It happened for each of my homeschooled girls around the age of 12.
They began to lose interest in the activities that made their childhood full of wonder and delight.
Playing at the playground. Making crafts. Hanging out with siblings. Playing pretend. Exploring science museums.
At the same time, they weren’t sure what to do with their free time and they didn’t want to fill it with more schoolwork.
I know that “they” say boredom is good for kids. And I am sure it can be. But that doesn’t mean that a bored teen is going to suddenly find new interests and passions simply because they were left to be bored.
Sometimes it takes more effort than that. And that is where I found myself.
At home with bored tweens. And they weren’t finding their passions through boredom.
As homeschoolers, my kids have a lot of free time in comparison to their peers.
That’s one of the advantages we appreciate about homeschooling. As little ones they had bonus time for free playing, exploring the outdoors, and being a kid.
Once they reached the double digits, I knew they would have time to dive deep into an area of interest. Homeschooling would allow them the perfect opportunity to blossom into a chess champion or Olympic swimmer or to begin building computers in the basement and experimenting with hydroponics.
Yeah. I’ve heard that sort of stuff happens. But that isn’t how it has happened in this house.
Turns out that not all 12-year-olds have clearly defined passions.
And that is completely normal. But as they get older, it is helpful for them to find areas of interest to fill their free time.
It takes parents who are willing to invest time and money (as they are able) to help kids explore the world around them. As they learn more about the world and themselves, they’ll begin to find topics that spark their interest. Then parents can help them find opportunities to dig in.
Take a Deep Breath
It’s tempting to think that a 12-year-old will never discover the world outside of Fortnite, YouTube, and Netflix.
It becomes more complicated when you watch other children in your homeschool circles as they develop particular interests outside of their assigned schoolwork.
I began to feel the pressure of “helping my child find a passion” when my daughter entered 7th grade. Her peers were beginning to dive more deeply into activities. She was bored. I was worried.
I wanted her to love something we were doing in school. But she didn’t.
I wanted her to love reading. But she didn’t.
In all honesty, I wanted her to love something “worthy” of deep investment. But she didn’t seem to.
I worried and fretted and she could sense my stress.
And that wasn’t fair.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good thing to want our kids to find opportunities and experiences that excite and inspire them. It’s also a good thing to want them to find interests that they enjoy.
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It isn’t such a good thing to approach the idea with a spirit of panic and fear and frustration.
Through trial and error with my first child, I learned from my mistakes. I’ve found ways to navigate this time period that celebrate the uniqueness of my children without so much panic, stress, and worry.
Examine Your Child
Start by thinking about your child.
- What makes them light up?
- What have the tried before and what did they enjoy and not enjoy about it?
- What are they naturally good at?
- Have they mentioned a new opportunity before, even briefly?
At 12 and 13 years old, it might be video games or television shows. That’s okay. Take time to celebrate and enjoy what they love. Building deeper connections will help as you guide them into additional opportunities to use their interests and gifts.
Side note: Respect what they love by exploring it with them. Watch the show. Play the game. Talk about the activity. It might just give you insights into your child so you can point them in other directions down the road.
I thought about my oldest daughter. She is a natural leader and teacher. She shines when she is working with kids. I knew it was time for her to branch out beyond babysitting to explore her teaching gifts.
I also realized that she loves to be with people. What they are doing doesn’t matter quite as much as just being in a community with her peers.
(Let’s just say she gets this honestly. And if you know me at all, or knew me in high school, then you know.)
My next child has her own unique talents. She is creative and artistic with a love of anime, graphic novels, and drawing. We began brainstorming ideas from video editing options to the tech team at church to classes at the local art museums.
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She made it clear that she had no desire to work with kids! This eliminated the opportunities our family had already discovered based on our experience with her sister. We were going to have to head in different directions.
Side note: Turns out that my second daughter doesn’t mind working with kids. It’s more about what she is teaching them. Now that she has found a love of theater and Taekwondo, she has specifically asked to volunteer to help at summer camps involving these activities.
While we were searching and discussing things, my second daughter mentioned the idea of a theater class but seemed unsure. We put it on the list of options and started exploring local theaters.
My kids had gifts and curiosities that did guide me as we began to explore options. But I am writing this after they have both grown and discovered areas to pursue. Let me assure you that there were also moments when we had no idea where to start. There was a lot of free time and not a lot of interest in anything.
Sometimes we took a chance and it worked. Other times it didn’t. We have a box of forgotten jewelry making supplies and a ton of candle making supplies to show for our attempts.
Some attempts will be hits. Some will be misses. It’s okay to explore a topic and then realize it wasn’t the right fit.
Explore Local Opportunities
When we were trying to find ways to fill their time and explore areas of interest, Google became my best friend. I began to search through every. single. local resource I could think of to find opportunities for teens.
- local museums – many have teen organizations and even leadership panels
- the YMCA – volunteer and job opportunities as well as leadership options
- the library – activities and volunteer options
- local Recreation and Parks catalog – teen clubs, leadership panels, social activities, classes
- church or faith community – tech teams, teaching options, welcome committees, community volunteer opportunities
- local homeschool co-ops or groups – board game clubs, role-playing groups, volunteer in childcare, LAN parties (for gamers)
- animal shelters – in our area, most required volunteers to be 16 but my kids aren’t interested in animals so I didn’t dig very deep
- farms – helping with animals and planting
- local fire department – junior firefighter programs
- a local business – tap into a local business for work, learning, or volunteer opportunities
- nearby colleges – there are often classes and options for younger kids
- local events – comic con, art exhibits, theater events, speakers
Activities such as art, sports, dance, and music were a good place to begin, but not every child falls into one of these standard categories. Once I started exploring websites, I could not believe all of the other options available in our area.
I discovered so many free clubs, events, and opportunities for teens. I knew we would find options that would create a spark of interest. And in the meantime, we found lots of new things to visit, try, and explore.
Make the Calls
Sometimes it is easier to assume that an idea won’t work out. But I have learned to make the call and ask.
When my daughter was 14.5, I emailed a local gym about a job or volunteer opportunities for her. I was pretty doubtful about it at her young age but was surprised to find that they were happy to interview her for a job teaching gymnastics classes. She is now 16.5 and still working at the same gym. I am so glad I reached out.
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During that same time period, I also emailed a local homeschool group and asked if she could volunteer in the classes there during the week. Apparently, this was a popular option in the local homeschooling community so this opportunity served as both a social opportunity and a teaching one.
Not every inquiry opened a door. Some didn’t work out. There were gyms that said no and organizations that weren’t the best fit. There were amazing opportunities (or so I thought) that my girls just would not try. My job was to calmly work the balance of pushing them while honoring their opinions.
Some options took a little more digging. Affordable martial arts was a tough one. I asked friends, made phone calls, and spent time on google. In the end, we asked her to try Taekwondo instead of Karate because we found a location close to home that we could afford. Thankfully, it’s been a great fit.
Finding the right fit can take time and energy, but the end result is worth it.
Side note: If you need a day to commit your energy to this task, then pick one. Cancel homeschool. Pop in a movie. Find a sitter for the other kids if needed. But make the time to make the calls. Finding opportunities for your kids to develop their own passions and interests is just as important as academics.
Make Time to Make it Happen
This was hard. There are time periods that I feel insane because of all the driving.
My oldest was in gymnastics 3 times a week, working one night a week, and volunteering in local homeschool classrooms during the day.
It was tough to make it all work, so we had to get creative. There are lots of options you can explore:
- Locate options close to home
- Find help with your other children
- Adjust the schedule
- Consider Panera schooling with the other children when needed
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Yes. It is hard for a time period. Do what you can to make it work. It will change. They will learn to drive. And even though it is scary, it will solve the crazy that comes with the “driving them around” stage.
It also helped to make it part of their school day. Schedule time in the school calendar for what they love every week.
Once my oldest daughter entered high school, we incorporated her interests into her high school plan. She will have Leadership credits and Classroom Experience credits in high school for her coaching and teaching.
My second daughter adores graphic novels so designed her entire 8th grade English year around graphic novels. Turns out that this didn’t motivate her to write and publish her own, but it did make our year a fun one.
Be Their Cheerleader
Your tweens and teens need to know it’s okay to be exactly who they are.
Yep. It’s great to be passionate about anime. What show would you like to watch together?
Yep. It’s wonderful to be passionate about people. Would you like to find a book club or some type of local community group?
Yep. It’s awesome that you are so passionate about role-playing games. Would you like to find an online or local group?
Yep. It’s super that you love the ukelele so much. Would you like to find some performance opportunities?
And, yep, it’s perfectly normal that you don’t know what you like. You have plenty of time to figure it out.
Remember that it’s completely fine if they aren’t sure what they love. Help them start with something they are willing to try or what they feel curious about.
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Let them go for an opportunity with gusto and then change their mind.
Pursue a new opportunity. Find a new sport. Try a different hobby. It’s okay to change your mind.
Remember: The goal isn’t to find their lifelong passion forever and ever amen. The goal is to find ways for them to connect in the bigger world, learn about themselves, grow in confidence and responsibility, and fill their cup.
Along the way, your job is to be their cheerleader and source of support.