Family Magazine

Summer Teen Couch Potato Syndrome

By Joanigeltman @joanigeltman
Recently I have had a number of coaching sessions with parents concerned with what I call the "missing child syndrome." The teen isn't actually missing missing, but spends so much time closeted off in their bedroom cave watching movies, TV, playing video games or hanging out on any and all social networks sites,  that it begins to feel that it's time to put up a missing child poster.
This becomes the most problematic on the weekends and now that it is summer, when there is an excess of unstructured time, and fewer activities. For younger teens, the pre-drivers, weekends and summer vacation can be quite anxiety provoking. What will I do? Who will I do it with? What if no one wants to do anything with me? There is a transition that occurs for kids in 8th and 9th grade. At this point some of the kids they have been friendly with, may have moved on into having a more active social life that includes meeting up at malls, parks, town centers or basements in co-ed groups. Your teen may have been left behind, not feeling ready or interested in some of the experimentation and activities of these marauding groups of kids. (and amen to that!)  So if their usual posse of friends are now unavailable to them, it leaves them potentially feeling lonely, abandoned and loserish. The computer becomes their weekend date; familiar, comforting, always available, and will always do what they want to do. I get it!!!  Hanging out with the family during this weekend time, only reinforces what they are already feeling, so avoiding you at all cost helps them save face.
Here is how you can help. First of all teens do not do well with planning ahead. That's just the way it is. Mostly its because they really don't know what it is they should do. In elementary school having a "playdate" was a no-brainer. A friend came over, you played games or dolls, or legos or watched a movie. Done! Now there are fewer options, you actually have to talk to each other, and where are you going to go and what are you going to do? So when they do feel bored on a Saturday afternoon and want to do something, the insecurity of calling someone and potentially being rebuffed because the person they want to call probably already has plans becomes a deterrent to calling anyone, and the avoidance helps them save face by thinking, "I just want to veg out by myself anyway."
 Do not at this point lecture them about waiting till the last minute. This just confirms they are a loser.  What you can do is say to your teen, "I have to do X on Saturday, I can drop you and a friend at X while I do my thing, and then pick you up later. Why don't you ask X when you see him/her at camp, your game.... (fill in the blank) and see if they want to go with you?" This accomplishes two goals. The first is that it gives your teen a real plan that they can go to a friend with that isn't at the last minute. Most kids won't have their plans for Saturday yet, and asking them in person, takes away the worry about that potentially rejecting text or phone call. Secondly, you have understood that teens don't do planning well, and since it makes you nauseous to see your teen lying around for 18 hours watching a screen, helping them by offering up a plan takes them out of the bedroom, and out into the world.
This won't last forever. So even if they are home, the good news is at least you know where they are. Soon enough the fight will be, why aren't you ever at home?
Need some coaching..Let's do a phone coaching session; 781-910-1770

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