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I'm 26, my younger brother is 13. He is spending almost all of his day on TV and computer. Common problem, but I am really worried about him.

I came back to live in my parents' house since it's close to my school.

He is a younger son, our parents are getting close to their 60s, and they don't really have any educational agenda, nor the discipline to apply one. They are tired of fighting with him. They have consulted with a psychologist which insists they have to let him do anything he wants, so he won't feel an urge to rebel. I think this is super-stupid and can prove it with my own life. Even his school has a stupid "democratic" approach which says all kids have to do only what they feel like doing.

He is an artistic kid, he can enjoy playing guitar, woodcraft, boardgames, hicking, climbing, etc. But it's getting harder and harder to make him participate in those activities. It's also hard because we don't have enough discipline as family. I've decided lots of time to make sure we go out of the house together at least once a week but found it really difficult to follow.

What I need is a plan. A well planned change, involving our parents. We need a long-term change. My main problems are:

  1. How do I tell my parents about this? I want to get them alert, so they'll be motivated to make a real change, but I don't want to make them too worried. I thought of telling them everything, so they'll know they can't keep the situation as it is.

  2. How can we restrict his TV and computer usage? I want to create alternatives but it won't work if he has totally free, unlimited access to TV and computer. I thought of a technical solution, but wouldn't it make him feel we dont trust him? (well, I don't..) And what is a reasonable, non harmful time for screens activity?

  3. Alternatives: I can think of plenty activities, but how can we make him participate? I find rewarding systems problematic - at a certain time in your life you have to be able to do stuff only beause you choose to, not because you look for the reward. Is there a way of creating an intense, commiting activities agenda without using power or rewards?

  4. Discipline - How can we make sure it won't be a few-weeks change, but a long-term change that will last for the rest of his youth? Knowing that we have a discipline problem as a family..

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I am not sure if his internet usage has anything to do with cutting himself? –  Swati Jun 20 '12 at 21:54
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@Swati I think the intense exposure to TV and computer games has a big role in "not feeling anything anymore" - it just makes you numb. Of course it also have something to do with lack of social attention. –  Roy Jun 20 '12 at 21:58
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@Roy-- this sounds like a much, much deeper problem (or set of problems) than just TV/Internet usage. At his age, I was pretty deep into both TV and Internet, but was not cutting myself. In your shoes, I would seriously consider seeking the advice of a child psychologist who specializes in adolescents, rather than us. I mean, we are awesome, but we aren't that awesome. –  mmr Jun 21 '12 at 0:23
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-cont: The other reason is that the comments about self-injury will almost certainly hinder any chance you will have of getting productive answers to the core of what you have chosen to focus on (the specific approaches of how to get your brother involved in activities that don't involve a TV/computer), even though it seems a perfectly valid and on-topic question. Rather, you will get repeated advice to get your brother to a trained professional (which is very good advice that I urge you to take). If you'd like to ask about the cutting, I suggest you open a second question specific to it. –  Beofett Jun 21 '12 at 12:43
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Take him to a DIFFERENT professional. This could be any number of things. 13 is a crazy age to begin with. All that said, you seem to care. Just be there for him. Get him out of the house when you can. –  DA01 Jun 29 '12 at 6:11

7 Answers 7

up vote 7 down vote accepted

First of all, I was that 13 year old kid. I was always on the computer or playing video games. So, some of these questions are me vicariously wishing that I had had an older brother who cared. See, I really really want you to come at this the right way. If you try to get him to stop using the computer or TV "because it's unhealthy" you will make him want to do this more.

Ok, so I'll answer this question practically and then philosophically...

My first question is, does your brother play on the computer because of a lack of athletic aptitude? You didn't mention that he played any sort of organized sport. I could not and even at 27, cannot throw a ball for the life of me. I had terrible coordination, and never found sports fun. I couldn't play sports with anyone, and no matter what I did I could never get better. I found that I was naturally good at video games and picking up technology, so that's what I focused on.

So, consider that this might be something he is naturally gifted at.

If he has low energy levels, he might benefit from a diet change. Try changing his diet to a paleo diet. The other main reason why I was on the computer so much was energy issues. My Mom fed me a low fat diet because she thought it was healthy, but I just got fat and lazy. It wasn't until I went Atkins and then Paleo that I had any drive to do anything productive with my life.

So, I've covered diet and natural physical ability. If you want him to do more physical activity, I suggest you look at his computer habits and see what would work. Does he watch anime? maybe he would love to do a "real" martial arts, like kung-fu. Does he play World of Warcraft, or any MMORPGs? Maybe he would enjoy Fitocracy. Does he like mission based video games? Maybe he would like Crossfit. Maybe all of them.

So, I make all these suggestions based on my personal experiences, but ultimately, if you want to make any lasting change, you need to get to know your brother, and understand why he enjoys being on the computer. Can you tell us what, exactly, he does on the computer, or what TV shows he watches, or what games he plays? Whatever he is doing is part of a greater desire he has. I went to counsuling for a porn addiction, and the counciler discussed the innate desire for all men to go on adventure and to do things that are risky and to explore. I was raised by an overprotective mother, and I wasn't athletic, so I could only find adventure on the computer. First, it was video games, then the internet, and then pornography. Maybe your brother wants to do something greater then himself, but your parents think he's too young or won't let him.

Or, it could be none of these things. The most important point is that if you want to make lasting change, you need to meet your brother where he's at. You need to be willing to join him on the computer and watch his TV shows or play his video games. you need to learn why he enjoys them, you need to understand why it's better then real life. Then, you can identify the core elements of his enjoyment and re-focus it on real world activities. You cannot look on the outside and make a blanket statement that it's bad for him or it's an addiction. His behavior is not entirely bad. He is engaging in some good things. You need to find what the good things are and then use that to push him to be someone better.

Please don't hestitate to ask me any follow up questions.

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I'm a sister and I have two brothers younger then me. What can I suggest you? First of all, limit the time that your brother spends on TV and internet (also tecnhical solutions are OK :)) Talk with him and explain him why spending time on TV and Internt is wrong. TV is completely bad for a young mind that is forming, because it is a passive media and so we haven't many way to avoid our minds' conditioning (the best way is turning off it ;)). Internet isn't completely bad, but, excepted some aspects, Internet and tv are very very similar. Before sitting in front of a pc screen, we have to do 2 very important things:

1) know what we want to do on internet

2) decide what time we are willing to spend in what we want to do.

Time for Tv and internet games must be limited (1 hour/die is enough). I think that the best thing is talking with him and explaining that every form of addiction is dangerous, helping him to understand and desiring himself to spend less time on Tv and internet. Obviously he is going to do some resistence, but you'll be clear and.. also technical solutions are OK :) If technical solutions could feel your brother that you and your parents haven't trust with him, on the other hand can help him to regulate his time and his priorities, he'll know what is very important for him and, with your help, why.

I think that if you tell you parents that you want to take care of your brother, they'll be happy. On internet you can find a lot of studies talking about risks and dangers of tv and internet addiction. You can give them to your parents and.. they'll get alert but your brother is young and you can help him, yet.

I suggest you find time for doing his favourite activities toghether. Probably, at the beginning he could be pouting, bored, not collaborative.. You have to have a lot of good willing and patience, and you have to ignore all things that make you violent against your brother (I'm a little exaggerating!) !! :D :D The more you'll have difficulties, the more he needs detoxication :D

I know that being a good brother, a good sister, isn't easy. I always want that they don't do my own mistakes.. but sometimes they prefer to make mistakes. Our parents sometimes are too busy "to fight" with them and we always want the best for the "children" of home... We have an important role: we have to help our brothers to grow up in the best way :)

p.s = I urge to you to have a lot of patience!!! Good luck!! :)

p.s. 2 = Keep away from psychologists!!! All they want to is making money and long-lasting customers. Obviously there are many good exceptions, but be careful.

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"TV is completely bad for a young mind": could you provide some supporting references for that claim? What age range are your referring to there? I know the current recommendation is that all TV should be avoided until the age of two, but I don't recall seeing any reputable studies indicating that TV is 100% detrimental at older ages. –  Beofett Sep 17 '12 at 12:13
    
@Beofett Well, the net is full of studies! :) But I suggest you read Condry's " Thief of Time, Unftaithful Servant: Television and the American child".. Now I' m going to copy for you some links but I'm sure that I have read some studies more interesting and "stronger".. I'm sorry but I don't remember where I found them!! About TV full of violence and children About Tv and eating desorders –  sunrise Sep 18 '12 at 18:04
    
@Beofett What about the most value trasmitted by television ? what is "fame"? Have famous people an happy life? Which are compromises on fame? Do tv programmes show them? About tv & unhealthy food. I also suggest you read McLuhan's "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man", Neil Postman's "Amused to death" and so on. Oh, obviously, you have to don't forget that tv misinform us! And about the consequences of disinformation....... –  sunrise Sep 18 '12 at 18:15
    
Thanks for following up! You should edit your answer to include the information and links you posted in these comments. Just remember: studies showing evidence of negative impact do not prove that there is no potential positive impact. –  Beofett Sep 18 '12 at 18:41

I was very computer and TV heavy (more computer than TV) from about age 7 until, well, I met my wife pretty much. (And even at that, we met on an online game!!) Now that I have daughters of my own, I am torn between how much talk there is that spending that much time engaged with computers is bad for you, and the fact that while I'm a bit nerdy, I'm a mostly normal human being. So from my personal experience the quantity of computer engagement didn't appear to be unhealthy in and of itself.

If I were in your shoes, I would try to identify exactly what is unhealthy about his computer engagement. Perhaps he needs to find an online community with people he can relate to. I know things have changed a lot since we were in school, but I doubt the fact that "kids that spend most of their time on the computer don't have very many friends at school" has changed much. Having friends online got me through some very difficult times at school.

I also made very efficient use of my time while I was online. While in high school, I organized a 'company' of people to work for me. I had suppliers and customers, delivery folks, and a vast supply of workers to do grunt work for me. Eventually this operation had over 2,000 people working for me. In a job interview (the one I have now) I was asked if I had leadership experience. I detailed my operation to them, and in all honesty they were thoroughly impressed. Partly because I was so young when I did it, and partly because it was on an online game, which seemed more difficult (since incentivizing workers is much harder without a real payment).

So I recommend trying to integrate yourself (just a little) into what he does online. Learn it. Learn it very well. Then find a way to get him to engage himself in what he does that will have positive benefits. Find something that will give him a sense of responsibility and accomplishment, and opportunities to grow. In all honesty, these are the same sorts of things we should be looking for no matter what our kids are engaged in! How can they grow as a result of it?

If he was 'addicted' to basketball, nobody would think it's weird at all that he spent all day at school thinking up new plays and tricks, and after school the whole time shooting hoops and doing drills. Luckily for the basketball addict, there are pre-defined avenues where he can engage those skills in ways that give him responsibility (teams), accomplishments (game victories), and opportunities to grow (defeat, conflict resolution, personal endurance). There aren't so many pre-defined avenues for the folks that like to slay dragons, but that doesn't mean that you can extract the same positive qualities from them if the setup is right.

And for the basketball addict, where do those avenues really come from? Usually, the coach. It sounds like your brother just needs a coach for whatever games he's playing on the computer. I had a coach for the game I was playing. There were 3 very wonderful folks (all of whom were adults) that played the game with me. I never met any of them in person, but they had a big impact on me. They encouraged me to stick with it, and helped me out a bit when I needed it. There are a lot of teams on online games with very well defined structures, many of whom are willing to mentor those willing to learn, both in how to play the game and some life lessons as well.

So the bottom line is: don't restrict his usage; use it to teach him positive attributes!

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Sinking so much time into such passive activities points towards some sort of mental or emotional health issue. It's possible he's depressed or avoiding responsibility, but I agree with Nat -- it sounds like a symptom rather than a cause. I don't know what kind of psychologist your brother saw, but that person sounds like a quack. I'd highly suggest getting him seen by someone else. Mental/Emotional health issues are tricky, and treatment can be very hit and miss for a while until you find the right combination of people to help and a working treatment plan.

First and foremost you need to get your parents in on this, and make sure that they're the final decision makers on matters of rules, discipline, and health care. Your brother isn't your child and he's probably not going to react well if you try to treat him as such or if he sees you trying to push your parents into "fixing" him.

Second is to come up with activities that you can do as a family or that you two can do together. Just getting him out of the house a few hours at a time would be worthwhile, even if it's just you two milling about the mall and doing window shopping. Use it as a time to bond with him and find out what he's really into -- not just what you think he's into. If he's not doing his schoolwork now, not doing it because he's out biking with you isn't going to make much difference. Getting him out would also naturally reduce his TV & Internet time as well.

Finally, you need to understand that you can't make your brother change his habits -- he has to want to change them for himself.

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+1 That last sentence is important to realize, but oh so hard to accept. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 29 '12 at 8:32

How about building on the skills he has... computers can be creative rather than just passive devices.

Why don't you encourage him to learn a programming language like Scratch where he can program games for himself. Alternatively get him a video camera and work on creating some films of his own. These will develop skills that he can enjoy and be creative with. They will also stand him in good stead in later life.

You might be amazed by how creative it can be!

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Talk to him about your experiences, this is especially useful as you have been through the same thing as him and can help him simply be being there to talk to.

As for the gaming addiction, my gut feel is that this is a symptom of other underlying issues and finding those and dealing with them will be more useful than trying to impose external controls on his behaviour.

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While I definitely agree professional help would be valuable, I would also suggest considering your opportunity to be a role-model to your brother. Spend time with him. Invite him to go with you to do fun things that don't involve the computer. Engage him in loving brotherly conversation, so that he trusts you and becomes more open to share what is going on with him. Express your concerns to him in a loving manner, gently letting him know that you're concerned that how much time he's spending engaging in xyz activities seems to be hurting him in whatever particular ways, and let him know you want to help him if there's anything you can do to help. If you are building up a close relationship with trust, he may open up to you about what is going on and what he's going through. You may need your own support network as well to help you deal with your brother's intense emotions or whatever might come out, to help you not get overwhelmed in the middle of his issues.

Getting him involved in more physical activities may help with keeping him more physically active and from falling into a physical lethargy, such as via sports or hiking that you say he used to enjoy. He sounds a bit depressed. Do you think he needs medication to help his body reset to a happy healthy state? If so you should probably share your concern as such with your parents. 13 is a tough age for a lot of kids, in general, around that age, there's a shift from an identify as a member of one's family to starting to develop an individual identity. How is his social life at school? Does he have friends? Does he wish he had more friends? Are his friends all depressed and dragging him down? Does he play games to escape thinking about his misery elsewhere in his life? Does he have hopes and dreams? Goals for his life? Future career aspirations? As an older brother you could certainly encourage him to start thinking about what he'd like out of life and pointing him in what direction it would take to get there. As far as more activities with the family, you would probably need to get your parents to be on board with your plan to get out and do family activities so that they can help enforce the "yes, you do need to participate, and not just sit around and be lazy all day" side of it.

You are probably not in the role needed to set up rules for your brother. You may want to sit down with your parents and lay out your concerns about why you think those rules are necessary (eg: he's not developing social skills with friends because he spends so much time playing computer games that he's not building friendships, how his health or vision might be being affected, etc.)

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+1 for being a role model. OP isn't a parent, but a brother. The very best thing he can do is be a good brother, as you've suggested. –  KitFox Jun 22 '12 at 15:57

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