I need a pep talk from moms of successful teenage boys!

Avatar for mahopac
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-1997
I need a pep talk from moms of successful teenage boys!
Mon, 07-30-2012 - 1:56pm

My 12yo son is presenting problems that his older siblings never did, so I would love to hear from some moms of older sons who have turned out to be the fine young men you dreamed of having as sons!

DS is lazy in almost every way possible.  Whatever task he can get away with not doing, he tries to.  Whatever he wants to do that he think he can get away with, he tries to.  So far he hasn't gotten in any trouble - he just makes no effort at anything unless he's forced to.

He practices his instruments because we make him; he doesn't dislike it, in fact I think he rather likes it, but he does it because he has to, not because he wants to get any better.  He does his homework if he remembered to write down what it was, but if he's forgotten it, it doesn't bother him in the slightest that it's going to affect his grade; he managed to finish 6th grade with an 87 average, but if he'd done all his homework it would have easily been over 95. If you tell him he has to read for half an hour, he acts as though you've told him to shovel a foot of snow off the driveway by himself - even though once he starts, he reads (until PRECISELY the time you've told him needs to stop).

He shows up to tennis and karate and seems to enjoy being there, but he will never exert himself physically at any other time if he can avoid it.

He interrupts us all the time because he doesn't remember that you're supposed to pay attention to what other people are saying to each other before you start talking, a lesson my older ones had gotten at half his age.  He whines constantly that he's bored and doesn't know what to do if 5 minutes go by without him being entertained somehow. 

The last straw was yesterday when he was complaining about going out to dinner at a nice restaurant because it meant he would have to wear khaki shorts and a polo shirt (which he was already wearing since we went to church) instead of nylon shorts and a t-shirt.  (He doesn't have autism, it has nothing to do with how it feels physically).  I just about lost it with this attitude of expending the very least effort possible in EVERYTHING.

The only thing he would LIKE to do is play video games.  Naturally, we limit his game time - an hour on Sat and Sun, 30 mins during the week (which is going to go away when school starts).  We limit his TV time to one half-hour show, and he can watch whatever everyone else is watching in the evening.  If he could, he would passively sit with a remote control or a game controller in his hand for hours at a stretch.  His cell phone doesn't have the internet, and we rarely let him on the computer (if we do, it comes out of his video game time). 

I'm really at a loss as to how much of this is normal and how much I should expect he should outgrow..  My older two (17yo DD and 20yo transgender DS) were always SO busy with something.  20yo DS couldn't handle a high level of activities because his brain was always working overtime on creative pursuits, but the ones he did, he did with great enthusiasm, and he really does love learning.  17yo DD has to keep herself busy at all times with academics, music, friends, creative things, reading, etc.  This business of being lazy is so new to me that I really don't know the right way to motivate him. 

DH alternates between saying he was just like that himself and wanting to throttle him daily. :smileyhappy: 

Any thoughts or perspective to share?



iVillage Member
Registered: 01-05-2005

I'm just curious, what does he do all day when school isn't in session?  If he is only on the computer or tv for a short period every day, that leaves a lot of free time. I do think boys have a harder time with creative pursuits and/or multi-tasking, and I also think that gender roles can create different pressures - even if your ds20 always knew he was a male, society viewed him growing up as female, and I think girls often just have a wider variety of "appropriate" or "approved" pursuits compared to males. I'm probably not explaining this well, but I just see with my girls compared to my boys, the girls spent more time hanging with other girls, and honestly, doing "girly" stuff - arts, crafts, shopping, makeup, nailpainting, cooking, etc. I don't mean to stereotype (especially to a mom of a transgender child :smileywink:) but I think it's harder for boys. I know SO many of ds12's friends who would spend all day playing video games if they could. I also think that it is much more common to hear from other parents of boys that they just seem lazy. I don't know why this is (in my limited experience) less common in girls.

For us, what seems to work the best is setting expectations on what we want and ignoring the rest, including any whining (to the point of walking away if it starts). I know, I know - you want him to WANT to do stuff, because it's the right thing to do, or because he feels an internal drive, or because it would benefit him in the end, or whatever... but that might not happen (before you're ready to kill him). So, I think that the next best thing is just to set expectations (as in - I expect you, in the summer time, to read for an hour a day, study something for 30 minutes, get exercise for one hour, etc). When dd19 couldn't find a job several years ago, we made her find something to do (volunteer, help us, clean house, watch her brothers, etc) for 35 hours a week. It's amazing, LOL - she never whined that she was bored! I'm lucky because ds12 and ds10 are close in age and love playing together (they could entertain each other all day). Dd21 and dd19 were similarly close in age and had built-in playmates.

I also have no problem setting expectations for schoolwork. My kids know, for example, that extra credit is NOT optional in my household unless there is truly a situation where they have no extra time (so, not going to be a factor in middle school for the most part). I also expect their best effort - there would be serious consequences for not doing homework. I don't mean to sound like a tyrant - if they are trying their best, I don't expect perfection, by any means. But, I do expect the basics and to me, doing all homework in a timely fashion is a basic.

You may have just hit it lucky with your older ones, or you may not remember how they were when they were 12, lol. Dd19 is a stellar student, graduating in 3 years with a near perfect GPA from college. I definitely remember her trying to convince me when she was in middle school that she hated school. She was a good student, in a gifted program, very popular, and yet, she told me seriously for a LONG period of time that she didn't enjoy learning. It actually freaked me out. I kept trying to change her mind, "but don't you enjoy learning?" "isn't it fun to learn new things?" "aren't you proud when...?" and she just kept calmly saying, "no."  It was a very measured response, "I know I have to go to school," and "I know grades are important," but - "I don't enjoy it," "learning isn't fun for me," "I'd rather be doing nothing." She seemed to hit her stride in 9th grade - found out which things she really loved, which classes excited her...  Ds12 luckily found it early - hadn't been too excited about much and hit 6th grade and wanted to join everything. But I think every kid is different. Some might take longer to find their passion. Just keep setting expectations and being firm and trying not to let him push your buttons (haha, so much easier said from a very far distance). You can't make him "want" to not be lazy, but you can make him not "act" lazy, if that makes sense.

I know you've dealt with harder parenting challenges than this, so hang in there and things will improve. :smileyhappy:


iVillage Member
Registered: 10-16-1999
Twelve is a hard age IMO, especially for boys. They see themselves as being too grown up for the things they used top do, but they are definitely not old enough for the things that older boys like. And yes, sometimes they turn into slugs got awhile until they discover their passion. My most "slug-like" son discovered his at about 14and then it consumed him 24/7. Eventually turned it into a job that enabled him to go to school to learn about his next passion to work on a second career. His first passion? The army - not exactly compatible with being a slug lol. After he left the army he decided to use his GI bill to go to school to specialize in motorcycle repair. I'd be willing to bet that if your soon found his passion he'd get motivated.. . But your has to be a passion that he chooses for himself, not one that you push him toward.
iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999

I do think a lot of it is the age.  My son is almost 17 now--he works part time during the summer (as much as they will schedule him for).  He is taking 2 AP classes next year so has summer homework--he voluntarily started it the first week he was off from school w/o prompting by me.  I thought 2 AP classes might be too much work but he decided he wanted the challenge.  He has never been much of a video gamer and always liked reading for fun, but aside from that, he wasn't that much diff. from your son at 12-13.  Our summer day camp from the town ended at 12 and he really hated it anyway so by that summer he was staying home alone during the summer except for when college age DD was home.  He would also go to his dad's house or sometimes stay at my mom's house overnight.  But he probably did nothing that summer except read & watch TV.  I work full time so wasn't available to supervise or drive him around.  He basically never wanted to call any friends to come over and do anything--I thought that was odd & he would be destined to a life of no friends.  OH & I let him watch TV until his eyes would fall out because basically he had to do something if he was home alone (mother's guilt).  He also used to drive me crazy because he didn't want to go anywhere--if I would try to plan a family vacation, he didn't want to fly (scared), didn't like long car rides so even when we went on one, I remember that we went to a nice resort in NH & he was having fun in the pool during the day but didn't want to do anything at night--was fine just staying in the room & watching TV!  So I do think he will outgrow a lot of it.

Avatar for suzyk2118
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-30-1997

Ok, I definitely had a slug through much of middle and high school; only when the kids were old enough to get licenses did he do much without prompting. He loved video games. In our case I didn't turn it off during the week in MS or HS because to me that'd be like saying no to a significant other that I didn't like; makes it all the more desirable. And ds worked hard in school, during school, so we gave him decompression time; he could choose; right after school (which he started with) or after dinner, vs. homework in those slots. As long as homework got done, he could spend maybe an hour gaming per day. It did work out. Now, in college (he'll be 20 next week so I may be a short timer here!), he does homework instantly so he can then have time for whatever afterwards; his choice, based on his decisions in the past (ownership but still some 'reward'). (He doesn't watch much tv and unfortunately isn't much of a reader; spends more time online searching for music these days)

In MS he didn't get into many activities; he joined Jr Academy of Science which met once/week and was in Boy Scouts, but only did what he had to.  In HS he stuck out becoming Eagle just because he was so far along; not that he enjoyed it that much (honestly at that point the 14-15 year olds were the oldest in the troop and had to be ready to teach the younger guys ALL the time (bringing in 40-50 new scouts/year) so he got REALLY sick of that vs. having SOME time to do stuff with his agemates).  In HS he swam soph and jr year but that was it.  He hung out at home a lot til they got mobile. I, too, figured he had no friends but honestly he ended up with a ton, a few of which he still hangs out with or contacts, while now in college. (2 best buddies are still local, from HS)

I think the key is to slowly empower him to make choices. And in ds's case, in 8th grade (he was 13) they basically said you get full credit the day homework's due, half credit if it's turned in the next day, etc. That was a rude awakening and was way better than Mom or Dad bugging him.

I think if you find strategies that wean things vs. just pulling things away, life will go a lot smoother. DS really hated hs (wasn't challenging; I can go into a whole diatribe about that - AP was teaching to the test, which he wouldn't do, thus non-AP meant slow paced; not good options for a gifted kid who wanted to learn quickly but not just prep for a test!), and kept looking forward to college - which he loves. So it DOES work out. But it definitely was rocky from about age 12-18!


Community Leader
Registered: 07-26-1999

Wish I had some advice for you, my stepson is 13 1/2 and the exact same way, at least when he is with us visiting, its like pulling teeth to get him to do anything or show interest in anything but video games.  I hope you get some good advice from others!

Avatar for mahopac
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-1997

Thank you all for the much-needed perspective.  12yo wasn't a walk in the park with the older ones either, and they had their own issues - I've just never dealt with pervasive laziness before! 

During the school year, he's a busy, active kid, and we don't force him to do any activities - he does them because he wants to, or at least he doesn't object to them.  He plays cello in the school orchestra and a youth symphony and takes private lessons; takes piano lessons; does karate 2-3x a week; takes a tennis lesson once a week; writes for the school newspaper; and participates in Boy Scouts.  He's never asked to drop any of those things. 

During the summer, he's gone to Boy Scout camp for a week, tennis camp for two weeks, taken swimming lessons for a week, and then there are three weeks of family vacation.  DH has him set up with daily routines that include a total of an hour on videogames, an hour of reading, 20 mins each of cello and piano practice, free play time (no electronics), and the usual chores like making his bed, folding laundry, setting the table, emptying the dishwasher, and exercising the dog. 

So he's busy - he just never seems that enthusiastic about most of it, and he doesn't generate any of it on his own.  It's good to hear that this seems pretty typical for a lot of boys his age.  I guess I expected that since his sisters found their passions in 4th grade (karate for one and cello for the other) that he would have "found it" by now.  And that because they've always been so industrious, he "should" be.  It's helpful to hear differently from more experienced moms.

I do think that modern electronics encourage passivity in a way that only TV did when we were growing up.  We could watch cartoons for an hour and then go outside or whatever - the TV didn't envelop us the way that many video games do.  And you only had one or two TVs in the house, as opposed to video game consoles and computers and cell phones, so parents didn't have to be as vigilant about children trying to sneak videogames when their videogame time is up.  We actually do everything parents are supposed to do - monitor computer time, keep the computer in a public place, no computers or TVs or game consoles or cell phones in the bedroom - and STILL DS will try to find ways to use electronics.

The thing is, he is just SO much a nicer/better/smarter person when he's not using the videogames, and he knows it.  But of course, being 12, he wants to do it anyway, and we all know adults who have about as much willpower and self-discipline as a 12yo boy!

We did try to leave the business of doing homework without supervision to him, and the results were disastrous.  He has the attention span of a gnat.  And, given his own choices to make, he will almost invariably make bad ones, because he lives only in the moment.  That's something we did deal with with our 20yo, who didn't develop his own motivation to get things done for the sake of doing well until he was in 11th grade.  Before that, he would only make an effort at the things he was interested in (should have been a tipoff to the Aspergers back then), and he was so sloppy about homework in 10th grade that he got dropped out of one honors class, which finally motivated him to get his act together, and it's been together ever since.  We found the right balance with him between doing everything for him and letting him sink - there were times to step in and then a point where we decided to let him suffer the consequences, since he was now old enough to understand the full impact (e.g. non-honors classes contribute less to your GPA and reduce your ability to go to the college of your choice). 

Thanks again for all the helpful comments.  They really do make a difference.

Avatar for mahopac
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-1997

A little bit of humor to follow that up: 

When I got home tonight, DH was rolling his eyes over our son.  When I asked him why, he hissed, "It's like watching the dog!  I have to keep checking to make sure neither of them is chewing the furniture!"  LOL!


iVillage Member
Registered: 01-13-1999
Oh my goodness, my DS was EXACTLY like your DS at 12 y.o. But just before his 12th birthday, we moved to Minnesota. We immediately got him involved in the local Boy Scout troop and got him involved in sports. Our DS loves sports, so we told him that in order for him to play, he has to at least be on the B honor roll. It only took one season of having to sit out for him to realize that we were not kidding and would not back down. As for household chores, that has been an uphill battle, but now that he has a paying job, it has done wonders for his sense of responsibility. When he was younger, if I wanted DS to do several chores, something that worked well was to get to him before he got involved in a tv show or a video game. I would then tell him that I needed him to do some things for me, and tell him to go and do-------- and come back when he was finished. When he came back (and sometimes he wouldn't so I would have to go find him), I would inspect his work and give him feedback. If the chore was done reasonably well, I would give him the next chore, and so on. It is exhausting, but even though he is a bright boy, he can only focus on one thing at a time. Be consistent with your DS. Be firm. I know it is a cliche, but this too shall pass.
Avatar for mahopac
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-1997

Too funny about the chores - we find the same thing - send him off to fold a basket of laundry and 20 mins later find him playing with Legos and the laundry in a heap on the floor!

We do make him do things before he can sit down with the TV, but we've decided videogames are just out on Mon-Thu during the school year.  He tries to do his homework as fast as he can so he can play the games, and usually it's half-done.  Better to take away the incentive to get through homework.  My friend has done the same thing with his 12yo and he says it's worked wonders.

Avatar for cmlisab
iVillage Member
Registered: 09-30-2011

I haven't had a chance to read any of the replies yet but OMG...you just described my 13 yo son EXACTLY!!!  Only putting the minimum amount of effort in for any activity/homework, only wanting to play video games, even the complaining about having to wear a polo shirt!! 

You're actually doing better than me b/c you're limiting his screen time- I didn't do so well with this during the summer but school just started back today and we'll be back on a stricter schedule.

No great advice since I'm in the same boat with my son but wanted to let you know you weren't alone!