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
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
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.
Feel free to
write me with your questions.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist
who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.
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