I have a 12 year old son who if completely left up to his own devices, will spend almost all of his free time doing one of two things, playing casual computer games, and watching TV. I would like to encourage him to do stuff that involves more thinking, at the very least playing games that make you think more, like Starcraft, or even get into more educational activities. Any ideas? Thanks!

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    Starcraft for thinking? You're nominated for a cool parent award. Games like World of Warcraft may make you think more but say goodbye to your social life. Maybe show him a TV show called American Ninja Warrior. He might take up rock climbing or something to get him more active. If I wasn't so old and fat it would make me want to go out there and get some exercise on.
    – Kai Qing
    Commented Feb 6, 2015 at 20:58
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    Padlock the computer and the TV, and give him a choice - yard work, house work, or sports. Even money he chooses the sports... Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 0:51

9 Answers 9


Ask him to write you a list of:

  • things that he likes doing
  • things he would like to do someday
  • things he has seen on television that he would like to learn more about
  • things he would like to do with you alone
  • things he would like to do with his other parent and/or siblings

Then see what you can do to help get him the information, tools, and time to do these things. He is your best source of what will interest him you just need to figure out how to drag the information from him. Maybe take him out to dinner, just the two of you, and see where the conversation leads.


LEGO! There never was any cooler toy :-)

It comes in so many varieties that there's something for him regardless if he fancies technics, cartoon robots, pirates, movie heroes, whatever.

Plus, if your son insists on computer interaction, then go with LEGO Mindstorm (which lets him build a machine that must be programmed on the computer before it will run).

You could limit his TV/computer use to only a set time every day. Does he have his own tv in his room? Remove it but let him watch tv in the living room. He should not sit in his room all day to goof off, but if you know he's doing creative work (like LEGO) that would be fine.

(Incidentally, my 2yo son received some Lego Duplo (jumbo blocks) and we often play together - I may be 35 years older, but it's still fun!)


Impose Limitations

Limit time playing with stuff. Facebook, angry birds, etc. You are allowed 2 hours a day for "those" activities. Doc some allowance if he goes over his time. My brother wasn't allowed to play "shooter" or "mmo's" until he was 16. He wasn't allowed on the computer after a certain time (and not until after homework is done.)

While I say "Only play for 2 hours", those are similar to the rules where I come from. Depending on you and the kids (each parent is different... each kid is different), that could be 1 hour or 4. Or 'You choose any combination that takes up 3 hours: XBox, computer, TV". For me, the important part is laying down the boundaries. It's a hard lesson to learn that you can overdo a good thing.

Encourage "Good"/breadth of activity/socialization

Do good things yourself and get him involved. Go outside. Play soccer. Read books together. Give a bigger allowance for things that you want to encourage. My brother, again, was encouraged to go outside. Read books (Dad got us into Wheel of time, Lord of the Rings, etc). Play games like Heroes of Might and Magic where you have to build cities, gather an army and fight on a battle board. Starcraft tournaments with other kids at church.

Discourage/Punish "Bad" There will be times when rules are pushed - playing for 2 hours and 30 minutes or just playing all day when you aren't home. There needs to be stated responses - loss of XBox for a week, no Internet, no phone, etc. The punishments need to be fair, consistent and followed through.

  • The "Discourage \"Bad\"" section looks bad to me… This might just increase resentment.
    – bjb568
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 4:25
  • Depends on the way it's approached. "Don't do that" in an empty void is just empty rules without meaning. "Don't do that because x, y, z". As with our family, certain games aren't allowed because they encourage bad things - GTA, Postal, etc. Some aren't allowed because you aren't old enough. Some aren't allowed because they haven't been vetted. Key point being, I know I've never been resentful and neither has my brother and we had plenty of limits.
    – WernerCD
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 4:45
  • Well, others do very much resent their parents. I don't think limits are a very satisfactory kind of rule to kids. "You can only play for 2 hours." -> "Why 2 hours? If I can play for the first 2, why can't I play another 2?" The age appropriate part doesn't really work well either. Ages are arbitrary and appropriateness depends upon the individual. "Don't do that" with a limiting statement seems to me weaker even that just "Don't do that".
    – bjb568
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 4:52
  • And simply saying "others do resent their parents" is no better or worse than me saying "we don't resent ours". Why two hours? Why more or less? I didn't say these were laid in law. They show responsibly? Give them more. Get in trouble? Give them less. It's all relative to the parents and the kids - what's good for one isn't good for the next. Carrot and stick (encourage good, discourage bad) is a loose set of rules and an idea more than law set in stone.
    – WernerCD
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 5:57
  • What you have described is imposing limitations. That is not the same thing as discouraging bad.
    – bjb568
    Commented Feb 8, 2015 at 17:21

Does he have any sports interests?

Could you suggest soccer, or baseball, or sailing, or chess, or scouting?

  • He has become involved with scouting recently, and it's considerably helped this problem, I must say. Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 16:03

I already mentioned reading together, but really doing anything together as a family should be helpful. Families today are so busy that this rarely happens. The family activity doesn't need to be structured or even necessarily constructive--they can be, but unstructured "fun" activities can be just as enriching. Shooting hoops together or doing a service project together or (since you mentioned he just got into scouting) going camping together as a family are some things that come to mind. Anything you do together will help you learn more about your son, help your son learn more about you, and help you discover what interests he has. You will then be in a better position to suggest activities that will replace his TV/computer time.


I have a 12yo boy (and a 10yo) who would sit in front of the TV or play computer video games all day if...

But we don't have a TV or computer video games!

Problem solved. 8-)

Not trying to be flip, but as parents sometimes we have to remove from the environment things that compete for attention...especially if they're non-productive.

Most homes are filled with non-productive distractions. Fill the home with productive distractions and, again, problem solved.

Funny thing is that the whole family does not waste hours watching TV or playing video games. We tie flies for fly-fishing, exercise, read, make stuff, blow-up things (dry-ice is awesome), cook really complicated foods, make video, play music, tease each other mercilessly, and spend a lot of time jumping on the trampoline.

Asking a 12yo to not watch TV or play video games when present in the home is exactly the same as asking an alcoholic to stop drinking when their home is filled with alcohol and everyone around them is drinking.

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    +1: "Not having a TV" sounds impossible, but it doesn't have to be! The trick is to not have it as a prominent altar in the living room but keep it out of sight when not in use -- and don't have other TV's in the house. I don't own a TV but I do have a ceiling-mounted projector over the sofa, a tuner-equipped pc behind the couch, and a cinema screen that rolls up into the ceiling. It's all practically invisible (=no temptation) but it's a huge cinema experience when we do turn it on, all for less than 1000 dollars in total. Commented Aug 5, 2012 at 10:06
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    Actually, not having a TV isn't difficult. We haven't had one since we got married and moved into our first house - back in 1994. Since then we've had three kids. The eldest just graduated high school as valedictorian and is off to Harvard in less than a month. The second is one of the top students in her grade, a level 10 gymnast, and starts on the soccer team. The youngest is ALSO a top student and gymnast. No TV. Three straight-A students. Enough activities to force them to focus. Coincidence? I don't think so... Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 0:56

Books can be one of the best forms of entertainment and learning. Based on your comments, though, it's obvious your son does not have an innate interest in books. Forcing him to read something he thinks is boring will definitely not help anything, but if you can find something that is in line his interests, it's more likely to be a positive experience. If he still has a hard time, maybe set some time aside and read out loud together. One of my fondest memories as a child was sitting on the couch with my dad one summer and each night reading a chapter from our book.


There are lots of educational games. For example chess helps with logical and strategy thinking.
Science is always fun. Reading is exciting.

But to help kids develop better they need lots of sport activities too. Especially boys. Also non computer activities will educate him way more better then computer ones. The more variety he has in his activities - the more educational experience he will get.

  • Find out what he likes, if he doesn't know, try different things with him to figure it out. parks/bicycle/karts/camping/baseball/trips/photography/chess/science/etc For example, get him a book about some famous/exiting place(south africa? Yellowstone national park and its geysers? air and space museum in DC?), get him interested and then plan a trip there together, involve him in planning, packing, shopping -> educational moment, plus time with a parent, plus new experience and memories.
  • involve him in activities you like to do (photography? lots of things to learn, right)
  • Be an example to your son, nothing will work if other members are watching TV and playing games
  • Spend time with him just talking, telling him stories of your life. talking about what interests him. This teaches a child a lot too.

I think the best things to help get a boy up and being productive is having someone like his mom, dad, sister, brother, etc. do something with him. Going outside and playing catch, playing a board game, go on a walk, or bike ride, teach him some new basketball games or moves.

Just spend time with him doing exciting things that he likes, because if he doesn't like them then he'll never spend such time with you guys again. He'll think hes not going to get to do what he wants.

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