How to create quality time in your family

“My teenage son is very withdrawn; he doesn’t socialize that much and is spending a lot of time playing video games in his room. Do I need to worry? What can I do to help him get more friends?”

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3 min read
Bridget Nkematabong

“My teenage son is very withdrawn; he doesn’t socialize that much and is spending a lot of time playing video games in his room. Do I need to worry? What can I do to help him get more friends?”

This question could be asked as, “What can I (a parent) change in the environment to help my teenage son reduce the time he spends playing video games?”

First of all, know that you are not alone in this situation. Many parents face the same challenge. Some teenagers are naturally withdrawn during puberty, and video games are an easy way to distract, relax and entertain yourself.

You don’t need to look for other people who are physically present; you can “meet” other like-minded people online. You don’t need to leave your room to engage in an exciting game. You can compete, yet you don’t need to engage in physical activity.

That said about the attractiveness of video games (and social media platforms have a similar dynamic), they can definitely reinforce social anxiety or depression, so you should be attentive if your son shows signs that could be symptoms of mental health problems, such as notable changes in sleep, weight, eating habits or other behaviors, such as:

  • Loss of interest in the things they usually love, or quitting activities that they enjoy
  • Canceling plans with their closest friends with little or no explanation
  • Academic struggles that seem different or more intense
  • Persistent worries or obsession with certain goals
  • A whole new set of friends you’ve never met before
  • Refusing to talk about what’s bothering them, even after you’ve made it as safe as possible to discuss difficult issues openly
  • Signs of self-harm or substance abuse.

In these cases, you should seek professional help.

However, if your son’s behavior has not changed dramatically, and he is just glued to his devices, there are things you can introduce in your family in order to spend family time together with no phones or tablets around.

Here are some ways that can help you to create more face-to-face encounters, first in your family, which then will help your children to interact with others with greater confidence.

  • Create a place where all phones will be placed during family time (a basket, for example).
  • Begin with five minutes of unplugging and increase the time gradually.
  • Put your phone in first (lead by example).
  • Be your son’s friend first by deliberately spending quality time with him.
  • Look for other families that have the same values as yours to create no-phones activities together.
  • Limit the use of your electronic device after work, and purposefully ask for permission when using your device in front of your teenager (since children watch what we do).
  • Check how many times you reach for your phone or watch TV when you are home, and adjust.
  • Seek your child out and ask what he is watching or playing and become interested. Use that as a bridge.
  • Listen, listen and listen.
  • If you have more than one child, be aware that boys process things differently than girls. Try not to compare them, even if they are twins.
  • Talk to them about your struggles as well, in the present and in the past. They will understand that you too were a teenager once.
  • Find outing activities you could do together and make sure you do not use your device during that time, except for taking pictures.
  • Find youth activities in your church or community and get involved with your teenage son.

Don’t give up if your proposals fail, or your teenager refuses to cooperate. Remember you can always start again. Showing true interest in your children will eventually convince them that you care, but it often takes time and starting over several times.

Disclaimer: The above are general tools, tips and considerations and are not intended nor should they be considered as an individual treatment plan.

Join the conversation. Send your thoughts to the editor Jon Sweeney.

Bridget Nkematabong, PhD is Program Director at Providence Community ABA.