The days roll alone, one the same as the next...
November 8, 2018 9:41 AM   Subscribe

You have a 12 year old boy who is in public school and doesn't do sports. Can you tell me what his day looks like from the time school lets out until bedtime?

I also have a 12 year old in public middle school. We are struggling as parents to find ways for him to fill his evenings. His basic default is "I'm going to watch YouTube." I'm sort of looking for ideas, but I'm also sort of just trying to get a window on what after-school looks like in other families, because we don't really have a good frame of reference for that.

Additional info about us: kiddo is non-neurotypical and I am sympathetic to him needing some downtime in the afternoons to just control his input. He's an only child. We are a two parent family and both parents work. He has no local school friends, but a small-but-solid group of same-age friends that live in various locations around the country that he connects with via the web.
posted by anastasiav to Human Relations (35 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
In middle school I was a bookish (if outgoing) kid and basically came home from school and watched TV or read books, unless I went over to a friend's house. That was the case until high school. I am now a functioning adult who has a full life of exercise, work, parenting, and my own activities. In high school I had AP classes with nontrivial homework, and I involved in theater. Anyone can help out building sets, painting, cleaning, not just the type of people who are thought of as artsy and creative. Plus you spend a lot of hours with people and it is fertile ground for friendships to develop. But that was just what happened to interest me. Pretty much any activity, such as a scout troop, is a good one for finding a place to be welcome. The hardest part, honestly, is walking in the door the first time. It's very intimidating to be unknown to a new group, but most groups worth being a part of are very welcoming to newcomer. Your child may need some nudging to try out various activities and groups, engage neighbor kids, etc.
posted by wnissen at 9:53 AM on November 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

My 13 year old hangs out with friends a bit at school, walks home, does his chore, eats something, and then watches YouTube or plays XBox, which is also social for him because he talks to his friends via headset while they play. Sometimes a friend or two joins him after school. If one of them has money they might go buy some junk food at a convenience store. When he gets board he rummages through the basement to see what interesting things he can find (Mom's childhood doll! Halloween costumes from five years ago! Ski goggles!).

So, a few ideas: does he have chores already? He could have daily tasks (making his bed, wiping the counters, emptying the dishwasher when full, etc) as well as assigned weekly responsibilities (cleaning the bathroom, folding laundry, vacuuming). I aspire to have my kids start helping with dinner prep, but it hasn't happened yet. Actually, I aspire to have my kids responsible for one dinner a week. Doesn't that sound great?

You could also ask/require him to read. This is an uphill battle with my kids at times, but I also find that leaving the right graphic novels around the house will get them reading, sometimes.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:56 AM on November 8, 2018 [6 favorites]

When I did: homework, reading, sorting Magic cards, riding his bike around the neighborhood, occasionally going to his one friend's house, light chores. School clubs after school. No screen time until after dinner.

This was a few years ago and today things are different -- I would say better, but he was content then and is content now.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:08 AM on November 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

What my 11-year-old does:
Come home. Snack. Read or play on ipad for 20-30 minutes if the weather's bad or play outside if it's nice. Chores (feed the goats & chickens, load dishwasher, take laundry to basement, etc.). Homework. Practice clarinet. Help make dinner. Read or draw or program in Scratch or play a game or watch an episode of something with the rest of the family. Bed.

Once or twice a month a friend will come home with her after school to play for a few hours. Twice a month we have 4-H in the evening.
posted by belladonna at 10:16 AM on November 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

My son did a lot of gaming; mostly online but also Magic: The Gathering (hours researching cards and putting together decks; playing maybe once every three weeks).

My daughter (now 14) spends a lot of time outside riding around in circles on her scooter or climbing trees. She used to do a lot of crafts but that's mostly filtered into building with Legos. In the past year she's started spending more time on her tablet, watching YouTube and playing games. She LOVES going to the climbing gym but it's hard to make that happen.

It can feel weird after so many years of kids needing constant entertainment to let them just be unconstructive for a lot of time, and some folks prevent it by scheduling them for lots of activities, but I prefer giving them downtime.
posted by metasarah at 10:19 AM on November 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

My kids get home from school around 315 and have "no screen" time until 5pm. Homework, reading, chores, games, outside playing. They can go to a friend's house if they like. At 5pm, they can have their devices/tv etc. Both of them have Scouts, one has guitar lessons, and the other plays water polo so that takes some of the evenings. I try to limit device time to about 730 so that they have an hour before bed to fill time.

One is 13 the other is 11.
posted by Ftsqg at 10:47 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was basically this kid 15 years ago (not specifically diagnosed as non-neurotypical, but...yeah), and after school I would do my homework, then go online and browse message boards and fansites until I had to go to bed or someone kicked me off the computer. I also started making online friends around age 12. But I was still pretty deprived of social interaction with kids my age and in retrospect I wish I'd had some non-school outlets. This feels like something to involve kid's entire care team in. Is there something like theater or an art class or a robotics club that would let him make friends with local kids who aren't at his school? I'm also not sure if your family belongs to a church or cultural organization, but this often seemed to fill the void for a lot of friends of mine.
posted by capricorn at 10:52 AM on November 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

This was me, 20 years ago.

Some computer time - mostly between the time I got home from school and when my parents got home between 5 and 6 - homework after dinner. I was a voracious reader as a kid. Probably some TV, but not that much (we didn't get cable until I was in high school, so TV was PBS or nothing). By age 12, I'd given up trying to play the clarinet, but was starting to get more into computers and technology.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 10:52 AM on November 8, 2018

Reading, video games, running around the house with sibling, very occasionally practicing sax or doing homework, Lego, and occasionally crafts with crafty sibling are ways my 12 year old spends school evenings. She used to be big into writing stories on her laptop but hasn't been doing that lately.
She is also in basketball 1-2 evenings a week though, and curling 1 time a week, for part of the winter. When the weather is nice she likes to bike/go to the park. For us, friend stuff is usually a weekend thing.

Getting involved in something is nice for them, doesn't have to be sporty. We try to do a family games night (board or card games) once a week, so that might be something you could try? Or a weekly family movie night? Or a weekly swim/some active thing that he enjoys? Something fun together that also provides a bit of structure can be nice.
posted by DTMFA at 10:53 AM on November 8, 2018

Come home, watch an episode of Simpsons while snacking on cereal, then go to my room and play computer games or do homework in some order (possibly interleaved) until dinner time. Same thing after dinner. Instead of games it could also be general internet browsing or shitposting on niche community forums or reading dead tree books. That would be a typical day.

Sometimes I would go play console games at a friend's house instead or we'd play basketball outside.

(I haven't been 12 in a while.)
posted by The arrows are too fast at 10:56 AM on November 8, 2018

My kids weren't sporty, either, but the rule for our family was you had to do SOMETHING extra, not just school and unstructured free time. My kids both chose music in some form or another, and my daughter also chose theatre at that age.

So after school would be: a little downtime to decompress from the day, homework, dinner, some chores, practice of some sort (string bass or viola or voice), and then unstructured time til bed. The unstructured time varied with the amount of homework they'd have, but they almost always got at least 45 minutes to an hour.

When my daughter was 12, she was also doing theatre, so depending on where they were in the production, she'd have anywhere from 2 to 5 nights of rehearsal. My son got into theatre tech in high school, so his schedule would reflect that. In addition, my son is non neuro-typical and had some trouble adjusting to being more social than he would have naturally been, but he really liked doing music and theatre tech so we let him have his weekends as unscheduled as possible.

They both still do their extra curricular stuff, in college. Daughter is a theatre minor and son is a music minor.
posted by cooker girl at 11:00 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

While I really appreciate the answers from folks who are not parents sharing their tween afterschool schedules, the world is really different now, largely due to the internet. The most useful answers will be from folks who are parenting kids today. Thanks!
posted by anastasiav at 11:08 AM on November 8, 2018 [14 favorites]

First, homework. Do one assignment as soon as you walk in the door. He gets to choose which assignment. He gets a snack while he does homework. This is "all of one assignment that's due tomorrow" or "hour of long-term project that is not due tomorrow".

After finishing that assignment (or hour), he gets one hour of screen time.

Then a chore (dishes, laundry, raking leaves, whatever is seasonally appropriate). This is not timed; chores are specifically assigned so it's 30-60 minutes. If he does it fast, more power to him, as long as he does it right.

Then another hour of non-screen free time.

Then homework.

Repeat cycle (homework > screen > chore > non-screen) until dinner.

After dinner, parent checks whether the chores were done correctly. If not, redo them. Once they're done right, finish all remaining homework (breaks on a case-by-case basis).

Then switch off, hour of screen time, hour of non-screen time. Screens off 30 minutes before bedtime.
posted by Etrigan at 11:12 AM on November 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

> My kids weren't sporty, either, but the rule for our family was you had to do SOMETHING extra, not just school and unstructured free time

Same here. At that age my son was still doing PT/OT (he's also not NT) but had outgrown it, so I found a sport he was willing to do once a week and that was happy to have him. He was allowed to quit PT on the condition that he do the other thing. I think it's a reasonable demand.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:24 AM on November 8, 2018

Oh, I guess I should have added that the unstructured time my kids got was spent however they wanted to spend it. Son mostly played video games or did computer stuff, daughter mostly read or watched YouTube videos or did social media on her phone. And screens got turned off a half hour before bed. They both read books (not on devices) during that time.
posted by cooker girl at 11:26 AM on November 8, 2018

My son is 13. Not especially sporty, but plays lacrosse and basketball. He also goes to Boy Scouts some. My wife and I both work, but, I switched up my schedule so I can get off at 3 and pick him and his sister up from school. On a typical day when he doesn't have practice or something else going on, we'll get home, he can spend a half hour on the computer or watching TV. Then he cleans the kitchen, sort of. Then he usually plays in his room, plays with the dog, or ride his skateboard or his bike. Then dinner, then homework, then maybe we'll watch something as a family on TV or read.
posted by trbrts at 11:31 AM on November 8, 2018

I have a 10yo non-neurotypical and a 13yo neurotypical. They both have similar afterschool routines.

3-5pm : get home from school and homework right away. Also afterschool snack (or what we call "first dinner" usually just the kids and me), and if there is no homework, finishing chores or music/sport practice.
5-8pm: afterschool sport practice window (includes travel time). My 10yo has a sensory disorder, and we found that structured sports and music lessons have really helped him with his focus issues in school and his need for sensory input. We also usually have "second dinner" during this time with the whole family.
8-9pm: downtime, usually includes reading or finishing up homework.

My kids have very little screen time during the week after school, because they have sports and music. I also found that screens before bedtime *really* disrupted their sleep cycle, and we have enough issues with sleep! During the weekend, we have screen time, and they also get screen time in the morning before school as well.
posted by alathia at 11:32 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

At the very least, screen time has to be limited. After homework, he gets X hours of internet/tv/video games and then it's up to him to find ways to entertain himself.

As others have mentioned, screens are very emotionally disruptive to my kid. She is much more stable when she has less screen time.
posted by gnutron at 11:39 AM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Our situation is a bit different from some because my husband's work schedule is roughly 7am-3pm, so on days when we have the kids (as opposed to their being at their mom's house), he is able to pick up 11yo kid up from school and spend quality time together in the afternoon--when the weather is nice, they'll usually go for a short hike. Other things they like to do together include getting a treat at an outdoor cafe so kid can do homework/reading and my husband can read. Or just coming home and vegging out/doing homework/playing with the dogs in the yard/eating, depending on the day. After dinner, he usually retreats to his room for some time. When in his room, he's making art (or destroying art supplies, which is valuable in its own right and produces some interesting results), playing guitar, or hanging out on his iPad.

The kid does have extracurricular activities here and there--a school play sometimes, and an outdoor adventure group, and guitar lessons--and 2 older sisters who have their own activities, so there's also a lot of time spent at activities or waiting around. I consider the guitar lessons, and subsequent practice time, a HUGE WIN in terms of trying to limit his YouTube/screen time. The screen time thing is a real uphill battle. And as a stepparent, I don't have much authority here. So my best strategy is to encourage other hobbies, then try not to be judgmental and keep the lines of communication open so that he keeps telling me about his life, both onscreen and off.
posted by witchen at 12:14 PM on November 8, 2018

Not a parent but I AM a pediatrician type MD :)
Please get him involved in some sort of organized physical activity. If people don’t get active in their teens we know they’re likely to be sedentary as adults. I suggest martial arts for a lot of non sports kids, but even doing workouts on YouTube is something.
posted by genmonster at 12:26 PM on November 8, 2018 [7 favorites]

Our local library is very close to the schools and it is FULL of kids hanging out, doing homework, playing games on the library computers, reading books, etc. It is *semi* supervised by librarians.
While YMMV, I envision this as a good social alternative to sitting around at home for my 10-year-old.
posted by k8t at 12:48 PM on November 8, 2018

@genmonster, he's on swim team, but that won't start until January. Currently he swims once a week.
posted by anastasiav at 12:49 PM on November 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

He's a good age to start some diner prep when he gets home. Make a salad, put rice on to cook, starting with easy stuff and leading to actual cooking.

Screen time with friends, like Mefi, isn't the same as mindlessly watching youtube clips of dumb pranks, or gaming, but lots of screen time = lots of chair time = lack of health. Can he get in a bike ride, walk home from school, or other activity?
posted by theora55 at 1:09 PM on November 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

also, can he take the bus to a library one day a week?
posted by theora55 at 1:09 PM on November 8, 2018

My 12 year old has this routine:

Come home from school and have some downtime (maybe 30 minutes - usually reading or playing LEGO).
Finish homework
Video game time (30 minutes)
Watch an episode or two of a TV show together
Pack school bag for next day, double check homework
Get ready for bed (pjs, brush teeth)
Read (either together - something by Terry Pratchett or John Schwartzwelder usually or he'll read by himself.
Lights out

He plays violin (lessons once per week) and does karate (not through school, up to three times per week) so routine does vary based on the day. There might be some room cleaning or light chores thrown in too, depending on the week. He gets an allowance so I try to make sure he's doing something to earn it each week.
posted by Twicketface at 1:31 PM on November 8, 2018

I feel you. My almost-12 year old would be on his devices all day, every day if we let him - there's no voluntary "I think I'll draw instead of watch YouTube." We struggle with this, and always have. We got a Disney Circle to curtail his online time, and that helps but doesn't solve everything of course.

Mon & Wed - no after-school activities scheduled
Tues - School of Rock from 5:00 - 7:30
Thur & Fri - taekwondo from 6:00 - 7:00ish. Although he is not into sports, he does like this - he doesn't do the sparring, just the forms
Saturday he curls from 1:00 - 4:00
Sunday he does the laundry, because this is how he gets his allowance, which is how he gets his Forenite skins

Obviously Monday and Wednesdays are the obvious challenges because left to entertain himself, he would pick up a device every time, for hours. My husband works from home but can't be monitoring his activities. He does love Legos and Nerf, and once we get him off the screens he'll run around the living room having imaginary battles.

Feel free to MeMail me - from reading your old posts, our kids sound a lot alike. No diagnosis here but he was in therapy for a while.
posted by lyssabee at 1:58 PM on November 8, 2018

I second the idea that some kind of physical activity is beneficial. I have a 10yo non-neurotypical son and we settled on gymnastics. We tried martial arts but he really hated sparring. It helps break up the week, provides good physical conditioning in a fun environment. Other ideas - running with the family, rock climbing, skateboarding. That and music (piano) are the structure to our son’s week.
posted by q*ben at 2:17 PM on November 8, 2018

All my friends at that age were boys and I know from experience that they spent a lot of time playing video games while on the phone with me. Those were olden times. Now I would expect video games, hanging out at a friend’s house (this “no hanging out with friends on weeknights” thing these days is so weird to me!), reading, playing or building things outside, watching TV and doing various computer things such as learning to program or creating videos, etc. I’m glad I’m not raising kids these days because it just so happens most of the productive online hobbies I had as a tween are now encrusted in layers of toxic online discourse.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:22 PM on November 8, 2018

I’m basing my “nowadays” answer on my nieces and nephews who do that type of stuff.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:25 PM on November 8, 2018

I have a 12 year old boy in public school. He does play one sport but we are in the off season now. Just keeping it real, he spends a LOT of time watching TV, youtube, playing video games, etc. I would be more concerned, but he does well in school and is well behaved, so . . . eh.

When there's more daylight (not now), he walks or rides his bike to a couple of different parks and schools in the area several times a week. It gets dark at 5 now, so he has shocked me by starting couch to 5K using our crappy ancient treadmill. He does a lot of the other stuff mentioned already: snacks, homework, helping with dinner, tidying etc.

If he didn't play his one sport, I would have to get him into some other regular activity, like a musical instrument or something. There would just be too much time spent doing nothing. This is more about him driving me crazy than anything else.
posted by peep at 3:55 PM on November 8, 2018

"kiddo is non-neurotypical"

I don't know if you're receiving services, but my non-neurotypical fifth-grader goes to a what's technically a "social group" once a week after school, but they play sports. With trained facilitators who can help the kids when they struggle with social interactions. He ADORES this because he gets to play sports and goof around with peers, but in a really safe environment where there isn't going to be any bullying and he won't be called weird and he can retreat when overwhelmed.

Another day he goes to a sort-of American Ninja Warrior-type program, for both fitness and for the social aspects. This is with typical peers, but it's a really healthy and inclusive environment and the coaches are great. (This is the most comfortably social he is with typical peers.)

We tend to allow the screen time and "free kid play" (sometimes it's a lego day or whatever, or just chasing his brother around the yard, or reading on the floor. When the weather is good and the sun is up, he's allowed to ride his bike around the block; getting dark too early now for him to do that, though.) between after school and about 6 p.m., and have family time after that when dad is home from work. We'll have dinner, maybe do chores together (they help me sort all the laundry so I can fold it while watching TV after they go to bed, or they help clean the kitchen or sometimes cook), maybe play a boardgame or a cardgame, maybe watch something on TV together (tonight: The Good Place). Then reading time -- dad reads aloud to the younger ones, and he can either participate in that (right now he is, it's Harry Potter), or if he isn't interested in what they're reading, he goes and reads his own book.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:09 PM on November 8, 2018

I don't know if your kid has expressed interest in learning to play a musical instrument, but this age is prime time for having the ability and time to pick one up.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 5:36 PM on November 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Parent to a 15 year-old here who consciously chose not to fill my child's time with structured activities unless she asked for them. She doesn't have chores and can pretty much do what she wants.

Her evening "schedule" is
Home from School
If I'm home - Spends time catching up with me for a few minutes to an hour
If I'm still in work - I have no idea but probably YouTube, MBMBAM or PS4 until I am home and then we catch up.

Gets changed out of her school clothes and then her time is her own until I make dinner.

She gets her homework done, she sometimes paints (with paint, or on her laptop with a graphics tablet) she watches netflix or youtube, she sleeps, she speaks to her friends, she plays games with me or without and does all the things I assume other kids do when they haven't got chores or after school activities. Sometimes we watch TV together or just talk about stuff and even though her time is her own I am always present for helping with homework or the like.

After dinner is the same until she goes to bed when she wants.

There are exeptions, she is currently undertaking exams so all of the above is replaced with a few hours of revision some nights. Mostly this is self-directed and she is becoming increasingly independent. If I ask her to do something she will do so and whilst she doesn't have to make her bed, tidy her room etc she will do this when she thinks it's required.

Now, as you may imagine this can cause some consternation from others about the effect my terrible parenting is having on my poor child and to be honest I am terrifed that I have made the wrong choice to be like this. I have been accused of everything from being overprotective, too permissive and one time "trying to make her exactly like you" which was fractally insulting the more I thought of it.

But, she has agency and is respected.
She is happy.

The fears I have are that she will find transitioning to adulthood and responsibility difficult but these are so far unfounded. She's a good kid and whilst I'm probably just the luckiest bastard alive I hope my choices are somehow helping her.

I see and speak to her friends who are insanely stressed about exams and who have terrible adversarial relationships with their parents and I think I made the right choice.

As with all parenting decisions though it comes down to the same thing.
Love your child and cross your fingers really fucking hard.
posted by fullerine at 1:02 AM on November 9, 2018 [2 favorites]

My 14-y.o. boy: plays guitar, reads, pets the dog, get told to gather his clean laundry, looks at funny things on the Internet. Reads on his Kindle a lot. Eats dinner, dries the dishes & puts them away. Goes to guitar lessons one night a week, and "Jesus band" practice at church one night a week. Boy Scouts one night a week

My 16-y.o. boy: Runs at school every weekday, then comes home just before dinner. Showers & eats, often as we are all leaving the table. Stares at some game on his damn phone. Has his laptop open and claims to be doing homework, but I think is only playing music. Texts friends. Watches an old episode of "Shark Tank" on CNBC. Watches sports highlights on TV. Boy Scouts one night a week, works two nights a week (4-8 at a local pizza place).

They are either in their room, the family room, or the living room, when they are actually at home. Both are busy; one is happy-go-lucky and the other snarls a lot. Can I explain the differences in their obligations/schedules or happiness or performance? Nope! I just start each day fresh and give them Another Chance. (There is also a younger sister at home and an older sister at college.)

In conclusion, kids are a land of contrasts.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:22 AM on November 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

RE screen time: obviously that's potentially a whole 'nother question, but some folks think it should always be minimized, and I just wanted to provide another perspective. My son (now 18) has Asperger's and all of our lives improved when he was 11-12 and we dropped the very strict screen time limits he had in elementary school. More screen time gave him more interaction with people online in a way he could handle, and it engaged him in ways that "real world" activities did not. He was 100 times happier, which carried over with positive benefits to the rest of his life. YMMV of course but it's not inherently bad.
posted by metasarah at 10:40 AM on November 9, 2018

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