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My son, 16, has a good GPA in high school but his social life is nonexistent outside of his computer. Every suggestion I've made to him results in a "No." He doesn't like to go out with his dad, go shopping, or go to the gym. He consistently screams in my face when I try and talk to him. I have asked him to go see a therapist, but he said, "No." I don't know what to do. He is always playing games on his computer. The time he spends on his computer is all-consuming. He doesn't do anything else with his time outside of school. I've tried taking the computer away from him, but he'll only transition to spending all his time on his phone. If I take his phone away, in an attempt to make him more active, he just goes to sleep.

I don't know what to do.

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    Why is it important to you that he not spend a lot of time on his computer? He could be socializing with people on the internet. Are you concerned about his health, mental or physical? – Reed Rawlings Dec 1 '15 at 21:17
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    What exactly do you need help with? Getting along with him better? Getting him off the computer and doing something more active? Something else? Right now this feels like a giant text dump of your stressed feelings (which I can sympathize with). However, hard to tell what you need help with. Can you edit it to add information about what specifically you want help with? – Becuzz Dec 1 '15 at 21:28
  • I vote to reopen, as this question seems pretty clear to me. It could use some more detail, but instead of putting the question on hold, which is demotivating, especiallly for a new member asking their first question, we could ask specific questions in the comments, so OP knows what we need to answer. – user4758 Dec 6 '15 at 14:44
  • @Fay Some questions to clear up your question: When did this start? Was there some discernible cause? How did this behavior evolve? How does your son feel about himself? Does (or did he, before he withdrew) feel accepted by and integrated with his peers? How was his social life in elementary school and early HS? Does he consider himself attractive? Do his peers share his interests? What does he do on his computer? If primarily games, which games, and are they "community games" through which you can socialize with others (like World of Warcraft) or "lonely games" that you play by yourself? – user4758 Dec 6 '15 at 14:53
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There is an interesting phenomenon that I have observed in my 13 year old. The more time he spends on the computer the more irritable and antisocial he becomes and the more resentful of being asked to do anything around the house. Let him have unrestricted computer time and he becomes Mr. Sullen.

Telling him that he has to "earn" computer time both improves his attitude and makes him more positive of life in general. Quite unexpected; I would have predicted that he would be resentful of having to earn the time. I suspect it is because he knows that the time he gets on the computer now is totally his; he doesn't have to sneak it or steal it, and he knows that we are totally okay with him being on it. No guilt and no pressure and no fear that we will come in and try to make him stop.

It also may have to do with having limits. Kids like having limits. They want to be able to depend on something.

I can't guess at the effects of having him "pay" for computer/phone time with time spent with his family. Doesn't sound like it would be a good thing; family time ought to be considered a reward rather than a chore, but the together time could be part of a chore which would earn him computer time.

The screaming issue sounds more serious...if my son ever screamed at me because he wanted to play on his computer rather than do as he was told, his computer would get locked down for a week. (You can use parental controls to lock down a computer, only allowing access at certain times on certain days).

When my son started having "attitude" with me, my husband and I sat him down and had a serious, non-emotional talk with him. (It's important not to be angry when you have it, and commit to being firm but not emotionally reactive to his attitude, even if it gets bad) We explained to him that we had seen a behavior that was disturbing to us, namely that the more time he spent on the computer the worse his attitude was. We asked him if he would be able to change that.

He said he would, of course, but that didn't last a day. Then we told him that we were sorry but if he wasn't able to keep a good attitude due to too much computer playing, the computer would have to go. After that, his computer time was reduced to zero and he had to earn every hour. It didn't even take a day before his attitude became very positive, which surprised us greatly. It's been many months since then and his sullens haven't returned, even though we have stopped monitoring his computer use so closely.

Your son is older than mine, and every child is different, but it's thing to try. If his habits are entrenched don't expect instant changes, but it may be that having 1 hour a day of completely uncontested computer time would be a more desirable outcome than having three hours during which he is always anticipating that someone is going to interrupt him. If you decide to put it in play, give him a month or two before thinking about relaxing the rules. And expect backsliding once you do relax the rules; send him back to ground zero when he backslides.

Worrying that he isn't "social" is probably not productive. Some kids just aren't, and if they aren't, you can make them go places but you can't make them enjoy it. It isn't unreasonable to expect him to participate in family related activities, as long as all you require of him is participation without "attitude", and not that he expresses an "enjoyment" that he doesn't feel. That's not something you can reasonably demand.

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    Earning computer time for good behavior, rather than attempting to take it away after bad behavior, is a strategy I'd been thinking about for a while but not had the nerve to try implementing yet. Your experience inspires me to take the plunge with my tween and nearly-tween. Thank you for a well written answer :) – Acire Dec 4 '15 at 1:26
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This is from my experience with my brothers.

When they were teenagers, one of them was very outgoing, always socializing with friends, going to parties, bringing people home... The other one was the opposite: his main source of entertainment were videogames and computer. He always preferred to stay at home and rarely we saw him with friends.

Nowadays, the first has had problems with alcohol and drugs, caused by joining the wrong people while the second is a normal introvert person that works with computers.

It is a bit exagerated but the point is that computers are not bad per se and sometimes when trying to impose our opinion we are causing the opposite effect.

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How long has he behaved this way? My 16 year old son behaved just like yours – he was diagnosed with a mild form of chronic depression called Dysthymia. Maybe you could have your son’s pediatrician talk to him about trying therapy. My son refused help when I suggested it but reluctantly agreed to try counselling after talking to his doctor.

You are his parent and the best judge if something is not normal. If you feel there is something wrong then do what you can to get professional help.

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I wonder, how often do you have a talk with your son in which he hears only praise and acceptance? Please do not misunderstand me. I have four children, and they know that I do not shy away from reprimanding them verbally or with stronger consequences. And I know that sometimes even the most positive and encouraging parent has a kid that just does not seem to respond. So I am not trying to put this on you.

I commend you for pushing him out of his comfort zone, especially in getting away from electronics and out into the real world, to interact with people. But just in case this is a factor, I am encouraging you to add a positive encouragement factor to the other answers you get here. The next time you talk to your son, say to him "son, you are so smart. You are always getting good grades, and I really appreciate that I don't have to worry about that," and give him a hug. Nothing else - no "if only...." or "but ...". Do not turn it into an excuse to get in an item of correction.

In fact, if your interactions with him have been mostly negative for a while, for the next several days, even a week, do not allow yourself to correct him on anything, only to give him praise, encouragement, and acceptance. Tell him you love him, you think he is awesome, and you appreciate his grades and anything else you can think of that is positive. Invite him out to get ice-cream, and do not say anything unless it is recalling a funny incident between you two, or talking about plans for christmas, or what he wants for a gift. And if he says a new game console, resist the temptation to criticize his addiction to electronics. Only, when you invite him out, just you and him, it is ok to ask him to leave his phone or tablet behind at home, tell him he can get back to it as soon as you get back home, and that it will only be a little while.

The thing is, if you do this, your son will start becoming addicted to your attention and approval. More than just fearing your correction or your taking away his electronics, he will start getting hooked on those words of praise. This is a much more powerful motivator than fear or yelling matches.

When I talk to my kids, I can see that they hang on my every word. When I correct them for something they have done wrong, I can see they take it deep into their heart. But I am sure that is because their heart is completely open to me. They want to hear from me, and take in what I say, because they know nine times out of ten, that will be words of appreciation and acceptance. Not a day goes by that I do not tell them I love them, I think they are awesome, and I appreciate specific good things I see in them. I look for their gifts and express my amazement at them.

My one son (I have three daughters also) is the poster child for strong willed kids. I have read books on strong willed children, and the examples they give are nothing compared to the examples I have from my kid. My son makes those kids look like compliant pansies. But I have taken that strength of will as a neutral thing and encouraged him about it. Showing him how there are good things, very important things in life to be stubborn about, and how great men always tend to be very stubborn men - only they learn how to be stubborn in a kind way and what things are worthwhile being stubborn about. He is also very smart and gets straight A's. He has a girlfriend and some good friends at school. Enjoys video games more than I would like, but is also constantly reading books (the old kind - made of paper). Today we received yet more recruitment letters from Stanford and Vanderbilt. I love to brag on my boy. But here is the thing. A couple of weeks back, on the way home from school, my son told me I was his best friend. Unless you are a dad and have heard your son say that to you, you cannot know how that feels. To know that your awesomely smart, and awesomely stubborn son looks at you and thinks you are his best pal.

But, you only get that if your child knows that you are his biggest fan, his best advocate. If he needed a recommendation from someone in his family, if you are the first person he would immediately think of. If the moment he sees you, he thinks (even subconsciously) "I am about to get some love". Then, your son will be moldable to you. Otherwise, it will be difficult for you to redirect his personality, and any correction will be liable to be undone the minute he is out of your sight. That is the other thing about a child being addicted to your love, praise and approval - it works even when you are not around.

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