How do I get my kid to stop playing video games and go outside?

I am concerned with my child's unwillingness to do anything outside of our home. All he wants to do is watch tv, or play video games. We cancelled the cable and took away the game stations in hopes that this would encourage him to get out make friends and play. When that didn't work, we enrolled him in as many summer activities as we could afford and we have started making him go outside and walk to the park which is about 3 blocks from where we live. I feel like I am being harsh when family and friends call and say that they have seen my son out and that he looks so sad or he looks so lonely. Please if you could offer any advice or just peace of mind I would be greatly appreciative.

You don't mention the age of your son, but I'm guessing he's at least in elementary school. I'd be curious to know why he doesn't want to go outside, and to find out, I'd just ask him.

It might sound something like this: "Hey, son, I've noticed you seem to want to spend most of your time indoors playing games and watching TV, and I'm wondering what makes that so much more interesting to you than going outside. Will you tell me about it?"

You may be surprised at what is going on in his head. You may discover that he gets overheated in the sun, or feels like he's not good at sports and is embarrassed, or that the kids in the neighborhood are always offering him drugs and he'd rather not be put in that position. Would your feelings about him staying inside so much change if you found out that one of these factors was motivating his behavior? Mine probably would.

Until you understand his reasoning and motivation, your attempts to get him outside may be ineffective at best, or drive a wedge between you at worst. Find out what is going on for him, and you'll have a jumping off point for a collaboration.

So let's get you off the hook by reframing your job as a parent. You are not required to force him outside. If you were to succeed, it would be a hollow victory anyhow, because you haven't achieved anything that he is likely to continue to do for himself without your enforcement.

So what is your job, then? To communicate your concerns, invite him to share his, and then to teach him by example how to collaborate on win-win solutions.

Let's listen in on a collaboration so we can see how it might sound.

The invitation:

Son, would this be a good time to talk a bit about this 'going outside' situation? I'm not feeling good about trying to force the issue all the time, and I'd like to learn more about what's up for you. Would you be willing to tell me about why you'd rather play games or watch TV than go outdoors?

A possible response:

Well, Mom, the kids next door seem really nice, I know, but whenever there are no adults around they shoot at me with their pellet gun, and it hurts! I'd rather just stay in here where it's safe and they can't bug me. You always make me go out alone and it's just like I have a big target on my shirt.

Reflect what you heard to let him know you understand what he just said, and ask if there's more:

Sounds like you'd rather stay inside so you don't have to deal with them. Anything else going on?

After you are sure he knows you understand his reasoning and are not trying to talk him out of it, but only to understand where he is coming from, then go ahead and ask permission to share your concerns:

Can I tell you why I'm always bugging you about this?

Share your concerns:

I feel like a bad mom if I let you miss out on all that sunshine and fresh air and exercise that is so healthy for our bodies. I'm worried about what could happen to the muscles of your hands, or your vision, if you play games for so many hours in a row without moving around.

Now, time to collaborate:

Hmmm, what could we do about this situation?

Pause, to let him generate some ideas, then make some suggestions of your own if you wish:

Maybe we could ride our bikes together down by the creek, or play catch in the back yard? (It's no coincidence that both of these suggestions involve a structured activity with you, rather than just sending him out alone with nothing specific to do. Your presence will go a long way toward sweetening his experience as well as helping him feel safe and protected.)

Sort through the solutions with him and find some that work for both of you. Then try them out, and see how it goes.

You may have noticed that this technique requires us as parents to get clear about what we want and why. We may have heard somewhere that it was good for our kids to play outside, but until we can specifically understand and communicate why we think it is good, as well as open our minds and try to understand why our kids don't think it's good, we are not ready for a collaboration.

Sometimes, when we sit down to sort this stuff out, we discover that our request was rather arbitrary in the first place, and we may decide to just let it go. That's not being weak or inconsistent as a parent, it's being honest and clear.

I hope this helps. Let me know how it turns out.

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