Passion is a critical characteristic for teenagers.
Passion provides the drive that gets kids going, engages their creativity, their persistence and to a large degree, their happiness.
When kids have passion, planning a party, working on a school project with their friends, building a go-cart, forming a rock band, or even a trip to the mall can all be exciting and an opportunity for creativity, personal development and just plain fun.
Passion spurs engagement that leads to learning and personal development.Passion spurs engagement that leads to learning and personal development.Click To Tweet
And like a lot of other personal characteristics, there are individual differences among kids.
Some kids will be highly passionate and some will be much lower key with respect to their interests. Yet it’s important to remember, all kids and teens have things they enjoy and want to do.
There are just differences in how they feel and express those desires.
Parenting Kids with Low Passion
Parenting kids with low passion can be extremely frustrating for many parents.
The parents can see and encourage many things they believe would be productive and enjoyable for their teenager, only to have their ideas rebuffed. And so parents can worry that their teenager will miss out — not grow and develop themselves, not grow and develop their interests.
In response to these concerns, parents can…
- make demands,
- and otherwise try to get their teenager moving.
When parents with low passion kids bring their teenagers to counseling with me, this dynamic of parents pushing and kids resisting has invariably been going on for quite a while.
They usually come to see me because now their teenager’s behavior — their teenager’s lack of visible passion and resistance to parental input — has hit a critical stage.
Let’s see how this played out with parents Bill and Ronda and their son William, age 17.
“Everything Is Stupid…”
Ronda called to make an appointment and explained that their son William was in danger of failing his senior year and she and her husband were unable to get William to do his work, or even get him to do anything for that matter.
When I asked Rhonda to come in with her husband and William, she expressed doubt that she could get William to come.
I told Rhonda to simply tell William that things had hit a critical point and they were all going to talk with a counselor to decide what best to do. I asked Rhonda to explain to William that the counselor requested that William be there to learn what he wants to have happen next so that decisions aren’t made without his input.
Then if William decides not to come, Rhonda and Bill should come anyway.
All three arrived for their appointment.
William was typically sloppily dressed for a teenager.
Most parents do have their kids dress up at least slightly for a professional appointment — but not William, who was clearly not beholden to parental requests.
William did have that young adult, almost post-teenager look.
I learned a bit about Bill and Rhonda’s work and backgrounds.
When I talked with William, he explained that he was interested in video gaming and lots of other things were interesting, but not interesting enough to want to work hard at them. Most of his comments had a sarcastic “everything is stupid” edge to them.
I learned that William thought he’d probably go to the local community college next year, mostly because there wasn’t anything else he wanted to do. He believed he would pass his senior year, even with missing assignments, and that his parents made a big deal about everything and wanted him to be someone other than who he is.
I learned from Rhonda and Bill that for a very long time, they could not get William to be interested in or stick with anything.
He didn’t like sports, even though he’s over 6 feet tall, and never liked all the fun things that his peers liked.
His parents explained that if they let him, he’d play video games until 5 in the morning… in fact, he had done that several times.
Often, they would take his computer away, but then he’d just sit in his room and read and not do any of the things they needed him to do to earn his computer back.
Bill said that he thought that William was simply born stubborn.
The Parent-Teen Control Battle
It was clear to me that William and his parents had been in a Control Battle for many years… and as the years moved along, the damage to William and the family only got worse.Are you in a Control Battle with your teenage son or daughter?Click To Tweet
William — who seemed quite bright — had not excelled in school, or developed any strong interests other than video gaming.
He was at age 17:
- and unprepared for his post high school years.
Additionally, William, who didn’t eat well, sleep well, or exercise, was at least slightly depressed.
William’s parents were beyond frustrated… beleaguered and burned out would be more accurate.
They too were a bit sarcastic and cynical.
Any ideas I offered, they’d been there and done that.
From their point of view, they’d tried everything to get William moving, and quite simply nothing worked or was going to work. Bill in particular was angry about how much effort they’d put into William without any cooperation coming back from their son.
After trying my best to find a path forward for this family — and failing at every attempt — I decided to talk with all three of them about their Control Battle.
Here is what I said:
I’m glad you all are here and I can see that you all are feeling very stuck and you’ve been feeling that way for quite a while now.
You are all tied up in what I call, the Parent-Teen Control Battle.
It works like this; the more you, Bill and Rhonda, push and try to move William along, the more you, William resist and avoid. And this has been going on for years now.
And William, you’ve lost some valuable time growing and developing yourself.
I am very concerned about your mental health and your readiness for the next stages in your life. You have not applied or adequately developed yourself. You have gotten into a pattern of avoiding responsibilities and retreating into video gaming.
You are at risk of not graduating, and more importantly, not developing your potential in life, leaving you with a lack of personal satisfaction and self-esteem as well as chronic unhappiness.
Surprisingly, William didn’t disagree.
He said he understood that what I said was true, but that he simply didn’t care anymore. Bill and Rhonda agreed with my observation, but were still wondering what to do about it.
If they quit pushing, what would happen to William then?When parents quit pushing, what happens next?Click To Tweet
I explained that the most important thing was to get out of the Control Battle and that all three of them had the power and the responsibility to do just that.
Helping Your Teen Develop His or Her Interests
We developed a plan and little by little they began to find their way out of the Control Battle and William started making progress in school and in his planning for community college.
BONUS: Think you may be in a Control Battle with your teenage son or daughter? Enter your email address below this blog post and I will send you a free copy of my self-assessment checklist called, Is It A Control Battle?
Last I heard, William was at a university studying computer engineering and was quite happy and moving forward in his life.
So if your child or teenager is low in passion, it’s important to avoid the mistake of pushing too hard.
Know and have faith that your child or teen does have interests, passion and you can play an important role in helping them develop and grow their interests.
- Do not think of them as stubborn. In William’s case, he learned to be stubborn as a way of resisting parental control.
- Stay positive.
- Give your child or teen choices for areas of involvement. For a child this may be join the soccer league, dance class, or art class. For a teenager it might be get a job, or join a school sport, get involved in a play production or other extra curricular activity that they will commit to.
- Hold them accountable to their responsibilities and commitments. Do not worry about whether withholding a privilege is working or not. Parents simply set up the structure; these are the standards and these are the privileges.
- All kids want privileges, so have faith in that and don’t let your child or teenager’s low level of passion create a Parent-Teen Control Battle.
Would you describe your son or daughter as highly passionate?
- If so, what are their interests? And how do you help them explore those interests?
- If not, do you believe their may be a Control Battle at work?
I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments below.