My Shy Wonderful Son, Is Living In His Bed
The Healthy Family Connections Podcast
Episode 172 · Duration: 00:18:45
My Shy Wonderful Son, Is Living In His Bed
What do you do when your 16 year old son, a shy good kid, spends most of his time in his bed playing video games, is barely passing in school, and agrees to what’s asked of him, but rarely follows through?
Today we’re hearing from Maureen from Saint Cloud, Minnesota and Maureen writes:
My 16 year old son is really struggling. He spends most of his time in bed with his computer. Mostly, he plays games with friends and he does seem to enjoy himself doing it. But he’s up late, sleeps in, often until the afternoon. He’s not a bad kid. If I ask him to do something, take out the garbage, feed the dog, even take the dog for a walk, he’ll usually do it albeit on his own time. Often I need to take care
of something before he gets around to it. He ended the semester just getting by having to make up a lot of work at the end, and I think many of his teachers passed him out of kindness. When I tell him dinner is ready, he often says he’s not hungry and then fixes himself something much later. Sometimes I insist that he join us and he’ll reluctantly come to the table and eat a little, but doesn’t have conversation with us and answers questions with one word answers.His younger sister is faring much better with socially distanced engagement with friends, projects and things she enjoys, and of course, lots of social media.
We’re worried about our son. The pandemic has taken a low-key shy kid and made him worse. His father gets frustrated with him so he tends to stay out of things and lets him be. Is there something we should be doing to help him?
This Family is Stuck
Thanks for your question Maureen. Your son does sound like a few tens of thousands of sixteen year olds out there so I’m sure a lot of folks are relating to your situation. Lets take a look at a few things here. You say your son is a good kid and since you don’t mention marijuana or alcohol or stealing hubcaps, that’s all good news. Also, he helps out in minor ways some of the time when asked. In spite of the fact that he’s a shy kid, he has friends with whom he enjoys playing games and he does that a lot. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing, in fact we could think of it as a good thing.
The more troubling news is that he isn’t applying himself in school, he isn’t getting much exercise other than taking the dog for a walk once in a while, and he isn’t engaging with his family and all this has become the norm in your lives together. This is a recipe for depression not to mention bedsores. And you are wondering if there is more that you should be doing to help him, and the answer is absolutely. There is more you and your husband should be doing to help him, help yourselves and help your family.
What do I mean by all this? Well, it sounds like you and your husband feel very stuck, like there’s no way to relate to, engage with, or set limits and standards with your son. The net result of all this is that your husband has given up out of frustration and in addition to being frustrated, he could be depressed, himself. You sound frustrated and abandoned by your husband and are grateful for minimal cooperation from your son. And your daughter is doing well in her own little world, and that’s a good thing, but she’s not living in a happy family and she isn’t benefiting from having an affirming engaging big brother.
It's Time to Get Happy
So dear Maureen, there is plenty for you to do here and I’ll start by inviting you to be happy, that’s right be happy. Your family seems to be brought down to the lowest common denominator. Your son is not happy, your husband is not happy, you’re not happy and your daughter is finding ways to insulate herself from the lack of family happiness, but she knows it’s there and she’s unhappy about it.
So your happiness is number one after all, you can’t help anyone else if you can’t help yourself. Now what makes you happy? What were the things that made you happy before you met your husband? Was it talking with friends, art, a sport or physical activity such as biking, dancing? Were you in choir or did you simply sing in the shower? It had to be some of these things so get to them and give yourself permission to enjoy, feel the emotion of joy, have fun. Honestly, even if you’re worried about your son and your family, being happy won’t make it worse, and believe it or not, it’s setting the stage for making things better.
Next you’ll need to reengage with your husband who sounds checked out. Here we are in a post holiday raging pandemic so you can’t invite him out to dinner and dancing right now, but how about if you fix a picnic and drive to a nice place and enjoy being together. Maybe even make out in the car. I know that sounds stupid but let’s shake things up a bit, have some fun, act young and stupid.
Okay, now we’re getting someplace. Here’s what’s next; at a different time, talk with your husband about him reengaging with your son. I know he’s going to have a list of reasons it’s not going to work, after all, he’s already tried. So validate his experience, and I’ll play you here Maureen:
“Yes you’ve tried and he does his passive avoidance thing. But I’ve been consulting with this family therapist and he has a plan he says will work and reengaging positively with Frankie is a first step. He says at this stage, that we shouldn’t worry about how Frankie responds. He’s the one with the problem behaviors and we aren’t responsible for those. At this stage, it’s important to simply reestablish ourselves as being positive and caring about him. That’s important for the next stage of setting limits, standards and expectations to be effective. So each of us needs to just pop in on him, ask him how he’s doing, let him know we’re going to the store and is there anything he wants. We should ask him to do things or join us in doing things, and if he refuses or agrees and then doesn’t follow through, we just let it go. We should do this for about a week.
Next Step is Engagement and Planning
Then we go to step two where we implement limits, standards and expectations. In doing this, we stay in our happy, positive and caring place with ourselves, each other and with Frankie.
Here are some of my ideas for the Standards, limits and expectation: No problem with his gaming, but he needs to prioritize school. That’s number one. So he needs to show us his goals and his plan for achieving those goals in school. If he has incomplete work, the internet goes off when we go to bed.
He needs to join us whenever we’re having a family dinner, which is most nights.
He and his sister need to join together and make a family dinner one night a week. Whatever night they agree on, will be fine with us. And of course, we expect them to work together cooperatively and have some fun with it. If they need some coaching, I’ll help and they can build a menu from our gazillian recipe books.
I’d also like to have a family game night and a movie night. With the grace of God, we’ll have vaccinations and a more normal life in the months ahead and the kids will be off doing their own things and we need to use this time to enjoy each other as a family.”
Maureen, obviously your husband will have his own feelings about all this. I hope he’s successfully recruited into our plan, offers some ideas of his own. For instance, how about if Frankie has to have a plan for exercise, needs to say “Yes” to one activity with his father each week, whether it’s yard work, cleaning the garage, or something fun like taking a hike, I suppose this time of year it would be snow shoeing.
At a more advanced level, I’d like to see Frankie make at least one personal goal, like improve his guitar playing or build a computer or something that invests in his interests. Great we have a goal. But a goal is only a goal if it has a plan. Otherwise, it’s just an idea.
Now Maureen, let’s say Frankie does his usual of agreeing and then going back to his normal passive avoidance. What you and his Dad will do is remind him what is expected and that he’s needed in the family and we need his participation. Let’s say he still avoids and doesn’t move forward. Then without threat or even warning, the internet goes off when you and your husband are done with it for the evening. It has to be off in a way where he can’t simply plug it back in, but gone. Then he’ll be mighty upset, and yet, you don’t get into an argument, or say it’s off because he did or didn’t do this or that. You’ll simply say, “We’ll see tomorrow if you are on board for bringing your wonderful talented self to the family.” In other words, he ain’t dumb, so if you keep it short sweet and to the point, he’ll get it.
All the while, you and his Dad are happy with yourselves, each other, your son and your daughter. Then let the magic happen.
Now Maureen, how does all this sound? I think I’m hearing you and you’re saying, Neil what are you nuts? You don’t know my husband, you don’t know my son. It sounds like you expect them to follow my lead and I don’t see that happening.
I get it Maureen, I get it, and you’re right, I can’t expect a family that has a pattern of disengagement to transform like they might in a Disney Channel movie. So why am I proposing it?
The answer is first of all, we all have a tendency to underestimate our influence on others. We don’t realize our own leadership potential. In your family, you are feeling helpless and your husband is feeling helpless; we can change that.
Secondly, I realize that I’ve imagined great potential which of course is there. But Maureen, your family is it’s own thing and not what’s in my head. If you push forward and make a 20% change and you don’t worry about the result, you’ll be amazed at the improvements you’ll see. Not worthy of the Disney channel perhaps, but much, much better and along the way, you’ll discover how influential you are, how powerful you truly are.
So parents, therapists and folks who work with parents, teens and families, it’s common for someone to see a problem, ask for help with a problem, and for the help to join the problem. Here Maureen is seeing the problem from the point of view that her son is shy, and the limitations created by the pandemic have limited his options for engaging life and growing. She’s wishing her husband were more involved and she is carrying the burden of responsibility alone without feeling empowered to successfully address it.
What we’ve done here is see the problem as thriving in a context of family disengagement. So we’ve empowered Maureen to believe in herself, her husband and her son; and with this new found attitude of faith in herself and others, a clear sense of what she wants, and with patience and persistence, she can make all the difference in the world.
Thanks for tuning in today listener, I really enjoyed talking with you and special thanks to you Maureen and our very best to you and your family.
Have a question for Neil?
Submit it now for discussion on a future episode of The Healthy Family Connections Podcast:
Don't want to miss an episode?
Be sure to subscribe to The Healthy Family Connections Podcast on iTunes for up to date information and advice from Neil D Brown -- all for free!