How can she get her teen off the computer?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 19, 2010 06:00 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

I am a single mother of a 15-year-old son. He never leaves the house to see friends or go places with me. He just wants to play video games all day on the computer. He does little chores seeing how my house is rarely messy. I want to reconnect with him but not to sure how anymore. Can you help?

From: Victoria, Garden Grove, CA

Dear Victoria,

A 15-year-old boy who is so immersed in video games that he doesn't see friends or literally doesn't leave the house? Among the things to worry about, in no particular order: depression, addiction, obsession in or with an unhealthy or violent on-line world.

Your first job is to plot this out, literally, on a time line. How long has this been going on? Was there a precipitating event, like a separation, divorce, death? What happened in school last year? Was he engaged in it or just going through the motions? Did teachers report trouble, withdrawal? Did he have a summer job? Did he have friends once upon a time? What happened? What are they into? Talk to some of their parents. Did he never really have friends? Has he always been a loner?

Your second job is to find some way to get him to engage with you. Start with a conversation but be careful to make "I" statements, not "you" statements. Not, "You spend too much time in your room, you don't get exercise, you don't have friends." Instead: "I'm looking for a way for us to do something together. I miss talking to you. I miss......" Even: "I see you resisting me -- not even wanting to talk to me -- I'm worried."

Try to engage around the computer without making judgments: "I'd like to know more about what you do on the computer. Show me some of the sites you like. Show me what captivates you."

Make some new ground rules. Start with something simple like, "I want us to eat one meal together a day." "I want us to walk a mile together every night at 7 p.m."

Gather as much information as you can, but my hunch is that you want some professional help here. Check out the articles I linked to, above, for suggestions.


I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

10 comments so far...
  1. Well, I wonder if it's an MMO he's playing. Those are quite involved on a number of levels and easy to dedicate an huge chunk of free time to.

    Even as a grown woman with a husband and a full-time job, I was playing World of Warcraft for at least 20-25 hours a week. After a few years I got bored with it and moved on.

    They're easy to get involved in because of the cumulative nature of the game coupled with the social network built in. I've made great real life friends from playing WoW, so online socializing is still socializing. As for the gameplay, teamwork is a major part of playing MMOs at the higher levels. I've always explained it as being team sports for nerds.

    Look up the process of "raiding." In WoW you work in groups of 25 to overcome really difficult tasks. Watch a video for Lich King 25 on YouTube when you're bored sometime. It's quite an undertaking to organize 25 people playing different roles (healers, direct damage, crowd management, etc.) through elaborately designed game encounters. Guilds will spend weeks at a time working through them. Some of the raid leaders I've played with put managers I've worked with to shame. It's something people should be able to put on a resume. They marshall 25 egos through complicated events while participating in them themselves. The research, support work and skill that goes into raiding is quite impressive. The guilds themselves race against other guilds on their server to show they've completed events first.

    So, he may not be depressed or even socially cut off. He may just be involved with a highly-competitive MMO in the way Irish dancers are connected to their competition.

    I suggest you find out what he's playing. If it's something disconnected from the internet and other people, then he might be depressed and just trying to kill time, but it's probably just a lot of fun. If it's an MMO like World of Warcraft, then he's almost certainly part of a tight-knit group of people.

    Hold off on the counselor. That's a bit alarmist. Just acquaint yourself with his hobbies. Have him show you the game, how to play, who his friends are and try it out yourself. And, since you're the parent, work some limits into it all. If he raids, try to respect his guild's raid times, since others rely on him. If you give him that courtesy, it makes it a lot harder for him to call you draconian when you require him to limit his non-raid play and get some Vitamin D.

    Posted by Ridley August 22, 10 09:52 PM
  1. Is this the twilight zone or am I seriously reading this question? Unplug the computer. Duh. You're the parent. Take away the keyboard and the mouse. Bash the monitor into 300 pieces with a Louisville Slugger. This isn't rocket science folks. Geez.

    Posted by mps August 23, 10 10:53 AM
  1. Hey, I have a novel idea: Stop buying him video games.

    If he's spending ALL his free time playing video games, I assume he doesn't have a paper route, or isn't out mowing lawns/shovelling snow. In other words, he's not earning money.

    Posted by Julie the Jarhead August 23, 10 11:17 AM
  1. A interesting veiwpoint and fair advice from Ridley. I'd add that you should spend more time online yourself. I didn't really understand the appeal of Facebook--and why my child kept nagging to get an account--until I got one myself. And quickly became addicted! It took a couple of months for my love affair with my laptop to cool. But it was a very good lesson to me about how important online socializing is these days.

    Posted by momof2 August 23, 10 12:11 PM
  1. I absolutely do not agree with those saying MMO's are great and facebook is essential for socializing. I've done both, and life is much more enjoyable since removing both of them from my routine. However, it's not a big deal if your son wants to play video games all day. You shouldn't let him, but don't worry if he wants to. Is he doing well in school? Is he staying away from drugs? These are the things you should be concerned with, video games are a phase.

    Unplug the machine, limit his time on it, set family routine's, but I see no reason to worry about depression, addiction, or obsession. Video games are fun, 15 year olds like them, it's ok.

    Posted by chris August 23, 10 01:08 PM
  1. nephew went from church choirboy to homeless in 4 years after falling into the social isolation of video games....late nights - no "real" responsibility - mental heroin.

    do something

    Posted by noman1321 August 23, 10 03:51 PM
  1. As an old school parent any advice that starts with me having to sugar coat getting my child to do what I say is NOT going to happen in my house. Take the video game and SELL IT. Tell him that playing video games all day is a waste of time and you're putting a stop to it. End of story. He needs to get a job or some other activity. Video games and overuse of computers is a prime reason why our kids are fatter than ever.

    Posted by ce0 August 23, 10 06:36 PM
  1. A 15 year old boy being obsessed with video games is normal, the abnormal part is that no one participates with him. If he is socializing via the game, then your responsibility falls towards getting him to do other stuff. I think it is reasonable at his age to suggest/demand he gets a job. He may hate it, but it will get him out among real people. Perhaps something he doesn't need a car/ transportation for. The video game habit is too far gone to cut him off cold turkey, especially if it is his social life.

    Posted by lala August 23, 10 09:35 PM
  1. Your kid might well be fairly normal. These games are addictive. They could hook almost anyone. It might not be so much your son's weakness as the nature of the technology.

    Yes, of course, get rid of the TV. Limit his time on the computer. Make yourself the system administrator, even if your kid knows more about it. Find a friend to help you with this.

    Can you afford music lessons for him? Can you get them for free at your public schools? Even if it's junky music, it still beats video games.

    Just like the Russians sadly discovered that playing chess improves your ability to play chess -- and nothing else, we Americans are discovering that the only skill you gain from video games is being a better video game player.

    Posted by Mork August 23, 10 10:47 PM
  1. Limit his time! My 14 year old is not allowed to play X-Box live during the school week and we limit is time by controls on X-Box on the weekend. Best thing, it forces him to get out. We also discuss our concerns with him if we think he's spending too much time on the games.

    Posted by CaringMom August 24, 10 01:22 PM
 
10 comments so far...
  1. Well, I wonder if it's an MMO he's playing. Those are quite involved on a number of levels and easy to dedicate an huge chunk of free time to.

    Even as a grown woman with a husband and a full-time job, I was playing World of Warcraft for at least 20-25 hours a week. After a few years I got bored with it and moved on.

    They're easy to get involved in because of the cumulative nature of the game coupled with the social network built in. I've made great real life friends from playing WoW, so online socializing is still socializing. As for the gameplay, teamwork is a major part of playing MMOs at the higher levels. I've always explained it as being team sports for nerds.

    Look up the process of "raiding." In WoW you work in groups of 25 to overcome really difficult tasks. Watch a video for Lich King 25 on YouTube when you're bored sometime. It's quite an undertaking to organize 25 people playing different roles (healers, direct damage, crowd management, etc.) through elaborately designed game encounters. Guilds will spend weeks at a time working through them. Some of the raid leaders I've played with put managers I've worked with to shame. It's something people should be able to put on a resume. They marshall 25 egos through complicated events while participating in them themselves. The research, support work and skill that goes into raiding is quite impressive. The guilds themselves race against other guilds on their server to show they've completed events first.

    So, he may not be depressed or even socially cut off. He may just be involved with a highly-competitive MMO in the way Irish dancers are connected to their competition.

    I suggest you find out what he's playing. If it's something disconnected from the internet and other people, then he might be depressed and just trying to kill time, but it's probably just a lot of fun. If it's an MMO like World of Warcraft, then he's almost certainly part of a tight-knit group of people.

    Hold off on the counselor. That's a bit alarmist. Just acquaint yourself with his hobbies. Have him show you the game, how to play, who his friends are and try it out yourself. And, since you're the parent, work some limits into it all. If he raids, try to respect his guild's raid times, since others rely on him. If you give him that courtesy, it makes it a lot harder for him to call you draconian when you require him to limit his non-raid play and get some Vitamin D.

    Posted by Ridley August 22, 10 09:52 PM
  1. Is this the twilight zone or am I seriously reading this question? Unplug the computer. Duh. You're the parent. Take away the keyboard and the mouse. Bash the monitor into 300 pieces with a Louisville Slugger. This isn't rocket science folks. Geez.

    Posted by mps August 23, 10 10:53 AM
  1. Hey, I have a novel idea: Stop buying him video games.

    If he's spending ALL his free time playing video games, I assume he doesn't have a paper route, or isn't out mowing lawns/shovelling snow. In other words, he's not earning money.

    Posted by Julie the Jarhead August 23, 10 11:17 AM
  1. A interesting veiwpoint and fair advice from Ridley. I'd add that you should spend more time online yourself. I didn't really understand the appeal of Facebook--and why my child kept nagging to get an account--until I got one myself. And quickly became addicted! It took a couple of months for my love affair with my laptop to cool. But it was a very good lesson to me about how important online socializing is these days.

    Posted by momof2 August 23, 10 12:11 PM
  1. I absolutely do not agree with those saying MMO's are great and facebook is essential for socializing. I've done both, and life is much more enjoyable since removing both of them from my routine. However, it's not a big deal if your son wants to play video games all day. You shouldn't let him, but don't worry if he wants to. Is he doing well in school? Is he staying away from drugs? These are the things you should be concerned with, video games are a phase.

    Unplug the machine, limit his time on it, set family routine's, but I see no reason to worry about depression, addiction, or obsession. Video games are fun, 15 year olds like them, it's ok.

    Posted by chris August 23, 10 01:08 PM
  1. nephew went from church choirboy to homeless in 4 years after falling into the social isolation of video games....late nights - no "real" responsibility - mental heroin.

    do something

    Posted by noman1321 August 23, 10 03:51 PM
  1. As an old school parent any advice that starts with me having to sugar coat getting my child to do what I say is NOT going to happen in my house. Take the video game and SELL IT. Tell him that playing video games all day is a waste of time and you're putting a stop to it. End of story. He needs to get a job or some other activity. Video games and overuse of computers is a prime reason why our kids are fatter than ever.

    Posted by ce0 August 23, 10 06:36 PM
  1. A 15 year old boy being obsessed with video games is normal, the abnormal part is that no one participates with him. If he is socializing via the game, then your responsibility falls towards getting him to do other stuff. I think it is reasonable at his age to suggest/demand he gets a job. He may hate it, but it will get him out among real people. Perhaps something he doesn't need a car/ transportation for. The video game habit is too far gone to cut him off cold turkey, especially if it is his social life.

    Posted by lala August 23, 10 09:35 PM
  1. Your kid might well be fairly normal. These games are addictive. They could hook almost anyone. It might not be so much your son's weakness as the nature of the technology.

    Yes, of course, get rid of the TV. Limit his time on the computer. Make yourself the system administrator, even if your kid knows more about it. Find a friend to help you with this.

    Can you afford music lessons for him? Can you get them for free at your public schools? Even if it's junky music, it still beats video games.

    Just like the Russians sadly discovered that playing chess improves your ability to play chess -- and nothing else, we Americans are discovering that the only skill you gain from video games is being a better video game player.

    Posted by Mork August 23, 10 10:47 PM
  1. Limit his time! My 14 year old is not allowed to play X-Box live during the school week and we limit is time by controls on X-Box on the weekend. Best thing, it forces him to get out. We also discuss our concerns with him if we think he's spending too much time on the games.

    Posted by CaringMom August 24, 10 01:22 PM
add your comment
Required
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag


Ask Barbara a question

Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at) gmail.com.
Please include your name and hometown.

Child in Mind

Moms
All parenting discussions
Discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Child in Mind

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed


click here to subscribe to
Child Caring

archives