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My teenager spends hours and hours on the computer doing "programming" "coding" and other web-design stuff. He spends hours on stackoverflow. How should I be monitoring this behavior and should I be concerned?

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    Whether you should be concerned is something we can't really answer -- and I think you wouldn't be asking if you weren't concerned! But can you clarify for us why this behavior bothers you? Do you think he's lying about what he's doing, do you think the amount of time is unhealthy, something else? – Acire Jun 16 '16 at 21:28
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    Ask him what he's building. – Greg Hewgill Jun 16 '16 at 21:37
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    A "gem" might be a Ruby Gem, that is a package (a bundle) of Ruby code. rubygems.org – mgm Jun 17 '16 at 10:31
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    Have you put "programming" and "coding" in scare quotes because you don't think that's really what he's doing? Or because you don't approve of those activities? Or some other reason? – A E Jun 17 '16 at 10:38
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    He sounds awesome! Send me a link to the site he's building and I may be able to get him a job interview! I'm only partly joking, but really it sounds like it could be a lot worse. Trying to nudge him into other things may be more detrimental than you may think if he's anything like I was. This stuff requires a lot of focus and in many ways it's difficult to just drop it randomly. Could take a while to work yourself back into the clarity you were in while developing things. Plus, things move fast here. He may miss his shot if he's distracted. – Kai Qing Jun 18 '16 at 2:03
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Let me expand on my pithy comment above.

It sounds like your son has taken an active interest in programming. I too spent "hours and hours" doing exactly the same sorts of things that it sounds like your son is doing (though I didn't have the luxury of the internet back then!). Rather than this work being a waste of time, it's actually building the foundation for him becoming technologically adept, knowledgeable, and ultimately highly employable.

As a parent, you don't necessarily have to understand everything he's doing (and the technical details will almost certainly be beyond you), but you can engage with him and try to get the general idea of what he's building. Is he building a web site? What does it look like? Who is it for? What is the audience? Is he building a Ruby gem? (That is a programming module that can be used by other people.) What does it do? How is it useful? Who might use it? Keep in mind that his programming focus might change quickly, so be prepared for that. Today's hot new project will be tomorrow's "old and busted".

Too much of one thing can lead to deficiencies in other areas of his life. He's probably doing something ultimately worthwhile on the computer. But encourage him to do other things too, like go outside, hang out (in real life) with friends, read books, etc. Left to my own devices, I probably would have been programming every day from morning until midnight when I was your son's age. My parents managed to get me to do some other non-computer things too.

In short, talk to him about what he's working on. Ask questions about things you don't understand. If nothing else, this will give him valuable experience with explaining concepts to a non-technical person!

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    I deeply relate to this answer. I am a developer, and I write code morning to late at night, every day. I also do some "non-computer-related" things (hit the gym, chores, read a tons of books). When I was 16 I was doing things on the computer that my parents wouldn't understand, and I was deeply saddened by the fact that they never asked or showed interesting in what I was doing. Go, talk to your son, show interest and show him that you care. – mgm Jun 17 '16 at 10:34
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    I would definitely endorse this. The fact that it's computing is really not all that relevant as it could've been engineering, wood work, writing, painting... whatever. even if you're not interested in the subject, you're still interested in -him-. Also, given that there are a few of us silverback geeks in attendance, give him some advice. Get away from the keyboard for regularly! You may not be interested in trees or flowers but you -do- need a break occasionally. A short break can give you a new perspective on a seemingly intractable problem. – Dave M Jun 17 '16 at 13:58
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    Agreed, my cousins and I would spends all day on the computers when we were teenagers. We did waste a lot of that time playing games, but we learned a lot about how the systems work, how to network them, install OSs, etc. Now, years later, we are all successful software developers. If this is something he is really interested in, he will likely be glad to talk about it and explain how his projects work and function. – rpmerf Jul 18 '16 at 13:43

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