QUERY: I have a 13-year-old son who refuses to go out and play. He prefers building stuff with LEGO at home or plays online games. If I push him too much, he gets really angry. What should I do?
Psychiatrist Answer: Parents can help teenagers get up and running with some effort. The key is to start off small and provide plenty of role modelling and support to adolescents.
The concept of reinforcing desirable behaviour, and ignoring undesirable behaviour, is called differential reinforcement. Start with small steps, such as a 10-minute walk every day after school. Work together with your teen to set up house rules on screen time, because all the time that your teen spends in front of gadgets and television is the time he or she is not being active. If your child follows house rules, reward him with a gift that he wants. This will make him repeat the behaviour that got him the reward. Keep supporting him throughout, even if he is unable to meet the house rules completely.
It is very important that you yourself engage in outdoor exercise since all children look at their parents as role models. If he sees you play, he will play. It’s as simple as that.
Lastly, you can practice the token economy. Create a system where your son can accumulate points by following good behaviour. He can choose to exchange the accumulated points for a reward that he wants, for eg, online games or ice cream etc.
Combine these approaches and it shouldn’t take more than two to three months to bring about a sizeable change in your son’s behaviour. Good luck.