My 11-year-old son has no idea how to entertain himself after his hour (or two) of screen time a day. He has a ton of Legos and will occasionally play with them, but he’s in that in-between age where he can’t seem to find new toys that interest him. He’s not artistic, doesn’t want to do puzzles and will read but he needs something new to capture his attention and imagination. Any ideas? I also need to get him some Christmas gifts that are not video games or Legos.
Not the Activities Director Here
Don’t miss last week’s column Teaching kids self-control — Good Parenting
Yes, this is an in-between age when the brain starts leaping into more abstract thinking — the meaning of life, etc. — but reverting to childish patterns of behavior under stress such as whining about boredom or your “unfair rules” about screen time. Stresses from school pressures and peer relationships are increasing for this age group, which can contribute to decreased energy and a dampened mood. As his former playmates undergo their own awkward transformations, losing interest in Legos and make believe play, and realizing dissimilar choices in video games, he may find these friends are no longer his idea of a fun time. It may take a little while for him to find and nurture new friendships. Physical needs for good nutrition, ample sleep and daily exercise could be a factor in his lack of enthusiasm for finding his own entertainment as well.
As with every stage of childhood, parents can benefit from the science of child development which is based on sampling enough children to establish norms of behavior. Typically a child of 11 years has some confusion about what to do with himself as, with brain maturation, he disconnects from what used to occupy his time as a younger child. This is yet another temporary stage that will resolve itself as he finds new peers and activities to reflect the changes he is discovering in himself. The next hobby or interest could come from a variety of sources: tagging along with a friend or family member to do something they consider fun, a club offered at his school, a class at the recreation center, a topic he stumbles upon when returning books to the public library, the latest Guinness World Records, or some other challenge to do something adventurous in the real world that he finds online such as geocaching.
The internet itself is not a waste of time; neither are video games nor mass media. Children need parents to help with limiting junk media just as they do for limiting junk food. The generally accepted two-hour limit for school-age children still needs an adult to steer the child to enriching sites, age-appropriate games and positive role models. It is also very important to balance a child’s alone time with fulfilling social interactions and physical activity. PBS Kids, a division of the Public Broadcasting Service has more suggestions for parents regarding an 11-year-old’s use of media. These include discussing ads for unhealthy foods, diverting your child from games and shows that make him overly emotional, and teaching good sportsmanship — even when he loses against the computer.
It might seem convenient for parents to believe that a child who can feed and dress himself, and mostly take care of homework without parental help should be able to entertain himself, too. Still, your influence and assistance can go a long way as he shapes the person he is becoming. Make yourself available to share some of his screen time. Cheer him on and sympathize through his gaming challenges. Be a model of good sportsmanship yourself. Use media characters and plots to raise discussion points with your son so you can impart important values. The movie “Raising Arizona” is a nice example of pure motives behind criminal intent. One truly bad guy gets his due and everyone else, including the audience, learns valuable lessons. At 11 your son can begin to see some of the shades between good and evil that exist in the world. Find opportunities to continue to guide him toward an adulthood you can both be proud of.
Back to your gift dilemma. Consider tickets to a sporting event or theater experience you would both enjoy. I recall taking a reluctant middle schooler to the Kennedy Center. Despite his grumblings, I succeeded in getting him to ratchet up his ensemble with a nice sweater in keeping with the grandeur of the institution. In the end, I think he rather enjoyed fitting in with the mostly adult crowd. Later, at a family gathering, I noticed him sharing his perceptions and enjoyment of the experience like the theater aficionado he was becoming. Decades later, live theater is still something he enjoys.
A gift of time spent together may reveal a potential interest for your son to pursue on his own.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com