6 '17 at 11:44
  • @WeckarE. I think the lack of motivation, in and of itself, is part of the problem. Although "motivation" (like all characteristics) in children and adolescence is variable, she should have at least a moderate interest in something; no interest/joy is usually a red flag.
    – Dr. Mom
    Sep 7 '17 at 19:59
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I can understand your worrying, but we cannot force others to do something. A lot of people live without any hobby... it is sad but it is true. Teenagers are difficult, with their swarm of thoughts and doubts, they develop as personalities. And communication with coevals occupies the largest part of their time. It is important too.

I think you can try to spend more time and travel together. Then you will be more open to each other, and probably, it may cause more trust and warm conversations between her and you. Parents are always an example for children, so if your life is varied and interesting, if you always try something new, the likelihood that your daughter will be interested in other things increases.

Also, an interesting question - who is the person she really trusts? Maybe, she should spend more time with them to speak about everything she worries about. Or you can be that person, just try to listen to her without judgment and hasty advice. This age often requires a soulmate.

Good luck!

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