Dear David: 'How can I get my son into sport as well as video games?'
Clinical psychologist David Coleman addresses your parenting queries.
My 12-year-old son is spending hours playing Minecraft, and says he is not interested in playing sports. This is causing much fighting and tension within the household. My husband is almost 40, but continues to play GAA.
I do a small amount of running, and am aware of the importance of sports, especially for boys. He refused to play any sports this summer and we agreed to let him do this for a quiet life. However, he has now commenced secondary school and is still refusing. Any solutions?
DC: As you have identified, your son's activity level is imbalanced, spending hours and hours in front of a screen with little movement and expending little energy. This won't be good for him and will increase his risk of obesity or illnesses like type-2 diabetes.
So, it is good that you are motivated to get him active again. I do wonder, though, why you didn't push him with regard to his activity levels during the summer?
I have written often about the need for parents to be kind, but firm, in how we deal with our children. Children need to know that we are in charge and we need to act like we are in charge. Sometimes that means that we have to enforce boundaries and insist on things happening.
This doesn't prevent us from listening to, and taking on board, our children's opinions as part of our own decision-making. But we don't necessarily have to agree with, and abide by, their view.
This process didn't seem to happen with your son during the summer. He seemed to just make a decision and ignore you and his dad. I'd suggest that the time has come to show your son that you can't be ignored.
So, start by doing your research about the benefit of sports and exercise. Gather information about the harm of just sitting in front of a screen. Have plenty of evidence to back up why you believe it is crucial that he find this balance between sedentary and active pastimes.
He needs to know that sports are important for him for reasons other than just you and his dad think they are important.
Then, listen to his objections, if any, to doing exercise. It may be that he has had bad experiences with team sports, or is nervous about the some other social aspect, or even just feels like he is no good at sport.
You need to have a bottom line that he must do some exercise for all of the good reasons that you will have identified in your research. Taking on board his objections to sports, you can then negotiate some exercise that he must do.
Then you make his time on the computer contingent on his time being active. For example you could negotiate that if he does an hour of activity then he can have an hour of Minecraft. If he doesn't exercise at all, then he doesn't get to play on the computer either.
This is where you bring in your firmness and enforce your new plan.
You are starting on the back foot a little because of your experience over the summer where he got to make the decisions, but there is no reason that you can't become firmer and more authoritative this time around.
Preventing him playing Minecraft might involve taking away a laptop, or removing the power leads for a computer.
It may also result in some mighty tantrums from your son. You need to be prepared to weather these tantrums.
Stick by your rationale, and try not to lose your own cool if he does get angry. When he calms down, remind him gently that he can still play on the computer as long as he also plays some sport or does some activity.
Because exercise has so many benefits in terms of mood, I think you will find that once you get him involved in some activity that he will come to enjoy it in its own right.
You may have to be creative about what kinds of exercise he finds to do. Even though running and the GAA are things you and his dad are interested in, he may prefer other novel sports or activities.
Finding activities you can all do may motivate him and show that you are all in this together. Visit www.getirelandactive.ie/, a webiste that's a great resource that might inspire your whole family.
Health & Living