Social Question

Seek's avatar

Do you think this experiment will succeed?

Asked by Seek (34769points) January 12th, 2014

My son is five years old, and a touch addicted to video games. They appeal to his nature: Highly visual, hand-eye heavy puzzles with instant gratification upon success. All well and good, I’m glad he enjoys them, but he often chooses to play those games rather than do… well… anything else, particularly anything that involves getting dirty.

Last night, after my son fell asleep, I took all of the video game controllers, his Game Boy, and his tablet, and put them in a basket. I put the basket away in my bedroom.

Today, I unplugged the television and kicked him and the puppy outside (in the fenced-in backyard) and told him not to come in unless he’s bleeding or needs to use the bathroom.

Can I force a kid to like playing outside?

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80 Answers

glacial's avatar

Hah! Good question. I don’t know the answer, but I hope it’s “yes”.

Seek's avatar

The whining is currently pretty intense.

“Mama? Mama! Mama? Mama! Mama?.....Mama? Mama! I’m thirsty. I need to rest. Can I have a snack? The dog is following me. Mama?”

Shut up and be a kid already!

TheRealOldHippie's avatar

You can’t force them to like playing outside, but the more they’re outside, the more apt they are to discover “hey, it’s fun being out here!” More parents should do what you’ve done instead of letting the electronic toys become a babysitter for the kid. It’s no wonder we have a nation of kids who are overweight and lazy – all they do is sit around playing with the electronic “must have” toys. More parents should do what you’ve done, so don’t give up and keep on sending him outside to play and use his imagination. A good imagination is an important part of growing up and without an imagination, all you have is a robot or a follower and not a leader. Don’t give in!!!!

Seek's avatar

It’s just soooooo weird to me how crazy he is about not getting dirty. I always loved playing in the mud. I still do.


zenvelo's avatar

Be firm on the no games/no TV, yet set a boundary where and when he can play them. Taking them away completely just to get him outside is punitive, but you can structure it so he has the privilege, yet diversifies his interests. So, “play outside as much as you want, inside during the day means reading a book or doing art playing a board game, no electronics.”

hearkat's avatar

I did not have videogames in the house when my son was that young; he was about 3 when the PlayStation first came out. He did have educational CD-ROMs that he enjoyed. He got a GameBoy Color when he was 7, and I bought the Sega DreamCast when he was about 10 and later the PS2. When he was in the 6–12 year age range, he would get too intense about the games – especially if he was losing. He broke the GameBoy Color by chucking it across the room out of frustration. He was even more frustrated when I told him I would not buy a replacement. I had to limit him to 1 hour of screen time and 1 hour of TV time – and I was called every name to describe my meanness that he could think of.

The saving grace for me was that there were a few boys in the immediate vicinity, so there was usually someone to play with, and I bought kickballs and whiffle balls pretty regularly. We lived with my mom, and she had the backyard fenced-in and got him a swingset, so he could go out and play on his own. His indoor play favorite was Lego, and he also enjoyed HotWheels and Matchbox cars.

It will be a HUGE challenge in the beginning of this transition, but unstructured play has been pretty well established as a great imagination builder, and kids that get it seem to complain less often about being bored. But since it is new to him, he will need to develop skills to entertain himself, and he will drive you nuts wanting to be entertained.

You’ll really need to stick to your guns to get him through the transition – the success of this “experiment” (I’d call it a ‘Parenting Strategy’, though) is mostly up to your persistence. Good luck to you!

whitenoise's avatar

We recently created a set of stratego / conquer the flag cards, based on one of their video games. (Clash of Clans).

We took them and 14 of their friends outside and we played there for 90 minutes. They loved it…

We take them swimming regularly.

For the rest… It is hard to beat the instant gratification of video games.

Coloma's avatar

You may have to jump start his imagination. Go get some sand and sand toys, or show him how to make mud pies or build little stick houses and fences or catch bugs.Make race car tracks and jumps if he has toy cars. Set up rubber dinosaurs, dig caves for them, stage fights.

He has become conditioned to only playing video games and is not used to using his imagination to be inventive. This is like teaching rescued wildlife h0ow to be what they are.
You may need to crawl around turning over rocks and pouncing on bugs, showing him how to fend for himself in the great outdoors. lolol Good Luck! ;-)

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Parenting has never been easy.

I would like to suggest that your son’s aversion to getting dirty is not strange. I have always disliked it, too. I grew up before electronic toys and played outdoors a lot. Nevertheless, I did not like getting dirty.

Wanting your son to have well-rounded interests is highly admirable, and as parents, it is important to encourage children to experiment and learn.

For better or worse, electronic toys are here to stay. Is there a way to reward learning in all its forms? I’m wondering if it’s possible to use video games as an incentive to participate in other activities. Can time on a video game be given as a reward for completing schoolwork, or can some schoolwork be centered around an outdoor activity?

I applaud your effort and like this question very much.

Judi's avatar

I think you need to go out and TEACH him how to have fun outside. He’s lost right now because he doesn’t know what to do.

dxs's avatar

Well you can at least go out there with him for a while, Seek! How would you feel if I took your Fluther away?

CWOTUS's avatar

That’s exactly what my mother did with the five of us a half-century ago. It was more difficult for her in the winter, too, because she’d have to dress us all up in warm clothes, boots, scarves, hats, etc. before she pushed us outside.

However, we had something that your son apparently doesn’t have: each other, for one thing. But we also had toys to play with outside: sleds, toboggans, skis (and a hill in back of the house where all of those things would obey gravity if we could overcome the friction of too-deep snow sometimes), and other kids in the neighborhood.

So it might be helpful to him if you’d give him an example, at least, of “how to play by oneself” (for that we had a big sandbox that Dad had built for us – as big as some folks’ patios, not one of those plastic things that would fit in back of a car! – loaded with coarse sand – and more toys).

Does he know how to make a kite, for example? Are there rocks in the back yard that can be turned over to find interesting life forms (or fishing bait)? Are there simple building materials that he can use to make a fort, start an imaginary war or rescue an imaginary princess?

VS's avatar

I, too, applaud your efforts at getting your son up and moving. Years ago, I was a huge advocate for video games as I felt they had numerous educational qualities including eye-hand coordination, spatial relations, etc. Today, after seeing my two nephews glued to their game stations to the exclusion of everything, including the family on Christmas morning, I’m not so sure. I do think there are redeeming qualities, but I also feel like limits MUST be imposed so we don’t allow our kids to become so totally isolated and non-social. To completely take his games away does probably feel punitive to him, so may be you could allow him an hour each day and two on the weekends, or some other set amount that could be increased or decreased depending on behavior, completion of chores, etc. Setting limits and forcing kids to do stuff like be creative outside can seem mean, but a very important part of good parenting.

ragingloli's avatar

I can tell you that these sort of tactics never worked on me. I just strolled around in the streets.

livelaughlove21's avatar

Your kid isn’t you and you can’t force him to like something he doesn’t. Sticking him outside, not allowing him to come in, and ignoring his objections seems pretty cruel to me. Some kids like video games more than playing in the mud – so? I do think it’s important for kids to get off the couch and go outside and get some exercise, but I think going out there with him or taking him to the park is a much better idea than making him sit in the backyard by himself in the hopes he’ll spontaneously like it. I seriously doubt that’ll work.

I liked going outside to ride bikes or rollerblade with friends when I was a kid, but I always hated being dirty. If my hands got dirty, even when I was only 3 or 4 years old, I’d come inside and hold my hands out to my mom so she’d wash them. I don’t think it’s abnormal for a child to not love rolling around in the dirt. Trying to mold your kids into what you think they should be is very unhealthy.

Seek's avatar

He’s currently running around with a shield and a whiffle-ball bat, attempting to slay the “dragon”. The “dragon” is doing laps around the backyard and taunting him.

So far, it’s the longest they’ve played together since the puppy came home.

whitenoise's avatar

That sounds pretty cool…

ragingloli's avatar

Great. Now he is developing delusions.

Seek's avatar

Hey, delusions are all that got me through my childhood alive.

Judi's avatar

Imagination is just healthy delusions.

jca's avatar

It’s for this reason that my daughter doesn’t yet own any video games. Time will come eventually when someone gives her one, but I am trying to postpone it as long as possible. She is 6, almost 7. She’ll spend enough time with her face buried in the phone, computer and video games when she’s older.

Seek's avatar


Honestly, I’m glad he isn’t going to have a total culture shock when it comes time to start learning tech stuff. It’s the age we live in and what he’s going to have to know when he’s older, so he’s putting it all together naturally. Most of the time, it’s not an issue. He doesn’t never play with his toys or go outside, but in the last few weeks he’s become increasingly emotional about his electronic games. Like, if he gets to a brand new hard level and loses before he can save the progress, it just wrecks his world. When he said last night that only his games make him happy, I decided to try to encourage more interaction with the physical world.

Today, so far, has been dragon-slaying, working on his baseball swing, and filling up the splash-pool in the backyard (it’s in the high-70s today. A little cool for him, so when he was done he came inside and is now curled up on the couch with warm clothes, some hot cocoa, and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on VHS. I’m no tyrant. ^_^)

ibstubro's avatar

I think you might have gone about it wrong, @Seek_Kolinahr. Why disable the electronic entertainment if you were going to put him outside anyway? You probably should have tried to make a game out of the whole exercise, because you’re put yourself in the place of having to capitulate on the video games.

Maybe you could make a “Back in Time” with him. Let him pull a slip with a decade on it, and don’t use anything that wasn’t available at the time for the day? Play along! You two could be curled up on the couch listening to NPR. :)

Judi's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr , did you see that Neil DeGrass Tyson is hosting the new Cosmos? I think the firs episode is available free online.

YARNLADY's avatar

Children play much better when they have a parent with them. If the child isn’t used to playing, he needs instruction.

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

Give him two sturdy metal spoons and tell him a story about a kooky old man who used to live there, hated banks and buried all his money in the yard. It wouldn’t hurt to put a railroad tie or log ot there. If you can’t get something like that, go to the lumberyard and get a six foot 4×4. Boys need SOMETHING to climb, even if its only a log or rail to balance on. Behave like you are afraid and grossed out when he brings a bug in for you to see. Don’t treat him like it’s wrong, just upsetting to dear mum. “Ew! Glad you found a friend, now take the icky little guy back out to play.”
After he has had some minutes to wander about and let his mind roam some, tie in something interactive. Tell him if he jumps over a certain toy ten times, he gets two hugs and a kiss. Play that game a few times, then one of the times he comes running in for his hugs and kisses, be hiding. Jump out and suprise him, fun of course, not creepy, and give him his hugs. Take a little break for a while and then ask him if he discovered anything cool outside he could show you. It’s nice to play together outside, but the very best thing about playing outside is to discover your own daydreams.

ETpro's avatar

Remember you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him sink; at least not without tying lots of weights to him.

Some trips for rock climbs, nature walks, a hobby in collecting something that requires crawling around in the muck and mud to find cherished keepsakes. There’s rocks, gemstones, fossil hunting, mycology and learning to take spore prints, taxonomy, survival skills.

Open up the big world out there to his eyes and he will fall in love with it all on his own. Lots more parent child bonding there than banishment to the fenced in back yard while mom stays in the house.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

A bail of hay with balloons pinned to it was all I needed for me and my archery kit to never want to come inside.

talljasperman's avatar

That won’t even work for me… I would just walk to Macs’ , and wait a few hours while playing video games.

Seek's avatar

^ You’re also not five years old.

I apparently missed one. Thought it was really quiet… found him in his room playing the Gameboy Advance he got for his fourth birthday. He hadn’t touched that thing in forever.

He handed it over willingly when caught, then went outside and hit his t-ball against the picket fence until it was dark, then came inside and asked to read Curious George books together.

Day one – successful.

dxs's avatar

Sounds like a good kid. I remember my Gameboy Advance. I played Pokémon blue on it and had a kick-ass Dugtrio that nobody could mess with.

Seek's avatar

^ Pokemon Ruby (GBA) and White (DSLite) here. I’m all about Alakazaam.

dxs's avatar

I was only exposed to the first 151 Pokémon. I remember having a favorite Pokémon but I completely forget what it was… And I always wanted an Alakazam. It was a pain in the ass enough to get Abra to evolve into Kadabra cause all Abra could do was Teleport, but I couldn’t get Alakazam because Kadabra would only evolve if I traded it and I had no friends to trade with.

janbb's avatar

I think I would do a time thingy. He must play outside for at least two or three hours a day – broken up as makes sense and then he can play video games for 45 minutes. But see if you can make sure the outside play is fun for him and not seen as a punishment. Does he have any friends beside the pup?

Seek's avatar

Unfortunately the only kids in the neighborhood aren’t allowed to play with him, because I’m an atheist.

Jehovah’s Witnesses. * eyeroll *

His little friend who lived around the corner moved away a couple of months ago. That kind of preceded this most recent refusal-to-do-anything-but-play-Wii thing. It’s not that he doesn’t know how to play, or that we never play together, it’s just sometimes I have to clean the house, or do some work, or whatever, and I can’t entertain him personally, myself, every second of the day, and the video games – while I don’t see anything wrong with them and am glad he enjoys them – can’t be his only stimulation. And while I love to play with him and think he’s awesome, I have a feeling that it can’t be 100% positive to need Mom to play with him every second. He needs his own imagination, not mine.

janbb's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I agree. Well, the pup dragon (magic) might help. Or Frodo could come down?

jaytkay's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I have friends who have limited their kids screen time in order to make them deal with the real world.

They have the best-adjusted kids I know. They engage adults, they look you in the eye and start conversations. They organize games for other kids. They build forts and swings.

And then I know kids who were discouraged from outside play. Instead they played video games. I’ll just say their parents aren’t enjoying the results.

Of course this is anecdotal. I only know a few families. But I can’t see a downside to having a kid learn that “social” means talking to people instead of typing on an iPhone.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Sometimes you have to step back and let them learn to have fun.

jaytkay's avatar

With the FL health care and the fundy neighbors I think Colorado is calling very loudly. Ft. Collins specifically IMHO.

Judi's avatar

You’re a good mommy @Seek_Kolinahr .

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Remember to update us on days two, three . . . . . Great job.

Coloma's avatar

Well…what did he do outside today? waiting, waiting,...

Seek's avatar

Ah! Sorry, nearly forgot.

Helped me clean the house

Sat in the sun with his puppy

Played this game

Slew the Water Monster and the pumpkin king behind him.

Also, there was some action figure activity in his bedroom, and he spent about 45 minutes with his baseball tee.

Oh! And we made an ant farm in an old soda bottle the other day, so we spent some time studying the ants. Science project. ^_^

jca's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr: When you do the home schooling, does he give you a hard time or is he totally willing? Are the hours set or are you casual about the schedule? I ask out of curiosity because I never would have the energy to take on such a daunting task, nor do I feel qualified to do so.

snowberry's avatar

If he knows in advance the activities for the day and the order in which they come, his and your day will go easier.

Seek's avatar

Our homeschool situation is very laid-back, because he enjoys most of the work so much. The only thing that is a little like pulling teeth is to get him to physically write. He can write, but it’s not enjoyable for him and he gets bored with it quickly. I think I’m going to try focussing more on typing until he feels more comfortable spelling words. Maybe after he’s more comfortable spelling, writing won’t seem so daunting. He’s a total perfectionist and won’t dare attempt a word he doesn’t know for fear of being wrong.

His brain is so math-centric anyway. He’ll play Yahtzee for hours if he has someone to play with. I usually make him tally my scores as well as his own. He has free reign of the refrigerator door with his dry-erase markers, and fills them up with math problems. He’s cracked the code of high-number addition, so it’s not uncommon to see “35,947 + 55,830 = 91777” in Kindergarten scrawl.

And, anything hands-on, he’s all over. We’ll lay on the hood of my car with Google SkyMap and figure out the names of all the planets, and find constellations, and then come inside and draw what we saw. If I can ever figure out this telescope thing (I seem to be having issues with condensation) we’ll start getting closer views. He loves watching the ants in the ant farm, and mixing colours with food colouring and water, and adding up coins to see how much money is in his hand.

I’m a little bit blessed with a kid that actually likes to think.

My school board requires only that I keep a portfolio of our activities, samples of his work showing his progress, and have that portfolio reviewed by a certified teacher once a year. So, I keep a journal and a folder of his stuff, and he has a two journals – one for daily whatever, and one astronomy-specific.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Hell yeah! Lock ‘em out! It’s good if they have someone else to play with. If not, they’ll figure something out, unless you instantly give in to their demands to come back in.

Do you have things out there to help him explore? Like spades and things to dig with? Containers to keep his treasures in? You won’t worry about him getting “dirty” will you?

Seek's avatar

Today is a rainy day, and it’s hard to not give in to the demands for screen time.

I am at the library today working on some CDs for my hubby’s band, so I sent Ian with Mitch to go get some parts for the car. That can also go in his homeschool journal for today. (Love homeschooling. He gets credit for everything.)

Dutchess_III's avatar

Good job, Seek.

Give him some sheets and tell him to make a tent out of chairs and stuff.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh, and give him a vacuum cleaner hose so he can have a phone in his tent.

snowberry's avatar

It never hurts to document some of your more hands on activities with photos.

Also, for writing, have him cut letters and words out of magazines or newspapers and paste them on projects he’s illustrated. You’ll accomplish the same thing, and he won’t have to write as much.

Here’s another trick: Give him a small note card (3×5 or even cut that in half) and tell him he has to write something on that. This works for a lot of kids with writing issues. What bothers them is the size of the paper they have to write on.

glacial's avatar

@Dutchess_III Would a child today recognize a vacuum cleaner hose as being analogous to a phone? ;)

Seek's avatar

^ All good ideas, @snowberry

The other day, we recorded our observations and predictions about the ant farm on my computer using the webcam, instead of writing. Just to have something to put in his folder, I’ll print up a transcription, but that was fine by me. I mean, he’s five. He’ll learn to write eventually, and there’s no point in getting pushy about it already. ^_^

ragingloli's avatar

I did not know you lived in the jungle.

snowberry's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Yep. I totally agree. And boys generally are not really ready for the fine muscle coordination of writing until they are several years older anyway. I love what you’re doing!

Seek's avatar

More like the swamp. But I agree, the kudzu takeover is redonkulous.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@glacial I don’t think it would take them any longer to figure out the properties of blowing through it or yelling through it than it took us. Why do you think it would be more difficult for a child today?

Coloma's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr Oooh, I want to lay on the hood of your car and chart the constellations. Bummer though, I’d probably dent your hood. lol

Seek's avatar

Not possible. It’s an 88 Crown Vic. You’d need a solid brick wall and some decent speed to dent this thing.

Seek's avatar

There is one thing I can say for it: Parts are plentiful and comparatively inexpensive, and every mechanic on earth knows how to fix it.

Also, there are about a million Youtube videos instructing how to replace just about every piece of the car. I changed the distributor cap myself, using Youtube to talk me through it.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Plus it can double as a mini-van!

Seek's avatar

And I can fit a Smart Car in the trunk.

glacial's avatar

@Dutchess_III “Why do you think it would be more difficult for a child today?”

I only mean that, when we were kids, the phone was connected by a cord – so you did have the feeling that you were speaking into a kind of tube that might conceivably reach the person you were talking to. There was that sort of physical connection.

I’m not sure how kids today would visualize what happens to their voice when they talk into a phone. It’s more like a small box in their hand.

@Seek_Kolinahr Any thoughts on this?

Seek's avatar

It sounds like a good experiment. My son’s little friend – the one that moved away – is having a playgroup in a couple of weeks. Might be time to break out the Dixie cups and string.

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

When you decide to get more involved with handwriting, perhaps an interesting tie in would be the old Hebrew teachings of the origin of the aleph bais, alphabet. I grew up in a christian community. and had no knowledge of ANY religons other than represented by the four or five churches in our little area. I grew, traveled, learned stuff. I thought it was fascinating that legend of the creation of the universe caused the creation of the letters. They were cast off as things came to be, sort of like sparks.
I don’t believe in anybody’s religon now, but I find some items an interesting study into how variou7s communities formed, and grew. If you discussed this together, then made a game of it, say, have a snack of apple wdges, then practice the letter “A”, it would be like recreating the legend. It might add an element of fun which could give him more enthusiasm for writing. I’m sure he would get a kick out of thinking of various things to represent each letter. It makes things more personal than flash cards.
My daughter had a passion for reading, spelling, and composing stories, but the actual handriting bored her also. I wish I had remembered those old teachings when I was helping her start out. I too considered the keyboard thing. I started seeing evidence though of things not developing. She had/has trouble with awareness of her extremities, where they are. She is getting better, more aware now that she is writing more, but it’s late in coming.
She has a current thirst for poetry, so her fiction shorts, non fiction reports, etc. are on the back burner now.
Our not having a family god caused a few troubles for her in elementary school, but now that she’s in jr. high, she isn’t having those issues at all. Those little monsters are too distracted by the issues of puberty to bother about religious discrimination right now.
It is unfortunate that neighbors treat a child differently because of beliefs, but old habits are hard to break, and really old habits darn near impossible. The schools here are working on those problems though, unlike the schools where we used to live. Some schools claim to have certain policies, some actually work to enforce them. Our current school district sends me emails asking for input, and surveys to find improvements.
I’m glad to hear the two of you are thriving with your choice to home school. Where we lived before had such messed up practices there, I just enrolled her in public school, where she wasted lots of time, but made friends, and I home schooled her without the district’s involvement. I really resented the set up a bunch. My daughter still came away with my devotion to her education though. She now takes an active role in making her class choices, future school options, and such. Egad I do go on!

Seek's avatar

^ Thank you, @Jonesn4burgers! I love to hear a homeschool success story. And any situation where a kid comes out with their thirst for learning intact is a success story. ^_^

Dutchess_III's avatar

@glacial That is a thought. OK. I’m setting up a controlled experiment. I’m going to throw vacuum cleaner hoses at the grandkids with no instructions and see what happens!

glacial's avatar

Don’t throw it too hard, @Dutchess_III!

Jonesn4burgers's avatar

@Dutchess_III, or do, depending on whether you also want to work their reflexes, HA!

Dutchess_III's avatar

We’ll call it Homeschool P.E. The equivalent of public school dodge ball. :D

YARNLADY's avatar

I homeschooled my son and grandsons off and on throughout their school careers, depending on the circumstances. The grandsons said it was the best thing that ever happened to them.

My son said he believed homeschooling hurt him because it didn’t teach him how rotten people could be. I was treated badly when I was in public school, and I wanted to protect him from that, plus he was too smart for the school curriculum, having started reading at age 3.

He also had a condition called disgraphia, which made it difficult for him to form letters, either printing or cursive. He wasn’t able to write until he was around 12 years old. He carried a little card with him that had the letters on it, and he would refer to it when he was forced to write, but we bought him a laptop which he carried around with him when he enrolled in a Charter School for 7th grade.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Hows it working out, BTW?

Seek's avatar

Pretty well! He still complains that he doesn’t have kids to play with, but it’s Faire season now, so he’ll be chillin’ with the other nerds’ kids every weekend for a while.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Cool. Hey..start a daycare! He won’t have that complaint for long!

Seek's avatar

I will end you.

Dutchess_III's avatar

LOL! I truly believe that, with all my heart! Scratch suggestion!

longgone's avatar

For anyone still reading this…one more idea to get children to write: Have them shape words using cooked spaghetti. Keeps them busy, and the tactile element makes the spelling sink in.

ETpro's avatar

@longgone Later in life they will learn the added benefit that when you have to eat your words, all you need is a bit of Marinara sauce and some grated Parmesan cheese and it’s becomes a rather pleasant chore.

longgone's avatar

^^ That, too ;)

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