Our 12-year-old son loves to sit and watch TV, play video games, or be on the computer. He doesn't like sports, but we would like to help him find a productive, active hobby. How do we go about this when he's almost a teen?
You have good reason to be concerned about your son spending too much time watching TV and playing computer games. Over time these seemingly harmless activities can become a substitute for learning how to communicate, to interact and to develop healthy relationships. A growing number of researchers are finding that today’s overstimulating media environment is contributing significantly to high rates of depression, thought disorders, and brain disorders.
Michael Gurian writes that the TV set, “using constantly changing short sequences, holds our attention by a constant sensory bombardment that maximizes orienting responses . . . the set trains us to watch it.” Since the need of the male brain for objects to move quickly through space can be satisfied by TV and video games, it’s easy for these activities to become addictive for boys.
While the quantity and content of these activities is a significant concern, the effects of rapid video imagery on boys’ intellectual development is an equally great, if not greater, concern. We now know that the stimulation by and addiction to visual media like TV and video games that activate primarily one side of the male brain and discourage the use of the other can lead to a hindering of their limbic and neocortical development and a potential decrease in the growth of intelligence in general.
Overstimulating sensory functions of the brain with fast-moving images means less ability for the other functions to develop.
The good news is that there are a variety of things that you can do. This “problem” can be turned into an opportunity to better understand your son and not merely help him develop some healthy hobbies but in the process establish a new level of relationship with him. In Raising Sons and Loving It I talk about the different developmental stages boys go through as well as the value of understanding each child’s unique personality type in effectively communicating with them. For example, if your son is more introverted than extroverted then there are significant implications for how you can interact with him that will lead to success rather than failure. Understanding some of the essential developmental, biological and neurological differences between boys and girls will significantly increase your effectiveness as a parent.
You’ve probably spent a lot of time praying for your son and for wisdom in raising him. We’d encourage you to go one step further and enlist two or three other couples to daily pray for him and you can volunteer to pray for their kids on a daily basis. Amazing things can happen when we engage the community of faith in praying for our kids. We’ve seen many times when someone was praying for their friend’s child and God gave them a significant insight that became a real answer to prayer.
Become a detective and study your son. Stop, look and listen. Find new and creative ways to be with your son. When he does talk, what does he talk about? What brings him joy? What makes him laugh? What helps him to relax? What does he enjoy in a friend? What kinds of encouragement does he respond to? What are some activities that he has enjoyed in the past that he might once again want to engage in?
Many parents have found it helpful to talk with other parents about their experiences. Have they had similar concerns? What did they do that did or didn’t work? What do their kids do instead of sit in front of the TV or computer? You might also get some invaluable insights from talking with the youth leader at your church. Are there kids who could reach out to your son? Sometimes going to something like a weekend or summer camp can be transformational in helping a child at this developmental level build new relationships that lead to healthier ways to spend their time.
Be encouraged by the fact that you are asking the right questions at the right time. Know that you aren’t alone, that many parents have walked this road before you, and that there are things you can do that over time and with patience and prayer will lead to change and growth, in your son and in you.