Desperate mom of an alienated 18yr-old computer hermit

My son used to be a chatty and active boy, but turned into a very introverted, quiet and inactive youth during his high school years.  His PC is all his world; he doesn't talk to any of us, is alienated and isolated from me and his step-father, sits with his computer and online friends in his room 24/7. Stays awake until early morning, so misses most of his classes next day as he cannot wake up. We try to wake him up almost every day, but often can't. It looks like he will need to repeat his senior year as he missed too many classes. It's been a long time since we've had a normal conversation. I've asked if he is having any issues at this school--he said several times that there is no bullying, or any other bad stuff, just that "he is not motivated". 

Any advise on parenting such kid? Good that he doesn't do drugs or hang out with wrong people outside of home. He doesn't seem to do much of  video games, just sits at home living inside the internet all the time. I think he is a very lonely, isolated man whose 'friends' are only strangers from different parts of the world. It seems he doesn't want us in his life. When I try to talk to him he responds with very short sentences and very little information.

I really don't know what to do. I would like to help and am there for him always. I understand he is growing and developing his character, and at this puberty time period mom is not the one he would want to talk to. But I worry how he would deal with the real world; how he would deal with his failure to graduate from his school; how he would learn to socialize and make real friends with real people, etc. etc. His school is not much help. Please share some thoughts and advices on this. Are there any books anyone can recommend? I am just so desperate and cannot understand why and how he got so alienated from me.

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sounds like he needs to get off the pc and out into nature and the world.  Maybe get him to volunteer somewhere.  Does he like art? Maybe a private tutor? Or a therapist to help him communicate. Im sorry for your situation.  Sounds stressful not to have a happy boy in the world.  

This sounds terribly distressing and destabilizing for your family. Here are some things I think I would try if I were in your shoes.  I would tell him what you told us and that things have to change so that he can grow into a functioning adult.

1. Remove the computer from his room and put it in a public space in the house. 

2. Set limits around computer time, bed time, etc.  This may sound infantile for an 18 year old but it doesn't sound like he's struggling to develop the internal regulation to go too bed, wake up, being responsive to expectations, etc. 

3. Set expectations about school attendance, family chores, conversation.

4. Get the help of a family therapist/professional not only for support but also to discuss need for assessment for him. Maybe there are other issues involved.

He will likely be angry. It's possible he will say terrible things. But I'm not sure what else a parent can do but grasp hold of a sinking child and hold on and pull them up at least long enough to give them a chance to start swimming. Having expectations and setting limits with children is a loving act.

Wishing you strength and courage. 


Take the computer away and allow him to use it only during designated hours. I assume you are supporting your son financially; if so, you have the right to ask him to alter his behavior and to insist upon changes for your continued support. His behavior will not change otherwise.  Exercise your influence now while he is at home and you have leverage. You are not helpless--room and board is huge and your son needs a jolt to see the connection between his behavior and your support.  If he never has the opportunity to be alone in his own head space, he will not consider his behavior, his feelings, his life.  Do this without showing emotion or guilt because IT IS an act of parental love and support. Currently, there are no consequences for his behavior and that is a fantasy land that doesn't exist outside your household.  Best results to you!  

Sadly I don’t have any advice, though if it’s any comfort I feel like I could have written your post almost word for word. We don’t know what happened either, we’re trying to be patient and let him have the space he seems to be wanting (by never speaking to us and spending all his home time locked away in his room hunched over his computer). I don’t know if this is depression or “normal” teen boy stuff, but there is *no* talking about it — or anything else. We took him to a therapist for several months a year ago, but he wouldn’t talk to him either! Just mystified, and trying not to take it too personally (which is hard). We’re kinda envious when we see other parents out with their teen sons being affectionate and jovial— or even just speaking to each other! All I can offer is solidarity in this tough time, and buckets of sympathy. 

Without knowing more specifics, it's hard to speculate on why your son's behavior has changed so drastically. However, it does seem clear that he is using time on the internet as a coping skill for something. My advice would be to work on reconnecting with your son. Once he is talking with you again, then you can work to help him identify any challenges he may be struggling with, which could be anything from depression or anxiety, issues at school, feeling isolated or lonely, or even boredom. When I've wanted to connect with my son I ask him to tell me about what he's interested in. In middle school, when he was spending lots of time on his computer playing games I found the most effective way to get him to open up to me was to ask him to show me how his game worked. I asked lots of questions. Even though I honestly wasn't interested in the game, I was interested in hearing what my son liked and got excited about. I avoided saying anything negative about the game despite that it seemed really violent. I learned a lot about his world and the people he was spending time with online. I asked him what he liked about the game and learned that he liked being part of a team. I thought he had been playing alone when he was actually playing collaboratively with other players. In fact, his dedication to not wanting to let his team down was why he couldn't just stop playing when he was called to dinner. If he logged off, his team would be negatively impacted. (Before I knew that, I assumed he was just being defiant when he refused to log off). I also learned that they have video game events. I offered to take him to one, which not only got him out of his room and off the computer, but gave us time together to connect. A few years later, once he transitioned off the computer and got into rock climbing, I asked if I could go to the climbing gym with him. I couldn't believe it when he said yes! My teen showed me all about climbing and I got to see who he's spending time with at the gym. Afterwards we went out for lunch and he talked and talked with me. The next time your son mentions something about his time online, ask him more about it. Ask him to show you what he does online. When I knew my son was spending a lot of time on Reddit. I started going to Reddit to read topics that interested me. That allowed me to better understand how my son was spending his time online and the culture he was enjoying, and gave us a common topic to talk about. 

I'm sad to say that since he is 18 he is a legal adult and you cannot compel him to do anything now. I'd say he is addicted to whatever he is doing (and if it is not video games it must be SOMETHING) - if it were me I would get him into an addiction program ASAP (if he is willing to participate, again, he is 18 so you can't make him participate) or else you will need to active some tough love to get him up moving and maybe even out. When his food, home and internet are not paid for by you anymore I'll bet he could get motivated....good luck!!!

I am so sorry you are going through this difficult and heart-breaking time. You sound like a loving and calm parent.

My son started alienating from my husband and I much younger, starting around 14. By his 18th birthday, he was a ghost in our home. From what you describe, our issues are more complicated. However, your situation is very serious if your son has stopped attending school to the point he may not graduate and has no hopes and dreams for his future. You might consider connecting him with a therapist well versed in working with struggling young adults. This would be a first step in understanding what may be underlying his behaviors.

You mention your son's isolation and technology use. Technology addiction is a real issue, and can unhealthy levels of use can begin as a coping strategy for avoiding challenges or stressors in a person's life. If the therapist determines this to be the case, supportive services and programs are available. High quality services and programs will address the addiction, as well as underlying issues. One I recently learned of (yet know nothing about) is: You might peruse the site to see if their descriptions ring true.

Stay strong and take care of yourself. It's a hard time to be a parent, and a very hard time to be a young adult. You're not alone.

My 19 year old son is now also mostly playing computer games. I insist he does chores. After I ask three times and nothing happens, I turn off the modem. The modem is in my bedroom and gets turned off at bed time. Too much internet can be  awful for kids and turns kids into addicts. Next, I will take the modem to work with me, and if still no productive change happens, he will be locked out of the house.

I would just try to re-establish a relationship with your son, and leave the step-father out of the picture for now.  I would not try to change him at this time, but offer positive interactions like bring him a hot tea (and don't criticize him when you do it), or ask him to go to breakfast just you and him (and don't nag him, just chat about other things) or see if he might want to go to a movie or play a card game.  A boy needs his mom.  I had to set aside all the worries I had about his future and efforts to improve my son's life, and just spend time with him (and not focus on "family time" with other family members).  It is really hard to be a parent.  I wish you the best.

Sounds like there are two issues here:

1.  Getting him off the computer and doing something--either a job or graduating.

2.  Rebuilding your relationship

You definitely need to do #1..  Talk to him about it first.  If he's reasonable, he'll acknowledge that he's an adult now, that he's got a problem, and that you both know he needs to get a job or a degree, and that he's got to have limits which you're happy to help impose but which he seems to have difficulty imposing on himself.  You may need to cancel your internet.    You may need to insist on a job, but don't let the status quo continue.  

As for #2, it's slow going, but stay the course.   Until he tells you otherwise, assume that he would like to have you back in his life, but he's not ready to have full-on 2 hour conversations right now.  It could take a year or two or three, but if you're patient and open and supportive, hopefully you'll find that he interacts with you as a housemate (cause he's now 18, that's really what he is) and can be social enough for that to be a comfortable relationship.

If he's 18, b