QUESTION: I am very concerned about my son. He is 15 years old and prefers to sit inside all summer. He has very few friends and the ones that he connects with are on the computer. He is also on the heavy side and refuses to get any exercise. I have talked until I am blue in the face. Do you have any suggestions that might motivate him?
For young people, developing internal motivation is very complex. For parents, talking until you are “blue in the face” doesn’t work! Your son needs to develop interests outside of home and school. Summer is an optimal time to do this.
By 15 years old, teens should be expected to work outside the home or participate in organized summer programs where they have opportunities for leadership, understanding, and friendships. Your son needs more autonomy and independence in a setting that engages him and his interests.
I am a proponent of community service because research shows it provides teens with the opportunity to develop 21st century career skills as well as compassion for others. Through volunteering, teens learn to overcome obstacles in the real world and to communicate with people outside their families. The right volunteer job will give your son a structured way of becoming involved, making friends, and getting out of the house regularly. It will also expose him to adult role models and other teens that may also feel isolated or have similar weight problems.
I recommend setting expectations for your son and what he will accomplish outside the home during the summer. Find a common ground where he can have computer and alone time but also be involved in a structured program. You can help by guiding him through the process of finding the right opportunity. But remember, it is important for teens to choose based on their interests, not yours!
If your son still refuses to budge, get a family counselor involved!
Marilyn Price-Mitchell, Ph.D. is a developmental psychologist, researcher, and Fellow at the Institute for Social Innovation at Fielding Graduate University. She studies how youth become engaged with meaningful goals and blogs on positive youth development at Roots of Action and Psychology Today.