…even if they are thoughts you have never thought to think!
Sometimes a parent will tell me that their child doesn’t have any interests or passions and that that is the problem. The parents can’t detect the interests of their children to support them in growing those interests.
Let’s back up. Ask yourself first: what thoughts is my child having? What does my child think about?
Do you even know?
At least 12 hours of the day, all of us spend energy thinking—about stuff. These thoughts range from regular, “quotidienne” (daily) stuff like, “I’m starved. I wonder when I can eat lunch” to our aspirations, “Gawd, I hope she texts me back.”
These thoughts take energy and some of them dominate our minds for hours/days at a time.
Your teen “without the interests” is thinking during all those hours of the day, just like your teen “with a passion” is. However, the thoughts of the “teen who seems not to have an interest” are invisible to you. That’s because you don’t know to ask about them. You are looking for evidence of thoughts that you understand, care about, and admire.
If you saw your child playing chess every day, even if you weren’t a chess player, your bearing would show pride and approval. You value chess. You think chess proves intelligence.
Kids pick this up. They know which of their thoughts are “permitted” to be shared, and which must remain “privately” thought.
For instance, if you have a child who is thinking a lot about how to beat the next level of Halo (video game), that pattern of thought is taking up the hours in the day. Halo is the interest. Halo may even be the passion.
For me, a grown woman who never played a video game in her life as a child, Halo is invisible to me. The thoughts about it, the vocabulary that goes with it, the anxieties that attend it, the enthusiasms and achievements that spring from it—I have no way to appreciate, care about, or express curiosity for that world. I mostly ignore it. I literally don’t hear the words the child says when he is talking about it. My mind drifts and eventually it never comes up any more.
As a result, this precious child of mine exists in a privately created world. When asked about his passions, he’s already picked up that the family culture doesn’t see “Halo” as a valid interest or passion so he says he doesn’t have any. But it’s not true, right? He has an “illegal” interest.
Let me interject a little story.
When Liam was in high school, he was a huge Warcraft fan. He played many hours a day. One day I was working on my computer when he called out to me, “Mom I just got to this really high level. In fact, my team is so good gamers in Korea are watching us online.”
I nodded a vague, “Uh huh. Good Liam”—never raising my eyes.
Then he said more loudly, “MOM! Come over here. You don’t understand this but I want to show you. This is a really big deal and I need you to get it.”
Wow! He was right. I didn’t get that I didn’t get it until that moment. I went to his computer and for the next hour he explained to me how difficult it was to rise to this level. He showed me his wins and losses, his teammates, and how the game was played and watched halfway around the world.
It was a moment.
It was so easy to approve of kids who were writing college applications and earning scholarships. It was easy to root for kids who were playing lacrosse or soccer. I could applaud wildly when my older kids performed in Shakespeare plays.
Yet here was Liam, brilliant of course, living in a privately-nourished world of skill and community invisible to all of us, unvalued by most of us in the family, but in particular, his mother—me.
Our job as parents isn’t to determine in advance what we want our kids to care about. Our job is to care about our kids—in all their varied complexity. Your kids can learn everything they need to learn about learning through the stuff that fills their minds right now. We have to choose not to filter their lives through our own value set (rendering what they care about invisible to us).
You want your child to care about spelling? Why not be curious about how the gaming community sees spelling? Is it important? What does it say about a gamer when he is typing his thoughts and they are misspelled? Are there games that are known for being crummy games because the writing about the game is poorly edited? Or does it even matter?
You want your child to be a good thinker? Find out how he uses his mind for his interests. Ask: What is your strategy when you play solo versus when you play on a team? How do you decide who the leader of the team is? Are you ever? Do you want to be? Why or why not? Are you ever troubled by the shooting? Why or why not? How do you decide one game is well made and another isn’t?
The goal of education isn’t to get your kids to like subjects you consider worthy of attention.
The goal of education is to help kids discover how their brains work—so that they can use that brain for anything they choose for their lives.
Subject area information is important insofar as it advances a child’s ability to function successfully in adult life. We can get there by many means, and the chief one ought to be engaging the active mind life that is already busy and curious no matter what is happening between the ears.
Go forth and be curious about your amazing kids!