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How to get a 12 yr old boy to leave his computer and do something else!

(52 Posts)
BlogOnTheTyne Sat 23-Nov-13 18:17:26

I've got two 12 yr old twin boys. At the w/e, after finishing homework, they spend the rest of the entire time glued to their PCs, and every evening after HW also. They refuse to go out at all with me - won't come to the supermarket or for a country walk and say they'll just refuse to get in the car if I insist.

They refuse to get off their chairs for literally hours on end, even eating meals in front of screens, although they will moodily drag themselves to the table to eat some foods but HAVE to watch something whilst eating. One of them will even go the whole day without going to the loo!

The best that they'll do is come and play on the Wii in a different room for about 15 mins but it ALWAYS ends up with a fight, even if I join them and deliberatey lose.

I work (all week, all evenings and Saturday mornings too) and then spend the rest of the w/e cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, tidying up. On the few occasions that I can summon up enough energy to have a major confrontation, I have to lose my temper completely before they'll do anything to help - which is only on the level of carry one bag of supermarket shopping (that I've gone out to buy) from the hall to the kitchen. But that has to be on a day when i feel really, really strong in myself.

There's no other adult here to back me up and they often gang up against me or it turns into one of them playing the good twin and the other the bad twin. Rarely do we ever now get on happily altogether.

I've been worried for ages about the amount of time they spend on screens, yet I've also had to rely on screens to keep them settled and less likely to fight and argue, when I'm working (I work from home).

However, I feel increasingly resentful that I'm rushing around all w/e doing very boring domestic tasks and they're just sitting still - 'screening'. I also seem to find it a lot harder to focus on a task when they're around as I still 'listen out' to them in case a major fight erupts or they call for me for food/drink/settle an argument, which is very often. Most of all, I find it hard to get on with useful tasks, knowing that they're doing nothing very useful at all and are sedentary for hours at a time.

If I suggest we go out together - although I absolutely don't really have time - they now refuse and don't want to go anywhere and are fully able to sustain a massive argument about me taking them out, for the entire 3 to 5 hrs we may be somewhere.

So now it's winter and darker and they want to go out even less and they spend maybe 14 hrs a day more or less glued to screens at the w/e. This is utterly and entirely different from my own childhood. I could always find something useful and creative to do from drawing, reading, playing piano, writing, going to town or the library, still playing imaginary games in my head, at that age. If I ask them what they might do other than screens, they hit a blank. They genuinely have no idea what else to do or if I suggest anything, refuse heatedly.

I'm too exhausted to cope with so many fights and have somewhat, shamefully, given in. Should I just accept that they're in the throes of puberty (definitely got all the signs - spots, BO, muscles, growth spurts, hair everwhere, foul moods mixed with sweetness and light) and need their 'down time' after a v busy week at school with loads of homework?

Should I persist in forcing them to get off their seats and do something - anything - other than screens, although i can't literally force them to do anything anymore? If I even try disconnecting one of their PCs - which I've done when one of them has been utterly foul to me - they just go and turn on the TV, find the iPod or - take to bed!

The ensuing row just isn't worth it. So how do I change their screen addiction/habit at this stage, without another adult here to back me up or entertain them?

notnagging Sat 23-Nov-13 18:20:38

It is hard but you have to stay strong & follow through with what you say. I have 10year old twins with mild sen needs. I was told the same advice as Im giving you. Unplug the wifi & take it out with you! If they want to use it, they earn it.

notnagging Sat 23-Nov-13 18:22:53

Btw every computer/tablet/ phone I have has a code. If they want to know it they're nice to me! Has saved alit if arguments. Bribery does work smile

BlogOnTheTyne Sat 23-Nov-13 18:25:14

Thanks Notnagging. I need WiFi all day for work, unfortunately, so can't unplug the whole system. If/when I unplug one of the PCs, the ensuing row is horrendous and DT will often simply replug it in or cause mayhem elsewhere or find another technical device. If all else fails, it has been known for one DT to simply go to bed - still refusing to move around or do anything at all constructive.

If I don't stay right beside the PC for as long as I want DT to stop 'screening', DT will happily return and continue and I can't spend my entire day like a bodyguard at the gates! Am really at a loss to know how to respond these days.

Bowlersarm Sat 23-Nov-13 18:25:54

I think if I were you I would go back to basics and reset the way you do things. Have a family conference, set new rules, and make sure you follow through.

Easy for me to say, my DSes probably have more screen time than many would allow, bit we've found a compromise we are all happy with.

gamerchick Sat 23-Nov-13 18:29:09

Turn the Internet off. Seriously! Stand firm and insist on screen free time that they have to earn back.

Earning back doesn't involve another screen.

It is barney city at first but I swear kids are a lot nicer to be around when they've been unplugged for a bit.

IsobelEliza Sat 23-Nov-13 18:32:35

Can you choose a time to have a conversation with each one individually explain your concerns that in order to develop into we'll rounded human beings they need social time, reading time, exercise, homework time, family time, time spent learning household chores in order to develop some independence. Once you've got agreement to that could you negotiate a timetable to provide a more balanced lifestyle. I managed to do this once but it continues to be a struggle for me too. As teenagers they are becoming independent which means we have to allow them some decision making power and cannot impose everything on them without them seeing the reasons behind it.

gamerchick Sat 23-Nov-13 18:34:00

X posts.

You don't need to unplug the computers. Just take the mouses away.

Lay down the ground rules and stick to them. It's a hard slog though but worth it in the end.

gamerchick Sat 23-Nov-13 18:35:13

Aye let them choose.. that's a good plan.

notnagging Sat 23-Nov-13 18:36:11

Twins are notorious for ganging up one playing the good one. Mine try it all the time. You have to stand firm. They are getting into teenage strop years which will be harder if you don't change now.

NoComet Sat 23-Nov-13 18:38:09

Scouts? DD used to be a scout.
Our local scouts organises lots of weekend stuff as well as week night meetings. Generally not stupidly expensive.

In fact that's why DD gave up because she was dancing at weekends and everything clashed.

She is another 12y screen addict, fortunately she eventually gets bored and practices dancing and gymnastics instead.

NoComet Sat 23-Nov-13 18:46:01

Honestly rules and limits and shouting will just cause resentment.

You could no more impose a screen ban on DD2 than talk sense into Mr Gove.

Katinkia Sat 23-Nov-13 18:55:57

I have the same problem with my lads. I have a 14 yr old (autistic) and an 11 and 8 yr old who are mildly SEN.

I also suggest clubs. Let them choose. My son (11yr old) chose scouts but I offered other things too like, Badgers, acting/music classes or sports.

I also have to deal with major fallouts when I put my foot down. It's not easy is it.

We have a no computers after 8pm rule. Otherwise I do let them screen a lot. :/

BlogOnTheTyne Sat 23-Nov-13 19:04:03

I've tried the calm talking to each one and they agree at the time but then slip straight back into old patterns. A big part of the problem is probably because I'm so incredibly busy myself and am often rushing to check work emails throughout the day (hence can't switch off the internet connection I'm afraid), respond to them or work calls, and even when not earning money, am doing admin for my business or the endless domestic tasks (our house is really really messy and I barely ever get time to do even the most basic tasks).

I feel huge guilt that for example the kitchen isn't even clear and clean enough for them to attempt to make their own sandwich (although the argument ensuing from me even suggesting that they attempt to make anything for themselves, also requires maximum willpower, time and energy on my part.)

In the summer, one of them did get into the habit (rather obsessively though, as he has Aspserger's) of going off cycling but his DT quickly got bored with this and remained at PC and rows ensued again!

They don't seem to know what else there might be to do - that they'd want to do - and have often said that the world is available to them through the internet and why would they want to do much else?

The only time they don't do screens would be if a friend is here - but that's v v rare these days for a number of reasons (Asps twin lost all his friends - some of whom became his brother's friends; both are increasingly self conscious about having a friend around and don't know what to do with them when they're here - other than screens!; our house is embarassingly messy and uncleaned and I don't often have time to blitz it enough to have friends round etc etc)

The one job I asked them to start doing - putting dirty underwear in one of two laundry baskets each night - only DT with Asps has continued - obsessively - but I am massively embarassed that he can't always access the laundry basket as there are piles of my clothing on top (they're in my bedroom which is v much the house 'dumping ground').

NT DT, will occasionally play the keyboard - although this actually frustates me as he dropped learning piano and did viola but refuses pointblank to practice viola ever ever ever! Bot otherwise, they remain stuck to PCs.

Sparrowghost Sat 23-Nov-13 19:11:42

Go get a dongle for you, and switch off the wifi and confisguate as many screens and gadgets you can find.
Get them involved in chores for cleaning (and keeping tidy) the house to earn them back, and turn off the wifi at a set time every night.

Would a cleaner be an option?

BlogOnTheTyne Sat 23-Nov-13 19:12:20

X posted....There's never consistent time for them to do a regular w/e activity these days because of the amount of HW or because I'm working and can't get them to anything.

That said, neither would do Scouts. They used to do horse-riding but it was so expensive. DT with Asps went off it and NT DT used to be over excited every time and be foul to me on the jounrey there (45 mins) and I found it pretty miserable to stand around in icy rain for 30 mins watching them ride round a manege. Anyway, I stopped them going in the end.

They do clubs at school - lunchtime and after school - but again have dropped a lot because of too much HW/too tired and I also have trouble picking up at different times as I work in the evenings (and they're too far away from school to make their own way there and back).

I know it's my own fault that they're addicted to screens as it's been the only thing they'll sit still and do without causing havoc, when i need to get on with anything else. But now it's like a sci fi story where they seem to have lost the ability/desire to do any other kind of activity.

I sometimes wish there were someone else here to take them out but there isn't and in any case, they have very incompatible interests a lot of the time (except screens but even then, they do different things on screen - one does lots of creative writing and the other computer generated imagery - and both do endless YouTube browsing/ watch re-runs of various cartoons like the Simpsons etc)

BlogOnTheTyne Sat 23-Nov-13 19:19:28

Sparrowghost, that's a great idea but what else would they do if not screens, without it turning into an hours and hours long fight trying to enforce them to clean/tidy?

We did used to have a cleaner who came at the w/e. However, the huge family rows that would happoen before the cleaner arrived, when I'd be getting up at dawn to rush around and tidy enough for the cleaner to clean and try to get the DCs to hekp tidy up too - made it more stressful than it was worth.

Ideally, I need a mature, competent, reliable housekeeper who can tidy, sort stuff, do laundry and not need me to supervise or clear up everything beforehand. But I've never foudn anyone like that or coulnd't afford them probably, if I could.

I knwo this is extremely sexist to say - but I actually feel I really need a 1950's 'wife' - or just as easily, a very competent, domestically talented husband - and also a strong other adult in the background, helping to enforce the rules and getting DTs to respect me. But as I never ever ever go out and date these days, it's not going to happen and where would I find an organised, domesticated, great at housework/planning ahead mate!

One married sibling of mine has both a cleaner and a wife and the other divorced one has always been rich enough to pay others to do all the domestic stuff. I fall outside either category - being single and not rich!

wordsmithsforever Sat 23-Nov-13 19:22:13

Can you try showing them this article (apologies for DM link) - see www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2389784/Rise-Gameboy-Back-Children-developing-curvature-spine-hunch-consoles-smartphones.html.

Then get agreement with them on a reasonable amount of hours. They know that level of screen time is bad for them. I often have conversations with my DC about what children want and what they need. I give them the example of seeing toddlers and children unseatbelted in cars (unfortunately common where I live) - often it's because the kids don't like to be strapped in. Those parents are giving children what they want but not what they need!!

Tell them you believe they are addicted to screens (because I do think this is the case in many young people) and you are going to help them stick to what they actually have agreed to and know to be best for themselves. Then take the mouses (mice!?) and enforce it.

On the chore front: it does DC so much good in terms of self-esteem to have some chores I think and to be competent in the house to some extent. I read somewhere about a woman with something like 6 children and she says she gets them all to an hour of housework a day, all at the same time, first thing in the morning and voila! By 8am, she has, with her own hour, got in 7 hours of housework. Don't let them yell for you for food and drinks. At least make them get off their bottoms and come and ask. I made it a house a rule that no one yells for me unless there is an actual emergency. Drives me nuts and very bad manners.

wordsmithsforever Sat 23-Nov-13 19:25:35

*one does lots of creative writing and the other computer generated imagery*: On the positive side, it at least sounds like they're doing amazing creative stuff at least some of the time! It just sounds like you all need a bit more balance and you need a bit more consideration shown to you.

IsobelEliza Sat 23-Nov-13 21:45:40

And don't beat yourself up about the screen time. Sounds to me like you're managing incredibly well in the circumstances. I think most of us are struggling with this problem, feeling guilty all the time about it and the case for screens causing long term adverse effects isn't really proven yet. Our parents didn't stress so much about us. Maybe 'good enough parenting' is good enough. By the way I found the housekeeping forums useful for motivating me to do one small job each evening to keep the house vaguely clean and under control.

wordsmithsforever Sun 24-Nov-13 09:52:43

yy to what IsobelEliza said. I remember reading an article by a programmer who said he spent his entire childhood being nagged to get off the computer. He said it's thanks to all those skills he learned in his teens (in spite of being told to get off the PC all the time) that he has a great job and income today.

We home ed and many of my home ed friends don't limit screen time at all because they believe that all activity is valuable and a learning experience. They also believe that limiting screen time makes the child/teen more obsessed with it.

I think maybe it depends on the child. Some children seem to be able to self-regulate but others don't.

And of course you can't rely on the Daily Mail for any accuracy at all! I just thought it might give a different perspective but the article may well be absolute nonsense (although it was reported elsewhere).

It is hard and we are all doing our best and that's good enough.

BlogOnTheTyne Sun 24-Nov-13 11:08:27

Thanks again. I just wanted to update about how it's going today as it's a really good example of why we've got in such a rut.

Resolved to do it differently, when I got up and went downstairs this morning, DTs were, as usual, already glued to their PCs. I started to talk to them about how we were going to live more as a team from now on and that we could all enjoy a break and watching screens, once necessary tasks were done. I explained that now they were almost 13 (and in other cultures might by now be running a family home whilst both parents worked away - and looking after smaller siblings too) - they needed to become aware of what needs to be done to run house.

So NT twin responded favourably and was up for helping (though could just as easily have done the negative response) and DT with Asps immediately went into a major meltdown - scarlet with rage, tears of anger in his eyes, foul words issuing from his mouth (think absolute worst 4 letter words).

They came into the kitchen with me, however and I asked them to look around and see what might need to be done. My main aim was to get them to begin to notice their environment and then act to maintain it. NT DT rapidly mentioned the dirty dishes that needed to be put in the dishwasher, identified that the clean ones in the dishwasher needed to be put away and began to do so - v competently.

However, in a different mood, he may have reacted appalingly and his twin perfectly. But Asps DT was taking a turn at being bad twin today. He continued to swear at me, to focus on one part of one argument yesterday for which he wholly blames me and to try to go back to his PC. After giving him several warnings, I exited the 2 computer sites/games he was simultaneously playing.

He was engraged, pushing and shoving me away, wanting to hit me, in tears of anger, hurling verbal abuse at me. I managed to remain calm (which I don't always manage!) and explained clearly that I'd put off his sites because he'd been verbally rude to me and that it was a privilege and not a right to use his PC.

Without going into every detail - both eventually put away clean stuff from dishwasher and restacked it, with my direction and help. However, Asps DT was in a terrible state - beside himself with rage and peppering every action with some abusive comment to me.

I've tried to stay with the basic facts that we are a family of three people living here and that there are basic things we all need to do to maintain our home, before we can just rest/relax. NT DT went with this and then happily let me show him how to make his own softboiled egg and toast (yes I know that at nearly 13, he ought to be able to do this but he's just never ever been willing to learn.)

I commended him on his efforts and told him that it could actually be enjoyable to begin to become more independent. He responded v well but I'm fully aware that later today or another day, he could respond equally angrily and reluctantly as his twin today.

Now, what could have taken 15 mins, has taken over an hour - hence my ongoing reluctance to push the DCs towards more independence and less screen time. It'd have been so much easier just to do everything myself. I know that NT DT may well refuse point blank to do anything similar another day but at least he's got the right attitude today - so far.

My other DT is now calming down and more contrite but that's now 3.5 hrs after this initial request for them to help run the home a bit more. I am exhausted and have no energy left to get them to help further today. I'm also running around 2 hrs late with the usual tasks I'd do today. It takes so much TIME to get them away from PCs and joining in household chores.

I fully expect that both of them will assume that this was just mum in a mood and that life will now return to normal - them sitting still and on PCs and me doing everything else. It's going to take me a lot of energy to maintain doing it differently. But at least that's a first step!

barcroft Sun 24-Nov-13 11:33:06

Stop bringing food and drink to their screens!

gamerchick Sun 24-Nov-13 11:52:01

It's a start and yes it may feel like going uphill for a while but they will get used to it.

wordsmithsforever Sun 24-Nov-13 13:04:39

Ah OP well done for staying so calm in the face of great provocation - seriously you're a flipping excellent mother! I've also had meltdowns about screen time and the only consolation I can offer is that habits help - the more they experience the boundaries, the easier the boundaries are to enforce.

I left home unable to do any chores whatsoever. My darling mom never let me lift a finger as a child which sounds great right? The only problem was I started to feel a bit useless and sort of incapable. The backstory was: my mother had essentially been informally fostered and used as a skivvy (actually taken advantage of - we're not talking a normal level of chores) and so she went to the other extreme with me and my dsis. I think there's a middle ground somewhere and both extremes are not good for children.

It sounds like a really tough day. At least the Asp DT is contrite - that shows he knows in his heart you are right. He will feel better about himself for your efforts and your NT DT responded quite well (though I take your point it could have gone the other way) - sending a big unmumsnetty hug.

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