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5 Ways to Cope with Teen Apathy

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Written by Amy Dingmann of The Hmmm…schooling Mom.

Confession time: occasionally I get hyper focused on the belief my 13- and 14-year-old sons should care more about their direction in life. Maybe it’s because they’re both taller than me now. Maybe it’s because I often think of them as being older than they actually are.

Or maybe it’s because, after all these years of homeschooling, I still get stuck worrying how others tie my parenting (and teaching) to my sons’ attitude and performance.

After a recent mini freak out that began with one of my sons declaring that YouTubing was quite possibly his main career goal, and another son admitting all he really cared about was that his future place of employment had a night shift, I had to take a Mom Time Out. There was deep breathing. There was self-talk. There was also chocolate.

You’ll be happy to know that instead of collapsing into a puddle of frustration, I actually had an epiphany.

Listen. I want my kids to care about their future. I want them to think about where they really see their life headed after graduation. I want my sons to understand what incredible talents and abilities they have and use them to their fullest potential.

But seriously? Let’s get real here. Is it normal for a 13-year-old to be mega concerned about their future, college plans, or what career path they should suit up for?

Be careful how you answer because this is where I got tripped up. At 13-years-old, was any of this your main concern?

If I’m honest with myself, I have to answer no. Although junior high certainly brought its own set of responsibilities, and I gave occasional thought to the future, let’s be honest—one of my main concerns revolved around a recurring nightmare about forgetting my locker combination.

I also spent a lot of time wondering about the fate of an elementary friendship because my bestie was on the junior high cheerleading team and I wasn’t. And, truth be told, what I was going to be when I grew up wasn’t nearly as concerning as whether or not I could get Totally Can’t Even Remember His Name Now to look my way.

If I take the behaviors my sons are currently exhibiting—which as a mom, I sometimes misconstrue as complete apathy—and compare them to how I felt at the same age, I have to admit there are quite a few similarities.

Do you remember being that age? Because in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t that long ago. Are we really so removed from our teenage years that we don’t remember how it felt?

So how do we deal with this parenting road bump? Here are five tips to help:

1. Think back to when you were their age.

Remember life as a teen? What did that look like? What was in your room? Who were your friends? What was school like? What did you do for fun? What kind of music were you listening to? What sorts of things were you worried about? And what things weren’t anywhere near your radar?

It doesn’t take me long to remember the sights and sounds and feelings of early teenagerhood. I remember getting to the age I just wanted to be in my room. I wanted to listen to music, play music and write. It had nothing to do with not wanting to be around my parents. It had everything to do with wanting to get further and deeper into my own things. I was exploring and working towards independence in my own way.

College? Career? The future? Sure, I thought about it. But not nearly as much as I assume my boys should be doing at the same age.

2. Don’t assume that because you homeschool, your kids will be different.

Kids are kids. People are people. Some of us (author included) occasionally fall into the trap of thinking that because we homeschool, everything about our kids is going to be different. Yes, there are some differences. But let’s be honest—eye rolling and heavy sighs are not side effects of public school, nor is wanting to shut yourself in your room to work on your own stuff.

3. Serve up boundaries and expectations with a side of grace.

Just because your kids are growing and changing doesn’t mean you toss your hands up in the air and get rid of all boundaries and expectations. It’s still important your kids know the world isn’t going to end if they have to wake up early to be somewhere.

It’s still important to discuss the possible paths your kid’s future might take. It’s still important to offer assistance in navigating the world when necessary. But if we take a moment to be honest, I think we’ll find that our kids’ occasional apathy isn’t much different than any other kids’ occasional apathy, or (gasp) ours when we were the same age.

4. Focus on what your kids are doing.

As parents, we sometimes focus on what our kids aren’t doing and fail to see what they are doing. I can get stuck on the fact my sons still can’t rattle off some multiplication facts and fail to remember they were instrumental in setting up all the technology in my new office. Sometimes our kids are learning and preparing for the future, but it just looks completely different than what we think it should.

5. Respect the fact they’re becoming more of themselves and less of you.

These amazing creatures are growing and becoming who they are and who they will be right before your very eyes. They’re shedding the skin they’ve been in and wrapping themselves in a new skin called Who I Am. Along the way, there will be misinterpretations, chaos, and stress, but you know what’s awesome? You can be there to help them with it all.

Just remember to have a large stash of chocolate hiding.

This post is linked to the Hip Homeschool Hop.

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  1. Great article! I’ve been having this “issue” where my 13 year old daughter is concerned. After venting my frustrations to my husband one day he gave me the “Let me pray about it” line. Imagine my shock a few days later when he said he’d prayed and ask God to show us what the “problem” was and he was answered with “she’s a kid, not an adult”. Ouch.

    Yeah, funny how quickly we forget that in our quest for them to be prepared for life.

  2. This post could not have come at a better time. I am so struggling with my fourteen year old daughter and her lack of motivation for anything other than laying around and face timing with her friends. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great reminders. I need the occasional reminder that becoming more “them” isn’t a rejection of who I am. My kiddos were created uniquely, just like I was.

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