Help!! Lazy 13 Yr Old Couch Potato (Boy) Getting Fat and Out of Shape

Updated on September 28, 2010
C.S. asks from Pikesville, MD
15 answers

My son (almost 14) has a serious problem that is getting worse. He is very tall for his age, out of shape, and about 20 pounds overweight and gaining more. He doesn't play any sports (he broke his arm twice at age 5 and 8, both times at a playground, so we didn't encourage sports when he was young). He has no interest in learning a sport now, partly because he's not good at anything and feels embarrassed at being a total beginner when kids his age are more experienced. Being so tall makes it hard to blend in and every wrong move he makes gets laughed at. Exercising alone doesn't interest him either because he is very lazy and unmotivated, despite all he knows about why exercise is essential. Getting started is hard and even when he starts, he doesn't stick with it. During the school year, I make him walk 2 miles round trip to school and back, which has helped a bit. But over the summer, he's doing next to nothing physical. We have a pool membership, but he won't go. He has friends who play sports, but he can't join in. He has a skateboard, but rarely practices. He refuses to go to a gym, and he says it's too hot to ride his bike, which most of the time it is. nstead, he's on the computer, xBox, TV and cell phone every minute he can be. I've put time limits on all these and when the time is up, he has nothing to do, expect go to the movies or mall and hang out and do very little.

He has always been very lazy, not the kind of kid who builds a tree house or mows lawns for money. His interests are all passive -- computer, mostly. He loves animals, cares about other people, and is a very kind person, just not motivated to do much. I've tried to find volunteer opportunities, but so far no one will take a 13 year old (have to be 18).

Foodwise, we are super health oriented, eat mostly organic food at home, and watch what we eat away from home. My son loves fruit and bread but is not big on protein or vegetables, which is a problem. We sometimes have ice cream at home for a treat, and he eats it until it's gone unless I hide it. When he's not at home (and not with me) he makes very bad food choices. Making matters worse, he also has a very strong tendency toward addictions (foods, games, candy, computer) and unless I am around to stop him, he can really overdo it, with little self-control.

I am really worried. So far, he's not involved with drugs but he looks like a sitting duck for that down the road. Right now, he needs exercise, better food choices, motivation to do something besides electonics, and a lot more self-control. I don't know how to help me with any of these. His biological father and his step father are both at a loss about what to do, and they both seem to have given up on him. As a mom, giving up is not an option! I don't like being the bad guy at home but I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help him -- I just don't know what that is!

Any ideas would be most welcome. Thank you.

3 moms found this helpful

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So What Happened?

I can't tell you how much I appreciate all the wise and helpful suggestions for activating my 13 yr old couch slouch. I've made a list of them all and am meeting with my husband tonight to start implementing some right away. Hopefully, we can salvage what's left of the summer to get him on the right track before school starts.

Thank you! Moms are the smartest, kindest people on earth. Yeah moms!!

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answers from New York on

Hi, After reading all of the other suggestions, here are a few that worked for my brothers children that are around the same age. THis one has a space constraint. How about getting a trampoline? They are great fun and really get you moving. If you have one it is also a reason for him to invite over friends, etc and then you can witness who he is hanging out with and attempt to steer him away from anyone you would see as a bad influence. The other is since he like electronics and television, how about the new interactive games, like Guitar Hero or the interactive Tennis game. See the attachment. It lists one that has several games. Then he can play inside, by himself or with other people as well.

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answers from Washington DC on

C., your son has all the symptoms of being a 13 year old boy. He has the same interests as 95% of all the other 13 year olds out there. But he does need other interests, and to exercise more.

Maybe it's too hot to ride his bicycle during the heat of the day, but how about in the evenings? And how about you or your husband riding as well? Patapsco Valley State Park has some mountain bike trails, maybe that is a recreation that the family can do together. There are bicycling trails in many parks, find one that is in the woods. Cycling around reservoirs in the evenings could be a fun family hobby. If you have a family dog, then dog walking in the areas of the park that allow dogs is good too. Or just walking the dog every day. Or you as a family could just take hikes on the trails in the park, or even around the neighborhood.

Walking is a great exercise. Maryland has some excellent historical parks/battlefields nearby, visit one a weekend and walk the trails there. You all will learn something and get exercise at the same time. Exercise can be combined with fun, and that's the way to get your son started.

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answers from Washington DC on

I am going to respond to this from my own experience, not that of a parent, as my daughter is still 11 years away from being a teenager. First of all, I like the suggestions you have gotten so far; martial arts might prove particularly interesting for your son since it ties in well to plenty of video games. I must also suggest cross country. When I was growing up, I was not overweight, but I was also not in great shape. When I was in eighth grade, we had to do a timed mile in gym class, and I had to walk most of it. That was the turning point for me, as I saw most of my friends finish by running, as they were involved in soccer, basketball, or field hockey. Those sports had been forbidden by my mom because they seemed too dangerous. (I was an only child, and slight of build.) Oh, and I was also not particularly coordinated.

Anyway, soon after that timed mile, I heard about cross country, which was only offered at the high school level. With my dad's support, I began running that summer and joined the team in the fall. What I found with cross country was that there was usually a place on the team for just about anyone who wanted to run. It is generally a very accepting sport. Sure, the faster runners are the ones who score, but there was always plenty of support for those who crossed the line last, too. And no one was really a loser because no matter what, each person finished the 3.1 miles of each race. How many other kids in the school could claim that accomplishment 2-3 times a week, plus extra miles or conditioning on non-race days? My first two seasons were rather unremarkable, as I struggled through the discovery of some knee problems and exercise-induced asthma. However, I LOVED my team, and we always practiced and traveled with the boys' team, which was an awesome bonus. :) I ended up running all four years, picking up track for three years too, and running for my college cross country and track teams. Was I a star? No. Did I accomplish more than I ever felt possible? Yes. Am I still running 16 years after that first summer? Yes.

There were more than a few boys/men on my teams over the years that were doing the XC thing for fitness and fun, not necessarily to score or win at races. I just cannot say enough good things about the sport and the type of people who generally participate in it.

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answers from Washington DC on

Hi C.! Have you thought about something like swimming? You say he doesnt know how to play any sports- you could enroll him in private swim lessons (that way it's just him) and swimming is typically a skill that anyone can pick up regardless of age or size. if he's tall, it might be something he could be good at, and it's kind of a solitary sport but allows for lots of social interaction when at the pool, etc. I agree with you that he is a time bomb waiting to explode so to speak in regards to drungs or any other addiction. maybe have a chat with his pediatrician? the doctor might have some ideas, as i'm sure they see this a lot.
Finally, 13 is a very difficult age to begin with, and i know for myself that if my parents didn't force me to do some things, i probably would have stopped doing them just because i was 13, shy, clumsy, awkward and incredibly unsure of myself. my mom pretty much MADE me do things that i would never have done (sleep away camp, joined a gymnastics team, drove me to swim practice) and i truly thank her for it.

what if you just flat out took away the elctronics, or put provisions on them- ie, instead of time limits, "go walk the dog for an hour then you can have an hour of xbox?" maybe he could get a part time "job" at an animal shelter. sounds like he needs to find a passion outside of electronics and food. good luck!!

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answers from Washington DC on

When I was that age, I was out of shape and awkward and lacked self confidence. My parents enrolled me in a karate class. Karate classes are usually a mix of ages, from very young to very old. I got some physical activity and some self confidence out of it. Many gyms now a days offer classes for teens, so you may want to check into your local Y or health club. I would also refuse to try something unless I was forced to. 13 is a very hard age. I am not technologically there, but doesn't nintendo wii have some physical games?

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answers from Washington DC on

maybe you should select a sport you both can do together, then it's not just him doing it, and you can encourage each other to stay on track.

or, he does a sport his friends are doing, or the one none of his friends are doing so he's unique - golf, fencing, yoga, an obscure martial art.

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answers from Washington DC on

My suggestion is only helpful for the summer and it might even be too late for this summer, but it might be helpful for the future. YMCA sleep away camp might be a way to get him moving for at least a week in the summer. They often have teen camps that would involve a week of swimming, canoeing, hiking, and challenge ropes courses. In addition, he might gain some self-confidence from tackling some of the challenges involved and some independence that might help him become a little more self-motivating. It would also give him some time away from the electronics that might show him he can have fun without them. Finally, camp is a great place for kids to come out of their shell and be a little more social because you're living with the other campers for a week. You're sort of forced to open up more. And if he enjoys it, some camps have summer long programs and in a few years he could be a counselor-in-training. Also, the YMCA is a great place to find volunteer opportunities. You could try giving them a call or stopping by.

Anyway, I know this is a little off from what you were looking for, but I thought it might be a good place to get him out of the house and moving, which is a start.

Good luck!

p.s. I think you will have to really push him to do something. There are things I wish my parents had pushed me more with (playing the violin and studying.) But I think there is a fine line between gentle pushing for his own good and making him do something, which he might just rebel against. Maybe you need to make some kind of a deal with him that he tries something new, but he has to keep at it for a predetermined amount of time, and then he can earn something. Hopefully, by the time he's earned his reward he'll be hooked on whatever it is he tried.

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answers from Naples on

A few ideas:

If you're having a hard time getting him out of the house, try the Wii Fit. You can exercise in the privacy of your own home and geek out while doing it :)

Since you say he is kind and caring and not into competitive sports, he might really enjoy yoga. You really have to focus on your breathing, and feeling comfortable in your own body.

A really fun idea, if you are willing to get him a portable GPS, is geotrekking. (Or "geocaching". See to get the basic idea.) There are elements of treasure hunting, technology, and community with like-minded people. That could be really interesting to him. And the fitness aspect (the hiking) is really just a means to the end, not "working out" for the sake of working out.

Best of luck to you and your son!

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answers from Los Angeles on

Hi C.,

You got great suggestions so far. I'll offer one more. I think individual sports to get him going will help greatly. The one I think helps kids get better at just about everything else is gymnastics. If you have a gymnastics facility near you, sign him up for classes. So what if he is tall? Also tennis, things he can take through local clubs, or recreational programs.

I agree with the other Mom. You will have to take control of the electronics and make some rules about when he can have them. Do this while you still can. Get him out there being active, doing something... track, whatever... once he learns to enjoy that, and he eventually will... it might keep him away from drugs later. Also, consider even hiring a local guy college student who is sports orientated to be his "trainer"... get him out running, and throwing a basketball. Find one who is majoring in kinesiology, PT, or physical fitness. Tell him he NEEDS it, and the girls will like him better. Often the camraderie of an older boy will inspire him to try harder. Of course you need to hire, and screen the college kids, but good ones are out there. The biggest thing is he just needs to keep going. You have to make that a rule. Later he will like it. And the karate thing was a great idea too.

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answers from Tulsa on

You've had a lot of responses with great suggestions. The martial arts idea is one of the best. You go to practice with many other new practitioners, no matter what age you start, it's just that kind of sport. You're in a group setting but everyone is so focused on the sensei they are not paying attention to the one guy who can't kick high. Individual teachers will notice if he's having trouble and will help him for a minute, without calling attention to him. I've practiced several kinds and they're all like that. He can practice moves at home in front of a mirror in between classes. Besides the physical aspect, martial arts is all about self-esteem, confidence building, poise, and respect for self and others. Any decent sensei will create a studio where no one would dare make fun of someone else or make someone feel self-conscious.

Second, you mention that he loves animals. If you got him a big dog with lots of energy you could make it his responsibility to walk the dog (unless you live in a dangerous neighborhood, which it doesn't sound like) twice a day. A big dog - especially a puppy or certain breeds - will need to walk far and fast. Kids often don't notice they're exercising because that kind of dog can be fun (obviously as long as he's controllable!).

Third, tennis is another great individual sport, as someone else mentioned. He can start in a beginner class, which often have all ages. Or pony up for some individual classes for a few months until he gets the hang of things. Tennis can be practiced for free against the side of garage or the odd public park, even in fall/spring depending on where Pikesville is? Plus, presently many great tennis players are quite tall - especially Federer. It gives them many advantages; might make your son take interest. Many schools also have tennis teams that you can practice with even if you're not good enough to "make the team."

Fourth, volleyball is a great team sport that does give you lots of exercise but to me (and I have played all these sports), initially requires less coordination and effort than basketball. You also have great advantages if you're tall. Your son might excel at, say, blocking the net, without having to be the best on the court. And FOR SURE, there are no expert 14yo volleyball players - most middle schools are just introducing this sport to kids. Since players rotate around he wouldn't be in the limelight much either.

Fifth, the swimming idea is great. You definitely don't have to be really coordinated, you can start at any level (check your local Y), and it's great all-around exercise. Again with the benefits for tall people, hello Michael Phelps. Again with the situation where no one is looking to see if you're any good - everyone has his face in the water! If you had your own pool or a local membership, it's a fun place to play in the summer - water polo is great for all ages and activity levels.

I agree with other posters about tv. If you assigned him physical chores - especially lawn work, emptying trash cans, and sweeping (that make you walk around the most) - to earn tv watching time, then that might help too.

While I've never heard of these juice pills, which sound good, there are lots of other varieties at Whole Foods or a local health-food store. Plus, if you made a small investment in a juicer you could make your own a lot cheaper. There are recipes online that combine fruits and veggies in a tasty way to maximize nutrition (think Odwalla or Naked beverages).

Last, read these now, then read them again in a few months and they might spark new ideas! Good luck!

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answers from Wichita on

Hi there! My kids turned into couch potatoes, too, when they were about that age, but fortunately, they loved going to the pool and playing in sports. The dog idea sounds great to me, as does the martial arts, and both of these are things he can do with friends or by himself for the rest of his life. No one mentioned golf, if his dad is into golf, and if anyone mentioned the video game Wii, I missed that, but I've heard that some games provide quite a bit of exercise.

PS Mom of two, gramma of two, also a writer.

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answers from Washington DC on

How about something in the martial arts arena? It is an individual activity that puts emphasis on your own achievements as opposed to winning or losing the game. Sometimes a little success breeds more success. A program my daughter was involved with encourage academics as well as doing well in the sport. You move at your own pace and it does wonders for self esteem issues. We can yell and scream all we want as parents but the motivation has to come from with in and breaking a board made my child(only 8 at the time) fly with self confidence and I saw her want to go for more. Good luck.

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answers from Rochester on

I was just like your son as his age, and as I got older, I still don't exercise like I should (truthfully, at all, right now). I was also interested in computers and games when I was younger, and I excelled at them, and got a great job in the computer field as an adult (so there is a light at the end of the tunnel!).

I think the hardest thing is motivation (ie "Why should I go and exercise? What's in it for me?") especially if there are people around him that aren't being the role model that is needed. I'm not sure if this is the case, but I tend to think that families that do active things together that all family members enjoy, will have the best results. Calling him fat, lazy and unmotivated is probably going to make him hate it even more (again, I am not assuming you are saying this to him, but you did use these words in your post).

Positive reinforcement, positive role models I think may be the way to go with him. Play active games with him, go cross country skiing or downhill skiing, and just stay by his side with getting active. If he likes martial arts, that would be great too. And I definitely agree with the others that said to use video games/tv/etc as a reward for doing something active, but don't take them away completely, because I believe this is the time in life where resentment starts, and I was not always a good teenager (I was rotten). When I was told no, I went and found worse things to do.

Good luck. I don't look forward to this timeframe with my daughter (luckily I have 13 1/2 more years to go).

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answers from Phoenix on

I know this is a late response but. there is a new sport out there that is very enjoyable and because it is new to the west all kids are new to it. Lacrosse. it may not be in your area but there are camps and clinics that he can attend. with his size and height he may be a great goalie! the beauty of the sport is that boys try it once and usually get adictted to it. the best practice for it is standing there hitting a ball to a wall.



answers from Visalia on

Oh my god! It sounds like you are describing my now19. I'm sorry that I can't offer a place we can take our sons and like your son he has a step dad. He's given up and wants him to leave since he's costing us so much He lost his father 2years ago so I really didn't want to push him to look for a job. Like your son he is a good boy just a lazy one. His life consist of staying up late playing xbox, watching TV, hang in out with his girlfriend, driving around in his car which I give him gas money for his car, I pay for his car to get serviced, I had to bribe him to go to college with an IPad, went with him to register since he didn't know how and didn't have money to pay so I paid. He's gotten parking tickets even after vie told to please be aware and he argued that the officer made a mistake, I pay for the insurance for his car. Now he wanted a new phone cuz his Lagged or at least that's what he told me and it had to be an iPhone. I'm tired. I work all week even weekends. I'm at my wits end. I am giving up on him cuz he won't take just any job so he's unemployed at this time. I feel that he doesn't worry or tries to get a job. He expects the employment agency to get him the jobs. If you have found any help. Please email me - [email protected]

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