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So my son is really into video games and I have never let him have a computer growing up or play games (my viewpoint is that video game is a waste of time and he could better spend the time studying or exercising). The only thing he is allowed to do on the computer is school work. It is his senior year in HS and his mom wanted to buy him a laptop I finally relented. Now he plays on his computer too much (most of the time after he comes home from school) and I want to change my mind and take his laptop away. He is threatening that if I do he will deliberately fail his senior year and not graduate. What should I do?

  • Control the sites that can be connected to. – Solar Mike Jul 24 at 4:15
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    Is this a threat like "I'll fail on purpose" or a potential consequence like "I won't have the tools to pass thus I will fail"? – SomeShinyObject Jul 24 at 5:53
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    How much is "too much", exactly? Is he spending all his time, from when he gets home until bedtime, on it/about three hours/varies? Does it interfere with school (grades) now? Does he eat dinner with you? Does he still go out with friends as he used to? Does he neglect his chores because of the laptop? Has he issued ultimatums before to get is way? All these things matter. If you could include details of why it's a problem (not just a power struggle), you will get a much more helpful answer. – anongoodnurse Jul 24 at 13:43
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    @dxh I understand that. The questions are more to try and understand what the teenager thinks he has as leverage. Understanding that can make it easier to figure out how to deal with the ultimatum. Letting the teenager use and keep the ultimatum as a manipulative device means the parent loses any control / ability to do anything that's in the best interest of the child that the child doesn't like. So it can be a useful tactic to nullify the ultimatum or make it apparent that failing high school hurts the teenager so much they won't consider it anymore. – Becuzz Jul 24 at 14:11
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    Teenage boys expand to fill available space. It's a time of their lives where they're trying to find out how "in charge" they can be. It's a delicate balancing act to have them grow in between "Mamma's Boy" and "Tyrant". . . He needs autonomy, but he also needs boundaries, expectations, consequences, and rewards. – Aww_Geez Jul 24 at 19:08
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What should I do?

Do not engage in a power struggle with your son. It's a lose-lose situation; it will cause him to resent you if you win, and it will cause untold damage for both him and you if he wins, because it will teach him something damaging. Power struggles aren't the way successful people achieve their goals in the real world unless the issue is vital and all else they've tried in the past has failed.

Now is the time to practice and lead by example through peaceful negotiation. Come to the table with all the facts and none of the emotion.

This may seem too simplistic, but it's worth a try. Write down each objection/concern you have to his computer use on an index card. List all the pros and cons, so to speak, and be honest, one per card. The "pro"s of his computer use are that it makes him happy, and it is better than more harmful forms of recreation. If it applies, other things in the "pro" column might be that it's a way to engage socially with other gamers online or in a discussion with friends at school who also like gaming. Search your mind for every pro you can think of, and maybe enlist the help of his mother as well.

Then list all the cons. This might include (only if they're true): you've stopped eating supper with us to use your computer, you're not getting enough sleep (teachers complain that he falls asleep or is inattentive), your grades are falling, you're behind on your chores, you're not spending time with your siblings like you used to, your friends are complaining they never see you (if it's true; it may not be), every fact you (and his mother?) can think of.

Invite him to do the same, then set up a mutually agreeable time to meet ("never" is not mutually agreeable!) to discuss his computer use.

Once seated, agree on ground rules for both parties for the discussion. No shouting, no labeling (of behavior - e.g. that's unfair/ridiculous/draconian/etc. - or name-calling), no lying, etc.

Then take turns in discuss each card calmly, listening carefully to the answer. If all goes well, reason will prevail for both of you, and you will find a compromise, one that doesn't preclude his computer use but cuts it down enough for him to correct deficits in other areas of his life.

No lies/wishful thinking. If he justifies falling grades by saying colleges don't consider grades, that's a justification and maybe a lie. Ask him how he knows that; did he ask his guidance counselor? Did he contact the Admissions Department at the college(s) of his choice? Those are reasonable ways to get reliable information. The same goes for you. You can't assume going out makes him better; you need facts, too. ("You seem more withdrawn/irritable/other since spending as much time on the computer much" are facts. "It's not good for you" is an opinion, just like "Colleges don't look at grades as long as I'm passing.")

This is, more or less, how many democratic societies work. There is give and take, there is compromise. It may not seem like we have choices, but we do. We always do. If I don't like my scool/property tax, I can move to a state without property tax. That might not be what I really want to do, but it's one choice, among others.

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  • Do you know where he learned to give ultimatums from? Is this a normal behavior for teen? – pi a Jul 24 at 16:46
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    No, I don't know what possesses kids that age; I do know they are possessed, though. ;) And yes, it's absolutely normal. – anongoodnurse Jul 24 at 23:15
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    @pia "I have never let him have a computer growing up or play games (my viewpoint is that video game is a waste of time and he could better spend the time studying or exercising). The only thing he is allowed to do on the computer is school work" ← Sounds like he may have learned to give ultimatums from following your example. He's basically swung from one extreme to the other (and, depending on the type of video game, they can train & develop strategic, social, and problem-solving skills, or reactions & hand-eye coordination. If nothing else, some "downtime" is vital for his development) – Chronocidal Jul 27 at 11:27
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You're saying you want to change your mind and take the computer back, but I'm assuming from your open question (and from that it in general seems like a sensible thing to do) that you'll also be open to suggestions on how to help him find a more constructive use of his computer time more in line with what you had in mind when you bought it.

I find your son's reaction rather typical. You're in a classic power struggle. You've made a power move in threatening to confiscate the laptop, and now your child is following suit. You're asking in comments where he has learned to make ultimatums like this, and I'd guess partly from you. "Spend less time gaming or I'll remove your laptop" is such an ultimatum. Sure your son has many other influences, but at his age he is grappling with becoming an adult, and you are almost certainly one of the most important role models of how to be adult. Challenges to his autonomy is particularly likely to be met with resistance at this age.

I believe you have some groundwork to do in order to have a chance of being well received. Crucially:

  • Ask him to show you what he does on his computer. Which games he plays and what he enjoys about them. Take an interest. He rightly will think little of your notion of what's an appropriate amount of time, when he knows you don't know what you're imposing limits on.

  • Frame the problem in a manner that makes it explicit why this is your problem to solve. Simply that you arbitrarily think it's too much gaming isn't very compelling to him, and he'll resist the notion that you should have a say in how he uses his time. Make sure you know for yourself why you think it's too much, and then make sure you communicate that. Are you worried that his gaming takes time away from studies? Sleep? Social life? Physical activity? Be specific about your concern, and be open to the fact that he may come up with other solutions than less gaming. Take his suggestions seriously if you want him to listen to you.

  • A lot of people seem to believe that you have to have a serious talk where the child has to look you in the eyes, etc. I find that those are more likely to turn into showdowns. For an open discussion, look for a non threatening environment such as a car ride, where you don't have eye contact during the entire time, and where the conversion can happen in passing, rather than being the sole purpose of your being in his presence.

Are you familiar with motivational interviewing? It's an evidence based approach to eliciting behaviour change. At its core is the notion that the only person you have power to change is yourself. If you want to effect change in someone else, you need to work with them to help them find their own motivation for change. They will not change a behavior because you're motivated.

To this end, MI techniques focus around taking with the person about their own goals, and later elaborating on how their current behaviour is standing in the way of that goal. They focus heavily on the positive consequences of change, rather than any negative consequences of persisting in a current behaviour. They use open questions (as opposed to yes/no-questions) to let the other person lead the conversation, and practice emphatic listening and affirmations. You do not demand change, you show him the way and cheer him on, on his path to change.

I'm by no means an MI expert, but I'd certainly point you in that direction. If he does indeed have an unhealthy use of gaming, I'm not surprised if that thought has already crossed his mind, and he might desire to do something more meaningful with his time, but he hasn't got the motivation to get started. And he is not likely to open up to you as long as you are confrontational about the subject.

Talk to him about his ambitions, share your concerns, and find the doubt. Only then, use his own motivation, rather than pushing yours. And ask if you may come with suggestions, to confirm his autonomy, rather than make demands.

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    +1. Your answers are always informative and helpful. One point about eye contact. You state, "...where the child has to look you in the eyes," I never tell someone - except my dogs - to look me in the eye. It's a command, and it's threatening, the antithesis of peaceful negotiation. We had a question on eye contact where there';s more detail, but it's spontaneous when there's interest, trust, love, doubt and anger (among other things.) A wise parent will not stare at their child during a confrontation or throughout negotiations. – anongoodnurse Jul 25 at 13:03
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    I'd echo @anongoodnurse's comment here. My eldest really struggled with this before I learned how harmful it could be. For some folks, it creates a really threatening feeling/response, and caused many more problems than it solved along the way. – Rory Alsop Jul 25 at 19:18
  • @anon: I absolutely agree. I have found it to be a prevalent parenting idea that a parent should demand eye contact when they have something important to say, and I think it's detrimental, is all I wanted to say. If that's not how it came across, thanks for the chance to clear that up. – dxh Jul 25 at 19:39
  • No, it was clear tat it's not helpful. I was just strengthening the idea. :) – anongoodnurse Jul 25 at 23:01
  • @RoryAlsop - When ordered to do so, it's threatening to everyone, but particularly to people on the spectrum, even if only mildly so. – anongoodnurse Jul 26 at 14:15

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