As you pry son from couch, give him some say in what he does
Q: I am making my 12-year-old son run cross country this year. This after he tried football, baseball, soccer, etc., and did not finish the season. He is bright and does well in school, but if I didn't make him participate in sports, he probably wouldn't. He isn't very motivated for outside activity when he is at home. I am worried he will sit and watch TV and play video games if I don't intercede. My husband would love it if he took part in sports, but he won't force him to. Do I need to let it go?
A: Let what go — cross country? Or your visions of your son as an athlete? Or the whole idea of asking more of your son?
As a parent, you have the authority and, I could argue, obligation to order your son off the couch. But what you steer him into needs to be mostly his idea and mostly his choice.
So please dispense immediately with your rigid adherence to sports — especially your binary thinking that TV sits alone in the "bad" zone, and that sports are nothing but good. That string of abandoned athletic seasons has its own bad effect on your son: It sets a precedent of quitting, of dealing with obstacles by giving up and hitting the couch. And it sends him a message that you value athletes, leaving him to connect some ego-bruising dots: If he's not an athlete, then you don't value him.
I realize sports are the most readily available after-school option. But if you want your kid to learn to be productive in his free time, without a coach or parent ordering him around, then he's the one who needs to be invested in what he's doing, not you.
Tell him TV and video games aren't on the menu — but that cross country isn't the lone choice. As such, he can consider this season a place-holder for a pursuit of his choosing: music, art, dance, theater, electronics, video, cooking, chess, martial arts, social outreach — surely there's something out there to inspire him.
You'll need to spend time researching various options, hunting down programs for kids his age (they're out there, if not in abundance), and maybe scraping up money you didn't budget.
But since that's exactly the kind of initiative you're hoping to foster in him, you can include him in the process. He can help you research and propose alternative after-school programs — even if it's just to read brochures you find on the Web.
If he likes cross country, then he can stick with it, of course. But if he doesn't, he can bail — as long as he replaces it with something else.
Even if presenting him with this choice changes nothing about the way he spends his afternoons, it will have changed everything. That's because a decision not to find something else means he's effectively choosing cross country. That means he's in control of his after-school fate. That, in turn, is often the difference between building confidence and just caving in to Mom.