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Dear Dr. Debra, 

Iíve started having cooperation problems with my thirteen-year-old son.  Heís doing well in school.  The problems are at home.  Seth loves to play computer games and is involved in an online community with members all over the world.  He plans to design games when heís older.  The computer is in the living room, and his mother or I closely monitor his activities.  We encourage his computer time, although he must finish his homework first.  Also we have him involved in a sport.

The problem comes when we want him to stop using the computer.  He tunes us out, and we really have to get after him before heíll listen.  The virtual games involve going to different levels, and he doesnít want to stop when heís in the middle of one.  Do you have any suggestions to get him to cooperate? 

An Annoyed Father


Dear Annoyed Father, 

First of all you sound like you are doing everything right when it comes to your son and his time online.  Sethís computer use is monitored, you make sure his homework is done first, and heís also involved in sports.

Iím sure itís difficult for Seth to disengage from the virtual game heís playing when heís absorbed and having fun.  But I wouldnít assume that heís purposefully tuning you and his mother out.  The male brain is structured for mono-tracking, and a boy or man has difficulty concentrating on more than one thing at a time.  So a male can be focused on something--television, reading the newspaper, or the computer, and be deaf to other stimuli.  If you think about it, your wife has probably complained about you not hearing her when she tried to get your attention when youíre doing these kind of activities.

To avoid computer use arguments, I suggest you give Seth a warning time before he has to disengage from the computer.  Ask Seth how much time he feels he needs as a warning.  For example, you want him to stop playing at 6:00, so he can help with dinner.  He has made an agreement with you that he receives a fifteen minute warning.  At 5:45, you tap him on the shoulder and say, ďFifteen minute warning.Ē  Then you set a timer, which is positioned next to the computer so itís in his line of sight.

Itís Sethís responsibility to finish the level heís on in the game, get off the computer, and stand up from the chair (so you can see heís finished) before the timer goes off.  If he fails to do so, the consequence is that he is deprived from the computer (unless itís for schoolwork) the rest of the evening and the entire next day.

Make sure you enforce the rules.  If you donít, youíll only teach him that he doesnít have to listen to you.

Donít argue with him if he messes up.  Heíll probably do so a few times before realizing that you are serious about enforcing the rules.  If one day away from the computer doesnít seem to be enough, go to two days as a consequence.

Some teenagers will argue with you forever, even if theyíre the ones who broke the rules.  So making a statement that puts the responsibility back on Seth is important.  If he complains of the consequences, remind him that it was his choice to break the rules.  Then walk away and donít keep arguing.

If you and his mother remain consistent, within a few weeks, you shouldnít have any more problems with his computer time.

Dr. Debra

Feel free to write me with your questions

Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.

To read previous 'Ask Dr. Debra' articles, please visit www.wetnoodleposse.com, where Dr. Debra is a regular contributor, or click here to view the archives.





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