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Hi Steve,

I am isolated with one teen boy -16yrs – just me and him, which is a bit of a challenge. I do not think it is a good thing that my son games all night (4am) and sleeps to 2pm every day. He won’t listen to me and won’t get off at 1 am, 2 am, 4 am when I am up and tell him to get off the computer – he says he will but doesn’t. He said his friends are all on.

It is what we fight over most. That and the not doing school work.

Meanwhile I am not doing my son any favours by not stopping him from 8-10 hrs of gaming. Not forcing him to spend more time on homework. I try but he is strong willed and 6 ft 3 and does not respect my authority. He resents it. He also makes the point he is not 6 years old and he will be making his own decisions in two years. He won’t engage in school. Now that it is on line it is worse and he won’t seek help for what he sometimes calls depression – as an explanation for his lack of motivation or ambition for anything.

It feels much worse since Covid, since there are no other people in his life right now, like teachers at school that have more influence on him to learn things and do things perhaps out of his comfort zone because he does what they ask.

He is just gaming so much more. I would have thought this would be great that I am home and “help motivate him to do his homework etc.” but that is not the case. Too late. He wants mom to leave him alone.

Dear Mom:

I empathize with your plight. Being a single parent means there is limited opportunity to collaborate with another sober minded grown-up in real time. You add that your sense of authority is diminished, which may make you feel that you cannot control what happens in your own home.

Gaming is usually a boy’s thing. They while away the hours in their caves reeking of sweat and self-indulgence.

In cases where there is depression or anxiety, gaming hones the artistry of avoidance. The problem is compounded by Covid, because, as your boy will be the first to proclaim, there is little else to do, and the activity meets isolation protocols.

When you confront him, he doth protest too much. He uses depression and the idea of autonomy as a shield, like an addict protecting the right to his own poison.

It is important to acknowledge that gaming can be a social event. Boys connect with other boys through the joys of joy sticking.

One colleague told me yesterday that his son is orbiting dangerously close to the MINECRAFT black hole. And yet, he was adamant when he exclaimed,

“I would rather have him socialize through gaming than loiter on YouTube all day.”

I realize there is cold comfort in either scenario.

On the matter of what to do next, I respectfully suggest that gaming is not the point.

Unless you want to turn your home into a police state, throw in the digital towel. Why engage and rage in a battle you cannot win? He’s not listening to you. He sniffs your parenting agenda a mile away and can anticipate your every utterance. He’ll tune you out before you form your first word.

There is a subtler approach to be discovered.

Consider shifting your focus to building a closer connection with your son, and in doing so, distract him with constructive activity. Covid has gift-wrapped this chance. You are hunkered down together. You have the time in ways you may never have again.

Start with finding ways for both of you to engage. Begin with the trivial. In fact, the more trivial the better. If you are too forward, he’ll wince.

I’ll start you off with a few ideas, but they are just notions to reinforce my point. The idea is to find ways of just hanging out with him, like in a Seinfeld episode about nothing.

  1. 1) Crokinole – a board game that is a perfect metaphor for what you are trying to accomplish. Aside from being incredibly fun, the finger movement is an inverted fuck-you gesture
  2. 2) Ask him what his fantasy meal is. Prepare it with him and teach him to cook in the process
  3. 3) Start a fitness regime together. But simple. A sit-up contest you both train for and post online for others to chuckle at

You may also want to consider an idea bordering on the absurd.

If you can’t beat em, join em.

Ask him something like,

“What’s this whole gaming thing about? Show me your stuff. Maybe I could kick your butt one day.”

His eyeballs may do triple axles in dismay, or he may regard you as insane in a laughable kind of way.

So what.

He’ll know at some level you are trying to connect and this will be meaningful to him. If he rejects you in any or all of these ideas, or the umpteen more you can conjure, it’s no biggie.

Don’t give up. But don’t go too hard either. It’s like trying to woo a feral cat.

Crazy good things you never anticipated will come out of this journey. I promise.

Good luck! And let us know how it goes.