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Help! My Son Plays Video Games All Day While I'm at Work

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Guest blogger Traci: I am a divorced single mom of a 14-year-old boy, Kurt, who, as far as I can tell, has been spending his summer days with a stockpile of electronic devices. I have to work, otherwise food wouldn't get on the table. My ex-husband rarely gets a child-support check sent on time (in fact, as of this post, it's been four months since I saw the last one), so sending my son to a summer camp is out of the question. The camps that I can afford (barely) are largely peopled with little kids, and Kurt "would rather die" than go to one.

Kid playing video game

So he's been staying home. I've told him to keep his TV-watching to a minimum and to please keep the house orderly. But each day when I came home last week, he was watching TV or playing his Xbox and the house was trashed. Food was left on the counters, empty plates left in the living room, dirty clothes on the floor, bed unmade. One day, he was still in his pajamas!

I know he's still mad about his dad leaving, and mad at me for God knows what reason. He's just mad at the world, I think -- and perhaps rightly so. Most of his friends' parents are still together, and while they're on their vacations to Maui and Paris, here we are, sweating it out in this miserable South Georgia heat. We used to be that family -- traveling, doing lots of fun things together. All that's changed since the divorce, and I feel horrible for not being able to provide him with the life we used to have. But now I've got this slovenly boy lying around the house, not getting exercise, not doing anything but contributing to the mess I have to clean up. When I ask him to help out, he rolls his eyes at me and continues to stare at the TV screen. He's turning into a bum, and I don't know what to do. I love him so much, but he is becoming unmanageable.

My girlfriends tell me that love is in the actions -- just saying it isn't enough. They say I'm allowing him to fall into a pit of self-pity, and that I need to take control again and get him back on the right path. I know they're right, but what can a mother who works 40-hour weeks do that will bring her son back to his old self? One friend suggested I take the television and computer out of the house and store them in her garage, saying that then he wouldn't have any choice but to do something productive. On paper, that looks like a good idea, but I almost can't bear to take away the two things that make my son happy. 

I wish I could be a stay-at-home mom, but that's out of the question: If I don't work, we lose everything. I am so at a loss and feel such despair. I hope somebody out there has been through this before and can tell me what to do. My son is headed for a lot of trouble if I don't figure this out. I know I'm being a lousy mother, but I'm so deep in my own situation, I can't see things clearly anymore. I would appreciate your blunt advice.

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32 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kristen July 7, 2010, 5:38 AM

I just want to say how sorry I am for your situation and everyone like you, it’s hard on all involved. I have to say I think taking away the tv/games would be a BAD idea(I am an advocate for no tv, we have not had a tv in our home for 4yrs) BUT in this situation it could lead to worse things. Have you thought about asking a few of his friends if maybe one day a week he could hang out at their house and do things with their families, you could even offer to compensate them with ordering pizza for the kids while he is their(easy to do at work, just pick up the phone). If you could get maybe 2 or 3 families to help then that would make the situation easier. Also have you thought about maybe looking for volunteer opportunies for him, one day a week for a few hours. I know leaving work to pick him and drop him off would be a pain but it might be worth it. I hope you find some help in your situation, best of luck.

Anonymous July 7, 2010, 6:21 AM

I’m home with mine since I’m a teacher but I still don’t have money for summer camp. I agree about the volunteering and friend idea. My son tries to get to a friend’s house at least twice a week or I’ll have one or two at my house each week. Sure they still play video games but they also ride bikes, play basketball, swim, baseball, take walks to nowhere, etc. Just having someone to hang out with makes a difference. If you work at an office maybe he can volunteer with someone else at the office so he can be near you and it won’t be out of your way to drive him. I did that with my mom while I was twelve and though I hated going every day, I bet once a week wouldn’t be a bad idea. He could use it to gain volunteer hours for school and who couldn’t use a little help nowadays.

Matt July 7, 2010, 7:16 AM

I am so sorry for your situation. Why don’t you get him a job at the office you work at making copies or something, that way you can bring in extra money, and he can do something productive and learn real world skills.

dorthygail July 7, 2010, 8:09 AM

Welcome to the teenage years. Is it possible for you to move back with your parents or other family where you and your son have more people in the home to interact with? I would also suggest checking with department of forestry to see if they have any volunteer groups that he can join & spend some time out in the open. My sister had serious problems with her boy and he went to live with his dad. Boy found God and his music & is happy now. Maybe that would work too.

Stacie July 7, 2010, 8:14 AM

I agree that taking the TV and video consoles out would probably cause a huge strife between the two of you that you really don’t need right now. I love the volunteering and hanging out with friends idea. Perhaps you could coordinate with another of your son’s friend’s parents to see if you could get it set up on a certain day of each week? Volunteering would be a great thing for him to do, and would look great on a college application (and help with those scholarships!) I would also suggest that if you give him an allowance, to tie it to his household chores.

Anonymous July 7, 2010, 8:39 AM

First of all, you are NOT being a bad mother. You are there and you are paying the bills. Good for you!!!

I don’t know why you got divorced or whose fault it was, but guilt is only useful if it changes your behavior. You’re divorced now. If any of it was your fault, be nice to your ex. Otherwise, try to forget about it and focus on taking care of your kid - and yourself.

Right now you have three problems with your son:
1) He is upset and angry. There is nothing you can do to change that, although you could require him to talk politely to you.
2) He is not cleaning up after himself. You have every right to tell him he has to help out around the house. Imagine for a minute that your husband had become suddenly disabled. Would you put up with this behavior?
3) He is spending too much time watching TV and playing video games.

You should probably chose one of these things that you want to work on. Come up with consequences for his actions - if he doesn’t clean up, you will take away his games. You’re under a lot of stress right now, so sit down calmly and figure out exactly what you want to say. Then talk to him about it, maybe give it to him in writing exactly what you will do - if the house is a mess when you get home, you will take away his games for one day, etc. Then do it, because I can guarantee he won’t shape up just because you threaten him!
I also agree with the other posters who suggest getting outside help from family and friends. Can he go spend a week with his grandparents? And although your husband sounds like a douchebag, would he take your son on vacation? Sometimes men don’t want to pay child support, but they are willing to buy specific things for their kids. It stinks for you, but it helps your kid and the kid will know who did what in the long run.
One last thought - it would be nice if you could be at home with your kid right now. It would help him. However, it isn’t possible. Maybe someday, you will be able to work something out that keeps you home more. In the meantime, do a good job at the work you do have. The more skills and references you have, the better your chances for flexible work later on.

Jordan July 7, 2010, 9:30 AM

My fiancee has a 13 year old boy and it’s the same situation. She was always yelling at hi for multiple chores that were left undone.

So here’s what I suggested that worked.

Go down to an office supply store and get a whiteboard. Small ones are cheap, $7 to $10. Then you write his chores on the board. When he finishes one he gets to check it off.

When the chores are done then (and only then) he can put as much time into gaming as he wants.

If you want to be a cool mom then make yourself some “Achievement Unlocked” stickers with apprporiate chores. When doing certain tasks in Xbox games it will chime and say “Achievement Unlocked”. It couldn’t hurt using that as a real life motivator.

Achievement generator here:

michelle July 7, 2010, 10:06 AM

This boy needs direction, purpose and structure in his summer and his life, fast. Otherwise this kind of laziness and poor attitude (possibly stemming from sadness and anger) can spill over into his school year academic performance, as well as further poison his relationship with you. SO…here are some ideas: (1) Talk to him about what his interests are and then get him a volunteer job with a worthy cause like Habitat for Humanity or the Fish & Wildlife Service or something like that, or even an unpaid internship with a local small business or company he’s interested in. If he’s too young or you don’t care for these ideas, call your U.S. congressperson’s local office or your city/county government to ask for other suggestions (maybe he can even volunteer at that office). (2) For next summer, keep in mind that there are usually some free or reduced-price opportunities for kids of limited means to go away to camp. There are great sleepaway camps out there and some of them offer financial aid. (3) Get your son some help and support to help him deal with the crisis in his life, preferably family counseling where sometimes you go with him and sometimes he goes alone. There are usually free or sliding-scale mental health resources through the city or county government. You can also contact his school guidance counselor for suggestions. Good luck.

anonymous July 7, 2010, 12:02 PM

You’re not a bad mom! You’re there and you’re supporting him financially. It would be nice if you could stay home with him right now, but unless his dad agrees to support you, that’s out. You may be able to get a more flexible job in the future. That’s something you can focus on.
I think you have three problems to deal with - he’s hurt and angry, he’s not cleaning up after himself, and he’s turning into a couch potato. You can’t make him feel better, although you can make him be polite. Counseling might be good, too. For the house, imagine your husband suddenly became disabled. You’d expect your son to pull his own weight, right? Figure out some consequences you can follow through with and make a plan to talk to him. Something like, if the house is a mess, I’ll take away your games. Then do it. You could work on the games later and set limits for how much he can play without losing all privileges, or you can try to find a relative who will take him for a week. Also, you might see if your ex would take him on vacation somewhere or pay for sleepaway camp, etc. Sometimes people don’t want to pay child support, but they are willing to buy specific things for their children.

MartiniMama July 7, 2010, 5:35 PM

You have gotten some good suggestions here, and I agree with all of them! I would also say that many summer camps offer scholarships (I have helped organized some and without exception all of them offered partial or full scholarships). You may be able to cobble together a week or two of camp free (or at a drastically reduced fee that you can afford) along with some of the other suggestions of spending time with friends, volunteering or a part-time summer job.

Good luck and let us know how it goes!

XXXX July 7, 2010, 5:52 PM

Quit complaining. At least he’s not out roaming the streets and getting into trouble.

Michelle July 7, 2010, 6:43 PM

What about finding some volunteer work to do and dropping him of there before you go to work.
If he is 14, can i get a paper route?
What about the boys and girls clubs?

A teen July 8, 2010, 9:00 AM

I play video games all day in the summer, but the only reason why it’s at least partially justified is I have honors classes, (soon to be) AP classes, and a lot of summer reading to do. So I’m guessing my parents don’t mind so much, considering how hard I work during the school year (A’s and B’s). After reading this post, I realized how bad my behavior is, but maybe your son is like me, and doesn’t like to be active because he’s horrible at sports? But yeah, just take him places, like a mall, or nearby relatives. That usually works. Good luck!

Anonymous July 10, 2010, 2:10 PM

Find him a volunteer thing/job that he would actually like to do.

Have any sports teams made up of actual athletes (not little league teams/kids teams) such as Hockey/Football/Baseball/Basketball that are pro players or collegiate players in a summer league near your town?

See if you can get him in working in the concession stand. He will interact with people while getting, 99% of the time, all the free food he can eat.

How about other things at a sports venue that he could do? If he likes a sport he would be very happy if you could give him access to pro players that very few people get.

Sources: My son (15) gets to run the audio systems and the music for a minor league baseball team during the summer, gets free food from working at the baseball field, gets locker room access to both teams, and gets paid over $15 an hour. Plus, he has some of the best seats in the whole stadium as he works in the press box.

dad worried July 10, 2010, 5:27 PM

browse in google these words: play with my son, and you will see addiction everywhere. is it that we want to our sons? in the world, people are asking about this problem and search engines is a mirror of this.

Hanhula August 1, 2010, 3:43 AM

Hey, I’m a teen girl who stumbled on this quite by mistake.
I’ve just had something big happen, and I just want to hide away in my room with my games.

I think your son needs to go out and get some friends. Try encouraging him to read books (not in front of his friends though!) or asking him to do small tasks ‘because you find them hard’. Make him feel loved and useful.
Slowly, he’ll build up confidence and get friends to go out with. If some of his mates are on VaCa, then he’ll be able to go play with the others!

Hope my opinion helps, now I have to follow my own advice..

Berenice October 12, 2010, 11:08 AM

Taking the stuff away can only worsen things up. Try getting in touch with friends that are home as well encourage them to go out to the movies, got to each others houses, many thing s can be done that could help out. Just keep him away of the Kamagra Gel

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