Like Father, Like Son — Learning from the Previous Generation

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Reader’s Question

I’m a single dad with an 11-year-old boy. I am failing to get him to go out and meet kids and play. He stays in and just watches TV and plays video games. I keep asking him if he wants to do things like join a sports team or other group activity, but he says no. During the summer I have no choice but to leave him at home when I go to work. He doesn’t want to go to a summer camp.

I am becoming frustrated because this avoidance was similar to me as a kid. I regret missing out on things and wish I had said yes or just tried some things.

Am I trying to push him too hard? I don’t want to push, but I don’t want him limiting himself as I did, and I don’t like him spending so much time with video games and TV. He doesn’t have any friends and I don’t know what I can do.

Psychologist’s Reply

The situation you describe seems to be a common one, especially among children your son’s age and older. Part of it may be that video games are so engaging, and continuing with activities that one is used to is comfortable. Also, the adolescent years frequently include an increased sense of self-consciousness, making social activities less appealing to some kids.

Your vantage point from adulthood leads to a realization of opportunities not seized. However, at the time, those opportunities weren’t attractive to you, and apparently the same is true for your son. Every generation seems to wring its collective hands, saying, “If only the younger generation would learn from our experience.” The problem is that, for experience to make an impact, it typically has to be first-hand.

As parents, perhaps the best we can do is to continually offer and encourage a variety of opportunities to try new things. Some of those activities will ‘stick’ and fit with the child’s personality and interests, and it often seems impossible to predict which will do so. The difficult part may be not imposing our own hard-earned wisdom onto our children’s choices. In the end, they have to make their own way.

Last, perhaps offering to share new activities with your son would provide the necessary incentive to break out of his routine. Then, no matter how the activity works out, the two of you have the shared experience. Getting involved yourself will also role-model trying new things and interacting with new people. In the end, I think the most important question is whether your son is happy and whether you feel the two of you have a good relationship. The answers to those questions will likely predict the kind of childhood memories you son will have as an adult.

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