16yo son’s habits are driving me crazy!

I could use some practical advice to influence my son’s increasingly unproductive habits. Since SIP, he sleeps/ wakes up later and later. And when he is awake he is sooooooo lazzzzyyyyyyy!  He’s 16 and strong-willed, so forcing him to get up and be productive is a recipe for disaster. Can I do it? Yes, and I have. Took his phone (I still take it overnight), gave him extra chores to “drive” productivity, etc. But it was miserable all the time and our relationship was breaking down — hasn’t actually fully recovered from that period of ongoing conflict and anger. 

A typical day:

- He wakes up at 1 or 2 pm. I laugh at the days I was so dismayed that he would sleep till noon! 
- Attends whatever he’s forced to wake up for — we have him set up for enrichment and volunteer stuff that he selected. An hour and a half MAX. If the appointment starts earlier he’ll most certainly go back to bed. 
- Eats, gets on his phone — usually in a supine position — for a few HOURS, and sometimes actually goes back to bed to “rest” (from what????!!!!!!!!!)

- Practices basketball for an hour and a half between ~6-8

- Eats dinner 

- More screen coma

- I take his phone at midnight. No screens in his room overnight. That’s our rule since forever. On the rare occasion I forget to take it he can stay up til 4 AM 
- He still stays up until at least 2 AM, which of course guarantees he won’t wake up till 1 or 2 pm the next day: showering, applying his face routine (he’s obsessed with managing his acne), sometimes does exercises which of course keeps him revved up — essentially doing all the things he should be doing during the day. 
- Sleeps for 12 hours. 12 HOURS!!!

I am acutely aware that his habits might trigger me more than most because I am a classic Type A. However, this routine can’t be a good thing right? I feel like he’s living half a life and it kills me to watch. I’ve asked if he’s depressed and he’s made it quite clear that the ONLY thing that makes him feel bad is when I judge his choice to exist like this. We’ve discussed all the different opportunities that open up through the simple act of being awake when the rest of the world is active. It’s exhausting and frankly just disappointing to watch him waste his youth and energy. More than anything I’m very worried that these habits might take root in such a way that influences his lifestyle in the long term. Such a lethargic way of existing rarely leads to contentment, right?

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I don't have any supportive tips or advice. But I did want to say you are not alone; I am similarly situated. And it's excruciating to be in the parenting role with this type of thing - every direct engagement with my son is combative but disengaging feels complicit. I am working with a therapist who's got child development expertise. This helps me stay grounded (some days at least). Hang in there.

That would drive me crazy too. I wish I had magical advice. I have 16 year old too. This is what we do for her. We made a habit chart because we both agreed that me nagging was not good for either of us. She decided what should go on the chart with some prompting from me: Move your body (this can be a walk or indoor exercise), unplug, do something for the house (this can be a chore or cooking), go outside, complete your habit chart, socialize with someone (this can be a text or playing an online game). I gave her complete autonomy and authority over what counts as what. She has not been completing the chart lately--so I'll say "your habit chart needs some love." But, what I mean is filling the chart out, not doing the stuff that is on it. I have asked her to think back and she has figured out that she does feel better when she does more things on her chart. My son doesn't need a chart, but has done better about having routines during his day. I think the key is to get buy in from your kid, which I'm not sure is going to be easy with your son. The other key, I think is to take baby steps and have him have a huge say in what goes on the chart. One thing we learned was about the "do something for the house" -- nothing ever got done. I put a list on the fridge of possible chores that would only take 15 minutes each. Still nothing. So, I was asked to provide a list in the AM of what should be done that day. Then it got done! So, a buy in to the importance of not just sitting around all day, collaboration on what should go on the chart, acceptance that very small, small, insignificant efforts constitute a win and a check-off on the chart, and editing as you go to suit your family? We also agreed that weekends were weekends and sloth was acceptable. Made that deal to get more of a buy in for weekdays. . . Good luck! 

Was your son like this before SIP? If so, I would suggest he IS depressed and/or has a problem with executive functioning. One of the best things you could do for him in this situation (and I speak from experience) is to set a daytime screen (phone/pad/gaming system) limit of 2-3 hours with a cut-off time of 9pm.  He will hate you for a few weeks and then will begin to wake up from the coma and have a chance, at least, to re-engage with life.

If he was a much more productive, energetic, happy teenager before SIP then maybe this is just his way of coping with the pandemic and after it's over he will return fairly easily to his former self. That doesn't make his present behavior any less frustrating (I feel your pain as I too am a type A) but it might at least allow you to be less worried about him.

Best of luck to you. 

You are not alone.  Most adults are fighting the urge to do what your son is doing but we can’t because we have adult lives.  My daughter is 14 and is behaving in a similar way.  She comes out for meals and spends a ton of time on her phone connecting with her friends

as long as she is getting exercise and her mood is good I generally give her a break.  Their worlds are so different and isolating now.  They may just feel like hiding u til it’s over.  They have to find their way in this strange time.  And it could be a low level of depression.  It all depends on whether he is behaving very differently than he was before COVID.

I want to say I feel your pain and would be very surprised if many parents of teenagers weren't nodding their heads as they read your post.  My 15 year old maintains a slightly better sleep schedule but similar screen habits.  COVID has really done a number on all of us and has directly impacted how he normally manages himself. 

It's hard not to be triggered when you see that side indent on the bed in the shape of your son holding his phone surfing through Instagram?  Tik Tock?  Sigh.  I've decided to step back and control what I can which is me and how I react.  I value any time he wants to spend with me and encourage healthy choices.  Trying to control what he does just leads to irritation for both of us.  I am a firm believer in natural consequences and I refuse to push my choices on him so he can avoid those happening.  Otherwise how will he learn?  I focus on the productive things he does- track workouts, healthy eating, healthy friend connections (limited as they are), and repeat the mantra "this too shall pass".  Kids are resilient.  Trying to control or impart what "I" would be doing (I'm an adult, he's a teenager) doesn't matter and isn't relevant.  This is a challenging time for all of us especially our teens.

Wishing you the best- and know you are not alone. :)

I have to say, his sleep habits sound pretty similar to my teenage boys - the way I see it, teenagers are naturally nocturnal, and the shelter-in-place has just enabled them to revert to their natural rhythms. Their bodies are doing a lot of changing and growing at this stage, so 12 hours of sleep doesn't seem too unreasonable. I know I drove my up-at-the-crack-of-dawn former-farmer dad crazy with my hours when I was a teen, and now I'm a productive member of society, so I think it's a pretty normal phase. As long as he's getting some outside time/exercise every day, and the sleeping doesn't seem to be a response to depression, I think he's okay. The only thing I might address if it were my kid is to try to get him to spend a little less of his 12 waking hours on the phone, although I know that's a tough battle to fight - maybe there's another pastime he could cultivate - learning a musical instrument, volunteering (there are virtual options at VolunteerMatch and others), some kind of creative endeavor, reading, making videos to teach others a skill he has, etc.? Even if it's more screen-time, there are great online lessons for all kinds of things, from playing guitar to making zines; the trick is finding what he's passionate about. (If all else fails, remind him he needs some hobbies/volunteering to write about on his college applications!) You could also give him some chores he needs to complete around the house every week, to give him some structure and contribute to the family, although in my experience teens take some reminding/management in that department that might give you more aggravation. :) And maybe having a regular school schedule now, even an online one, will help even things out. Good luck! My guess is it's just a phase and he won't be a layabout forever, even though I understand it's grating on you right now.

This is kind of a cute post.  He's 16, goes to bed late and sleeps late?  Normal.  Sleeps 12 hours? Normal. Lot's of screen time?  Annoying to parents, but normal.  Fighting parents for control of his life?  Normal, normal, normal--he's a teenager.  Here's what I see:  a kid who as far as I can tell--since you didn't mention academics--is doing fine in school, attends volunteer and enrichment programs DURING THE SUMMER because his parents want him to.  Gets regular exercise, maintains hygiene, not involved in dangerous activities, has social life.  It might be online, but that's normal for this generation, and especially during SIP.  To answer your question, such a lethargic way of existing is normal, healthy, allows him to recharge his batteries.  When he is ready to be the Type A overscheduled person you want, he will do it of his own volition, because that's what HE wants.  Just let go, everyone will be happier including you. 

Hello, please be kind to yourself, this is a really hard time for families. And you can start making course corrections now also. I have a 17 year old son who also struggles. His bedtime (has to be in his room without any electronics except for a regular radio) is at 10 pm. The phone gets plugged into the charger in the kitchen at 9 pm.  I have the parental controls on the WiFi allowing him 2 hrs of use between 7:30 am & 7:30 pm.  I can’t make him go to sleep at 10 pm, but he generally does. 

I made two colorful signs that he had to fill in a month ago, once I realized that we were on a slippery slope. The signs are hanging up in the kitchen now. The first is his goals —both short & long-term. And he can always add to it. The second lists Constructive Activities. Again, I had him fill it out and also gave him a few suggestions. He has to do something from the Constructive Activities or something that will make progress on his goals every day. If he wants TV time or some other privilege, he can earn that with a Constructive Activity or an extra chore. And I do take him out once a day so he can walk solo (without me!) in his favorite park, where there are girls he knows who hang out. 

He also has online school from 830 until 315, which takes up a big chunk of his weekdays. 

First, it is NOT intrinsically unhealthy for a teenager to sleep from 2am to noon, or for that matter from 4am to 2pm.  Nor would I be much concerned about a teen sleeping 12 hours a day when on vacation. Given how many teens (and adults, of course) do not get enough sleep, and suffer from that in all sorts of often-subtle ways, I would never do anything to discourage anyone from settling into their personally natural sleep rhythm when there's no specific reason that they have to be awake and alert in the morning!  I'm a night owl, always have been, and when I'm on vacation with schedule flexibility, 2am-noon is my natural sleep period.  Teenagers are even more likely than crones like me to have a night owl rhythm, and I cannot even begin to tell you how irritating it is that so many "morning larks" think that being more energetic and productive at night and slow in the mornings is somehow morally inferior to the reverse.  It is not.

But second, you also have an issue with how he's spending his time when he is awake.  I'm more sympathetic there, because the glued-to-the-screen habits really are unhealthy, and besides, mama needs some chores done!  But I think that this is a problem that will largely solve itself once the school schedule starts up again. A 16-year-old who is not particularly goal-oriented is not doomed to become a lazy and discontented adult. Given the issues with getting a paying job in the pandemic, my expectations for my teens this summer have been low.  Your son is already doing more than what I'd consider the minimum -- some physical activity, dinner, and some enrichment/volunteer activities -- although I'd add some household work.  But I don't require my kids to be awake at any set time, other than they're expected to join (and sometimes, to prepare) the family dinner.  Perhaps your son would be interested in taking on a project that would either relate to some personal goal, or would be helpful to your family/household (or even both), which he could do at whatever times are best for him but the pursuit of which would get him off of his phone for at least a few hours a day and reduce your frustrations about him wasting his time.  Clean out the garage, build a deck, create an app, learn a new language?  Research college choices and likely application requirements in the age of COVID?  I think that if you see him making progress toward a specific goal in that way, you may be less upset by the fact that the progress mostly happens after your own bedtime. :) 

Sounds super familiar. Our 15 yo daughter was doing the same without any volunteering, enrichment or basketball. She didn’t really finish the spring semester so she might be missing credits. Also decided to not take her ADHD meds any more. I just had to love her through it. After saying there was no way she’d be up at 9:15 for class or actually engage on Zoom she asked for a desktop computer because she’d need to get out of bed to use it. I applauded her self awareness and will continue to meet her where she’s at. Being a teenager is crazy enough without a pandemic.

Do you do things together? I suggest you join his world. Play basketball with him. Or video games. Find a way to compliment him. Then ask him to work with him for an hour once a day. Cook a meal together. Or change the oil in the car. Maybe plant some vegetables. Work on the budget. Would money motivate him? Would he like to walk a dog or mow a lawn for money? Does he have any friends? Is there one person you would allow him to see during this pandemic? Do you have an outlet so that you can vent your frustration without involving him? You need to be calm and supportive and loving around him in order to rebuild your relationship. 

I don't have direct experience with this as a parent, but I do as being like the teenager in question (yikes 20 years ago), and our son (turning 7) faced some of this when SIP started.

Your son is depressed. Of course he's depressed. Most everyone is now. Whatever motivation he had for keeping up with the frankly bizarre ritual of early mornings (which study after study shows is against teenage sleep wake cycles), is now gone. Everything is different. Some people have been able to thrive under these incredibly hostile circumstances, but most have not. The choices that we are reckoning with as workers, parents, students, citizens, are both once-in-100-years, and forced upon us by an uncaring, unsupportive government. With the amount of money our country has, literally everyone could take a fully paid vacation to stay at home for two weeks and we could get over this. Will we? No.

I digress.

Your son, despite a pandemic(!!), is still alive. He's not in public without a mask (I assume), he's not stealing anything or hurting anyone (I assume). He, like all of us, is coping the best he can. If all he does, all we as a whole do, is survive and not catch and transmit covid, he should be praised. Anything beyond that is supremely impressive, but shouldn't be expected.

Your expectations here are ... a lot. Even in normal circumstances. But particularly now with everything going on, who cares that he sleeps in and plays on his phone? I'm super impressed he's still practicing self-care and basketball. That's incredible. I bet sleep feels really great. I haven't gotten a good night of sleep in 5 months!!! (Because, well, my God there's a pandemic still happening)

If this is really truly affecting you and your relationship with him and it seems just impossible, I recommend speaking to a therapist. I'm a very happy therapy goer for many years, and I promise they are there to help, and do! (Most people should go, but again I digress) They can at the very least help *you* to relax and get through a very challenging time, and also to help reflect on and repair your relationship--which is so critical during this time.

Please take care of each other!

I totally understand your frustration - I saw a somewhat similar pattern with my 14 y.o. over the summer too.  Here's my take though:  a nocturnal lifestyle may seem terrible to you but maybe it's not so bad for your son at this time in his life.  It sounds like he's meeting his obligations, exercising, maintaining good hygiene and even has somewhat of a daily schedule/routine.  All of this is really positive!  The fact that his activity takes place at odd hours in itself doesn't seem like something to battle over.  I agree with your limits on screen time and fully understand your wish that he were "doing more" with his time.  But it's summer vacation, the world is really weird now, and the fact is that most in-person daytime activities aren't happening anyway.  When I was a young teen, before I could work, I spent most of my summer reading.  My parents left me alone b/c reading was incontrovertibly worthwhile in their eyes but it wasn't exactly productive and definitely not active. I also used to stay up really late reading (still do!)--  and while reading is obviously different than screen time, I do see some parallels. Lastly I've heard that many teens have turned nocturnal during SIP as a way to carve out time/space from parents and siblings while everyone is stuck at home. Maybe he just needs some space!

So if I were in your shoes, I'd ease up on criticizing his night owl ways, stick to your screen-time limits, focus on the positive as much as possible.  Once school starts, he will need to return to more diurnal habits to keep up with online learning etc. And hopefully soon there will be real activities again that actually seem interesting/exciting to him and will help motivate him to keep more typical hours.  Your post is really humorous so just try to hang on to your sense of humor when you're engaging with your son.  I think everything will be ok, eventually!

I know you asked for ways to influence your son's behavior, but I think you might first rethink your reaction to it. Frankly, I don't see his behavior as all that extreme. Consider the following:

-At adolescence, human circadian rhythms shift. Melatonin is released later at night than for adults and children, and teens' daily bio-clocks reset to a much later schedule. Our culture tends to ignore this because this schedule doesn't work with most adult schedules, but we should. School districts that have shifted their start times are finding that adolescent students whose school days start later are more alert, more engaged, and learn better. And even those whose circadian rhythms don't switch back are not condemned to less rich lives. Night owls find one another, find good jobs, find contentment, are productive. A life that plays to one's strengths makes fulfillment more attainable - even if one of those strengths is being at your best at night.

-Most teens need 8-10 hours sleep per night; some more, few less. But society requires they get up earlier, so very few get anywhere near this amount. American teens are perpetually sleep-deprived. When they can sleep later, they do, attempting to 'repay' their sleep deficits. Pre-Covid, this meant weekends, sometimes vacation. Covid-caused schedule changes, allow teens to more closely adhere to what their bodies are telling them to do: stay up later, sleep in. (Even adults are schedule-shifting now that they're working from home, happily trading commute time for sleep.) And even well-rested teens are often lethargic. It passes.

-If we as adults are having trouble with how to maintain social connections in the New Normal, consider how much time teens typically spend with their friends. While they are advantaged by their greater comfort with interaction via screen, we all know it isn't the same as hanging out together. Humans are social animals. And if everyone is hanging out on-line until 2am, that is where your son wants to be - and, for his socio-mental development, rightfully so. 

-Like many adults, teens are wrestling with Covid-related anxiety and depression. Your son may be experiencing this. (If so, the answer most likely isn't getting up earlier and being "productive.") Mental health problems have spiked since March - none of us have a playbook for this. Teens have less idea of their futures than ever. Those who assumed they were going to college are wondering if there will be any actual going to college, or will the rest of their education be remote? Will they have a H.S. graduation? A prom? How do you find a sweetie when you can't interact with anyone up close? Figuring out who one is going to be as an adult has never been easy, but now???

-I was especially struck by your statement that he is "doing all the things he should be doing during the day" at night. Why is it important that he shower, or exercise, or anything else at the times that feel right to you? This isn't harming you. You wouldn't choose it, but so what if he does? Does the water not get him as clean at midnight? Why are you risking your relationship with your son over the small stuff? He feels judged, you're exhausted. Listen to him. He isn't wasting his youth, nor is he destroying his future. Relax.

Hi there.  My 16 year old son is very similar - especially the sleep/awake schedule.  He is also very strong-willed and we can't enforce much on him.  After school re-started, he has to get up earlier; but twice he missed class because he couldn't get up on time. He might be a bit more careful in the future about that.  But it seems manby of his freinds are also awake until late at night. ON top of that he is very exercise-averse - so his exercise habits are irregular and sparse. I feel like he (my son) has issues controlling emotions and organizing (executive skills) - and I am considering getting a coach - but I need to find a good coach first!!  I sometimes feel we could ahve perhaps disciplined him differently?? - but again, these are very different times, and I am bit clueless and giving up, and hoping for the best.  We both are wokring full time form home and remain very busy - we need to pick our battles.