How to prevent my 9 y/o son from monologuing about videogames.
May 30, 2020 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Difficulty level: shared custody

I share 50/50 custody of my son. At his dad's house he is allowed to play unlimited videogames. He is obsessed with Minecraft and something called Skyrim in particularly. He is in a special program at school to help with social skills, although he does very well academically. He has difficulty reading other people, and doesn't notice when other people are losing interest in his monologues. Other kids are more receptive to Minecraft, because they've heard of that, but since Skyrim is a more adult game, most kids haven't played it and don't know what it is. I didn't consent to him being exposed to such a violent, adult game, and certainly not to him having unlimited access to it.

He is moody and it's difficult to get him to do non video-game activities without a fight. I have enrolled him in a sport that he does multiple times per week, but it's difficult because on his weeks with his dad, he doesn't have to do anything, so I have become the bad guy for even requiring that he do an extracurricular. He alienates the other kids at his activity, and doesn't really have friends in or out of school, despite consistent efforts to set up and support playdates.

I set consistent limits about screen time, but it's more difficult to set limits about *talking about screens* because that's his world. I do want him to know that I'm interested in his inner world.

He's very anxious and sensitive to rejection. If I try things that seem to work for other parents, ie. "I'm interested in talking with you, but let's talk about something else," he gets butt-hurt and will cry and hide and express shame. Lately I have been front-loading agreements about limits on screen time talk: "You can talk about screens until noon, and then I would like a break from talking about screens for two hours." This works, but he obviously feels at a loss and disinterested in talking at all as soon as talking about screens isn't an option. Most nine year olds are pretty egocentric, but he really has no idea how to show interest in other people's interests, or how to ask questions, or even have a discussion about something topical. He is not interest in planning (ie. "let's do an art/science/cooking/outdoor project later.")

He does like to read, but prefer to read the same Minecraft novel over and over again, despite the fact that we have lots of age appropriate books and audiobooks and take him to the library regularly. If it's not about videogames, he's not interested.

He is fairly empathetic and cares about other people's feelings.

Dad won't consent to psychological or occupational therapy assessment or intervention.

How do I get him to stop monologuing about videogames?

Assume anything requiring legal intervention/varying court orders is not possible.
posted by unstrungharp to Human Relations (42 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Dad won't consent to psychological or occupational therapy assessment or intervention.

You might consider asking the school about these kinds of evaluations or for further support.

It's hard to answer your question as-is, though. It sounds like he might be on the autism spectrum and needs to be evaluated and/or treated and/or supported much more substantially. If you can't make that happen on your own, though, I'm not sure what to do. If you can't get him to see a psychologist or get him help, there is a limited amount that you can do on your own.

As someone on the spectrum, I can say that one thing you can do is try to bring the special interest into other, more productive things. If he'll work with it, you can do like...minecraft themed baking. Minecraft drawing time. Minecraft crafting. Minecraft fiction stories. Etc. That's still probably annoying or tedious to you, but it'll get him using different skills and learning things that can be useful in other contexts.

Honestly, without professional support, I would set the boundaries you need to set for yourself (e.g. I love talking to you but I need quiet time right now) and not worry about trying to change his behavior too much when it comes to socializing with others. I think your best bet right now is to be a soft place for him to land vs. training/teaching him.

Finally, I know you said it's not an option, but being unable to seek psychological support for a kid who is already receiving special support at school (meaning he has an identified issue) is borderline medical neglect on your ex's part. I don't think it's okay over the long term for dad's consent to be the deciding factor here. I know you might not be able to control this, but to the extent that you can do something in the long term, I think it is worthwhile.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:31 PM on May 30 [34 favorites]

Awww, my heart goes out to this little chatterbox - and his mom! In some ways, this is really normal kid stuff -- which you are handling with great kindness and patience. I can remember recounting kid movies in excruciating detail to my mom. But I recognize that your little guy because he's sensitive and struggling socially will need a better response than my mom's 'you MUST stop talking now.'

This may sound a little odd but do you think he'd enjoy monologuing while he records himself? Just him in a room talking his little heart out. He could set up themes for each recording, write down his ideas and a rough script in advance, and create a sort of library of talks focused on Minecraft. He could play back the recordings when he wants to revisit a particularly interesting idea or technique. Maybe he could think about who his target audience is, especially if there's a place to upload the recordings. You could help him think about what the 'audience' wants to hear to help put the focus on his listeners, a good skill to build at any age.

You're going to need a hard rule around his not playing the recordings for you because this could epically backfire otherwise.
posted by MissPitts at 4:33 PM on May 30 [25 favorites]

I was similar to your son at that age, and also split my time between two households, although it was weekdays/weekends instead of every other week. I also grew up to be a professional video game programmer so that time was actually really important to my later life. So here are my thoughts from my personal perspective:

In my opinion he is only slightly too young for Skyrim. Skyrim is medium-violence game in a fantasy world, and is exactly the kind of game I would give to an 10 or 11 year old who outgrew minecraft. There are far worse games than Skyrim, I would not want my 9 year old playing something like Call of Duty with realistic violence or an aggressive older teen online community. You should not fight him or his dad over games like Skyrim, save that discussion for actually problematic games.

The way you talk about the extracurricular sport concerns me and reminds me of unpleasant times. If the kid feels like they are being forced to do a sport, they're probably not going to enjoy it and they're probably going to resent the parent. It's fine to force a kid to go to a month or so of classes to see if they like it, but if they don't take to it you need to try something else. I absolutely hated all team sports I tried, because I wasn't very good at them and the social pressure and bullying was really intense. But, eventually my parents started me on martial arts (Tae Kwon Do was the popular one back then) and I really enjoyed that because I could go at my own pace. So I would think about trying more types of extra curricular activities, and steering towards ones that are less team-based.

There are a lot of potential reasons why a kid would show social behavior like your son, but if assessment is off the table for now I would first focus on trying to help him expand his interests starting from what he cares about now. You probably can't stop him from monologuing about video games, but you can probably make them more interesting. If he really likes Minecraft, maybe he'd be interested in drawing pictures of the characters. Or if he really likes that particular novel, maybe ask him what he thinks would happen NEXT and encourage him to write or type it out. For me I really cared about how the game worked, so programming was a natural direction to head in and I started doing some basic programming around age 11 or so. There are actually a LOT of minecraft-themed activity packs available so I would look up some of them and pick one that you think might interest him that you can do with him. You can't replace a kid's interests with "normal" ones, but you can definitely help guide where they go.

Finally, it's totally okay to be the bad parent as long as you're not doing anything actually traumatizing. As a kid I took violin lessons voluntarily but hated practicing. My step-dad would force me to practice and do homework in order to get screen time, and at the time I hated him for it but just a few years later I really appreciated what he did to help me grow. But, I still have legitimate psychological trauma related to the summer where he forced me to go running every other day, because I often cried my way through the entire exercise and experienced significant pain. I think the difference is really in the child's emotional state: if you make him temporarily anxious by making him try something he doesn't want to do, he'll be angry at the time but get over it. But, if you force someone with anxiety to do something they hate WHILE they are seriously anxious or angry there's a good chance it will just make the problem worse and lead to future resentment and issues. If he has uncontrolled tantrums or "shuts down" please do not force him to do something unless it is actually important to his safety. Anxious kids are normally not doing this to avoid responsibility, they're doing it because their brain thinks they are under attack and they're not really going to be able to enjoy anything they try

I know it can be hard to raise an and anxious antisocial kid, but there's no reason they can't be a successful and happy adult. My parents made a lot of mistakes, but overall they did a good job raising me and I'm sure you can do it too.
posted by JZig at 4:37 PM on May 30 [56 favorites]

He’s in parkour, and it’s a struggle to make him go because of anxiety, inertia, and the fact that it’s not a video game. He likes it once he’s actually there because parkour kind of is like a video game, and Minecraft parkour is apparently a thing people do on YouTube (?)
Unfortunately, it hasn’t led to social opportunities and there’s still some drama in terms of the transition out of the house.
posted by unstrungharp at 5:47 PM on May 30

FWIW common sense media gives Skyrim a 15+ rating, and I’d agree with that.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:59 PM on May 30 [4 favorites]

From my Minecraft loving 9 year old: “Give him a book about coding video games so he can talk about that instead.” They recommend Minecraft modding.

If it helps, my 2 9-year olds are also all Minecraft all the time.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 6:07 PM on May 30 [8 favorites]

If “something called Skyrim” is indicative of your level of knowledge of his interests, maybe try spending some more time actually listening to him? It sounds like you’re actively disdainful of his interests, and I can’t imagine he isn’t picking up on this on some level.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 6:21 PM on May 30 [86 favorites]

Maybe he'd like to make his own games?
posted by postel's law at 6:23 PM on May 30 [4 favorites]

Perhaps try establishing more of a dialogue by playing a different video game together. You could start a game of Stardew Valley together. This will give you lots of stuff to talk about with each other that you will also be invested in. Then you can set conversational limits by saying “ok, we can talk about Skyrim for a little while, but then I’d like to talk about which room of the community center we’re going to work on next [or whatever Stardew Valley thing is going on with your farm then]”. This game could be as some kind of bonus screen time because you’re doing it together. This might be a way to actually participate in his hobby with him, in a way that is acceptable for you. (Stardew Valley is a very agreeable game, available on many platforms.)
posted by ewok_academy at 6:26 PM on May 30 [14 favorites]

Do you have any interest in video games? There are all sorts of games, including some that are very casual friendly. i wonder what might happen if you found a game you might both enjoy to play together sometimes (within the limits you've set around screen time). Perhaps he might be more willing to step into your world if you spend some time with him in his world.
posted by overglow at 6:26 PM on May 30 [7 favorites]

"I'm interested in talking with you, but let's talk about something else," he gets butt-hurt and will cry and hide and express shame.

Yikes. Maybe try to not think of your kid in such terms. There's nothing wrong with him because he has an interest you don't share. You should continue to try and find things that he wants to do in a positive way, not negatively focus and double down on things he doesn't want to do.

I agree with box + stick + string above, as well. Clearly you aren't listening. And that's fine (really!) but it's not fine to not listen and ALSO decide it's "time to do something about it".

I was obsessed with video games at his age and hated every sport and extracurricular my parents forced me to do. I'm kind of neutral on the whole thing, it wasn't traumatizing, but it was stupid and I didn't like it -- I think it's unreasonable to expect him to take up whatever extracurricular you put him in and love it. Focus on positive things -- all the suggestions to get him into game development are great. Clearly this is a thing he cares about, so maybe support it, by directing his interest in a way that's more 'productive' than just playing games.

You just have a nerd on your hands, chillax a bit.

tl;dr: focus on trying to help him expand his interests starting from what he cares about now
posted by so fucking future at 6:27 PM on May 30 [30 favorites]

Books or other resources about monsters and about mythology and travel, all parts of the appeal of Skyrim (it's a relatively old, and really great, game with beautiful maps and strange creatures) might interest your son; myths and cryptids are interesting to many kids. (This was one my son liked a lot; he also loved Skyrim.)
posted by Francolin at 6:30 PM on May 30 [8 favorites]

Is there a project you can tackle together, or a mutual interest you can stoke? Where you can channel some of his energy toward a goal that you also share and enjoy?

When I was his age, I was always thrilled whenever I was "in charge" of something genuine. Let him steer the ship as often as possible when it comes to the project: he handles the transactions at the cash register, for example, or he explains the project to the clerk at the craft store, or he picks the movie and makes the popcorn. It's normal to want to do things that are "too grown up," and that can be channeled in a healthy way, where he can practice having responsibilities.
posted by Charity Garfein at 6:35 PM on May 30 [3 favorites]

Um... I could be totally off place here, but I'm actually wondering if you might have a son exhibiting some symptoms of high-functioning autism. I say this because your description of the behaviors sound an awful lot like other kids I've known. It may not actually be the videogames that is the real issue, here...

It's possible for an unwillingness seek help to become neglect, and you might need to consider how to obtain that for your child despite the other parent.

For the monologue issue specifically - with my son (who would monologue on MANY topics, not just videogames) - there came a point where I observed a conversation he was having, and I could very clearly see the body language of the other person that indicates to a neurotypical person that they are either bored or done with the conversation and need to move on.
My son did not seem to recognize and respond to those clues. So I intervened, and told him we needed to go, and on the way home, I discussed it with him. I specifically described the body language that I had literally JUST observed, and asked him if he noticed the other person doing those things. Yes, he had. (This is important - he noticed on his own. That made it easier.)
So then I asked him if he knew WHY his conversation partner was doing those things... and he had no idea. Despite being... oh, maybe 12-13 at the time? he had absolutely no idea. He just plain does not naturally comprehend body language. He's VERY literal, and expects people to simply SAY exactly what they need.
I pretty much had to literally, specifically, TEACH him what specific body language means... and ask him to look for those clues when he is having a conversation. For my son, he was able to learn the clues relatively simply, and has become fairly observant of body language, though it's led to some interesting conversations about "why is this person doing that?" but once he knows the correlation, he puts it into use the vast majority of the time.
posted by stormyteal at 6:39 PM on May 30 [35 favorites]

If he likes Skyrim he might be interested in fantasy and mythology stuff.
Where I live there are lots of day camp and after school-style programs for kids interested in games, where they can play board games and role playing games with likeminded kids. This could be a great social outlet for your child rather than making him play a sport for the sake of doing a sport. Maybe your town has something like that?
posted by cakelite at 7:52 PM on May 30 [1 favorite]

I think part of your job as a parent is to listen to your kid's boring monologuing. You'll miss it one day. While you can work to equip your child to deal better with other people, you should work to stay interested in what he's saying, even if it's not your thing.

You can try to expand his horizons, and parkour was a great idea! But you can also try to find out what he likes about these games, and leverage that into other activities. Scratch from MIT is a great platform for starting kids on programming. But maybe Skyrim and Minecraft are appealing because they are exploring interesting worlds--maybe you need to take him on Big Adventures (admitted not easy these days), or maybe because they make dealing with other people as easy as picking from a menu of limited options. He's old enough to get into tabletop role playing games (which can be played online).

I was thrilled when my son got into Minecraft because it gave him something to talk about with other kids that they were actually interested in. Even if he's socially awkward now, maybe he was MORE social isolated before.
posted by rikschell at 7:52 PM on May 30 [7 favorites]

My kid with autism is just into minecraft and will spend 12 hours on it, then Pinterest minecraft ideas and draw minecraft and so forth unfettered. I talk explicitly to her about social rules and go " there's a social rule around conversations, they need to be something both people want to talk about, otherwise you get 5 minutes only". She complains but I'm pretty firm about social rules as The Way Of Life, and so she will follow them here as well.

There are minecraft-themed classes on which look pretty fun. I have mine in forest school which is basically hiking and social skills, and that's been a real boon because she can wander off to do something on her own or be with other kids and the social rules are also explicitly discussed. I would definitely talk to the parkour teacher and ask them to give more explicit social guidance to him. That's helped mine manage in classes where she really wanted to participate but struggled. She had an online minecraft class with a not so great teacher and bombed out on the last day of camp when other kids were teasing her, so we have to practice more social skills in online classes. I'm going to do Outschool. think online social skills are going to be more important moving forward for work and worth practicing. There's some overlap too - waiting to take turns, following instructions, teamwork etc.

There are useful books on making friends for kids that you can just read aloud to him at bedtime/dinner time and go over explicit 'friendship' rules. Most kids just get this stuff, some kids need it codified and explained explicitly.

You have my sympathy on the custody situation. I had control over tests but it was still a struggle to get agreement and took formal diagnosis to see any changes. Getting the school involved so they ask about issues sounds worthwhile. And check with a lawyer about testing. I found that I didn't need permission for testing, only for enforcing treatment during their time or changing schools.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:54 PM on May 30 [7 favorites]

Seconding stormyteal's high-functioning autism query; I have a recently-diagnosed nine year old son who also monologues about video games at great length (even if no one is present to listen - like when he first wakes up or while he's in the bathroom). If your kid is already receiving services at school for socialization you might want to talk to person at school who works with him (the social worker, psychologist or special ed teacher) about a school evaluation for autism.

This probably isn't what you were hoping to hear but your kid isn't likely to stop the monologue, though the topics may change over time as interests change. Occupational therapy seems to be helping our son with conversation cues and emotional regulation, in addition to the more general sensory work he does in his weekly sessions; it might work for your kid if you can convince your ex to try it out.

We have had some success engaging our kid in other things - board games, books and, as of two days ago, Avatar the Last Airbender - to try to expand his horizons a bit and maybe bend his topics of conversation toward a more shared interest; you might see if there's something else out there that you like that he might like, too. Or, you might go the other route and learn Minecraft! My spouse and our adult children all enjoy Minecraft and our son frequently plays with one or more of them. Coding is also activity our son likes; seconding rikschell's Scratch suggestion - very easy to learn.
posted by sencha at 7:55 PM on May 30 [2 favorites]

little dude needs his own Twitch stream

that kind of obsessive playing and talking about games makes big bucks these days
posted by Jacqueline at 8:24 PM on May 30 [11 favorites]

He's got lots of thoughts about Skyrim and Minecraft and he desperately wants to share them with someone who'll appreciate them, and instead he's got a parent who barely knows what Skyrim is despite all the time he's spent trying to explain what's so great about it. As noted above, Minecraft is a perfectly age-appropriate interest and Skyrim is only a little more intense. There are lots of other people who like talking about Skyrim and Minecraft. Get him into some kind of social situation where he can talk to other people who want to talk about the things he wants to talk about, and he won't feel as much need to unload them on everyone else.
posted by waffleriot at 8:34 PM on May 30 [21 favorites]

I think one of the best moves you could make here is just to try playing Skyrim. I (an adult who would not call myself a 'gamer') found it really fun. When I was a kid, my mom would go out of her way to participate in my interests to whatever extent made sense for her, and it made our relationship so much stronger, even during the tricky teenage years. Just throwing this option out there as something to think about.
posted by omnie at 8:59 PM on May 30 [19 favorites]

The thing that leapt out at me from your post was the bit about your son being "butt-hurt". That's in my opinion an inappropriate and uncompassionate way to conceive of a child's emotions, especially your own child. He's hurt, no need for the "butt" part.

Having an incompatible co-parent sounds frustrating, and I'm wondering if you're taking that frustration out on your child unintentionally.

I agree with those who say, you've got a certain kind of kid on your hands (of the nerd ilk). You may have wished for something different, but he is what he is, and you can only create problems by letting him know you don't approve of who he is.

I would suggest that if he must be involved in an extracurricular, you allow him to choose it. Programming maybe? Perhaps he could be interested in learning to create the type of game he enjoys playing. That could also offer a connection point to some other kids.
posted by nirblegee at 9:56 PM on May 30 [16 favorites]

Woah. So, I actually play Skyrim with him a few times a week and know quite a bit about it from the nonstop monologues. I referred to it as “something called Skyrim” in my original post because I’m used to people having know idea what it is. As I said, I’m interested in knowing about his inner world.

I’m just worried that it’s his only interest to the exclusion of other stuff and that the monologues themselves alienate other people and sometimes drive me crazy. I’m worried that he doesn’t know how to talk about anything else at all.
posted by unstrungharp at 10:00 PM on May 30 [7 favorites]

We can’t get a school evaluation because dad won’t consent to it.
posted by unstrungharp at 10:01 PM on May 30

Can you encourage him to blog or podcast about it? He’ll learn a new useful set of skills (writing, audio editing) that will be something different and he’ll have an audience who’s interested. Kids often have obsessive interests and I feel like the most constructive way to deal with that is to leverage them rather than try to change them.
posted by phoenixy at 10:03 PM on May 30 [5 favorites]

Judging by the comments you've favorited, it seems like you're not paying much attention to the stuff about your disdain for his interests. Now, I am not saying you have to love the same things he loves. But you're describing this stuff he loves as "screens," reducing it to a 2-dimensional nothing, and it seems pretty clear you see it as purely an annoyance and you want it to go away. This is a thing that matters to him a whole lot, it's his world (as you put it) and while you can work to broaden his interests I think you need to try to find some good in it.

I like the suggestion about using Minecraft to introduce him to other interests. A quick Googling reveals that educators are using Minecraft to teach math, and I bet it's used to teach a lot of other stuff. I REALLY like the idea to get him making his own games, and ideally I'd like to see you working on some together. There are plenty of 2D game creation programs at a child's level, or if you want to try 3D, Game Guru is something where you could put some basic games together in a weekend. If you feel Skyrim is too adult for him, he'd probably have even more fun creating his own 3D world full of elves and orcs and all that wonderful geeky crap, and Game Guru is all set up for that. He could use his imagination, start to become a creator instead of just a consumer, and maybe he could get excited about game creation classes and meet some friends that way. He could be 3D printing Minecraft stuff, writing his own Minecraft stories, making Minecraft sculptures, all this stuff that will get him creating. If the goal is to get him out in the world a little more, there are ways to do that while indulging his gamer side. There are also probably games you could enjoy together. Why be the parent who tells him to shut up about games, when you could be the cool, supportive parent who plays games with him instead?

I don't know enough about autism to know where the line falls between average geeky kid stuff and being on the spectrum, but just based on what you said I worry for this kid. If he's crying when he can't talk about Minecraft, and you're saying he's "butthurt" over it, that's a dynamic that can't stand. I sympathize with your frustration, and if I had a kid who was obsessed with Nascar (for example) I'd probably be climbing the walls. But you can see this as an annoying flaw in his personality or you can accept it as part of who he is now and try to find the parts of it where you can connect. He probably won't always be obsessed with Minecraft, but he'll always remember the way you responded when he was obsessed with Minecraft.

Also, cool username!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:13 AM on May 31 [15 favorites]

I think it would be good for you to reframe the problem. You say "I'm worried that he doesn't know how to talk about anything else at all". But if he's able to have a conversation and participate in that social give-and-take, those skills will apply just fine to any other topic.

The question I see here is, does he have those skills? If not, that's what to work on that will really help him. Not a proscriptive sort of "talk about these topics only" because as soon as he is in a different social environment that won't apply any more. But coaching in identifying body language, making sure to ask other people questions, how to be a good friend. And maybe he needs some help realizing he can think through his own thoughts inside his head and not have everything be outside - or help *making* that true, say by writing it down.
posted by Lady Li at 6:26 AM on May 31 [1 favorite]

His dad may not want him tested in part because dad might have the same traits, and feel like he "turned out fine". This is pretty common with high functioning autism and ADD. Everyone uses their own bar to evaluate whether a kid is just the normal "kid" sort of oblivious and impulsive or something more, and a bunch of adults have found that we only get our diagnosis after some outside adult points it out in our kid. But you can still help coach him and give him coping skills without a formal diagnosis, and that kind of coaching helps even neurotypical kids if it's done kindly.
posted by Lady Li at 6:40 AM on May 31 [4 favorites]

I pretty much had to literally, specifically, TEACH him what specific body language means

I wish someone had done this for me as a kid. Heck, at mid-life, I wish someone would do it for me now!
posted by bunderful at 6:44 AM on May 31 [4 favorites]

We can’t get a school evaluation because dad won’t consent to it.

Talk to your lawyer about getting a court order to allow testing. I think occupational therapy and family therapy would be a great idea. If you don't have a lawyer, retain one who knows how to get custody orders modified for the best interest of the child.

I think this behavior falls outside of normal nerd 9 year old obliviousness. I think it's wonderful you have him enrolled in parkour because physical activity and building physical confidence is good for a nine-year-old, but maybe there's another activity he would react to better? Something with more structured rules perhaps.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 8:10 AM on May 31 [8 favorites]

look up infodumping about special interests with autistic and adhd people (and make sure you're reading from neurodivergent people themselves). it's a common thing
posted by gaybobbie at 9:18 AM on May 31 [6 favorites]

Yeah, this sounds 2 problems coming together: the kid's obsessed and probably on the autistic spectrum, and your expectations for what a healthy kid acts like aren't being met, which is making you anxious.

What would help the kid is explicit, calm, gentle explanations of social cues. Immediate informative discussions like stormyteal's approach are the gold standard for this. You can start this without a formal diagnosis. Frankly, there are a lot of people who need this kind of help who don't need accommodations or a formal diagnosis and never get one. Lots of people get obsessed and bore everyone around them to tears without being autistic. Miss Manners is popular for a reason.

Using the current special interests to springboard into other things could work. Making Minecraft blocks or Skyrim accessories to decorate his room with? Experimenting with how in-game recipes work IRL or making dishes referenced in-game? Sewing Minecraft & Skyrim cosplay for a local convention? Get him to experience other things in a way he enjoys and odds are he'll eventually start broadening other interests.

He's a 9 year old. Most 9 year olds can't really plan things, especially if they've never been taught how to. Talking with him about how he decides to do things in-game and then translating that into how to decide on what to do IRL might be a starting point.

This will not change everything. Talking about boring things is boring, and right now everything that isn't Minecraft and Skyrim is boring to him. Sometimes he's still going to talk for hours, or throw tantrums, etc. He's a kid.

He may be autistic. He may never act like a 'normal' kid. He may never have as many friendships as you expect. He may never read another book for fun, because the uncertainty is too stressful for him to enjoy the experience. He may always find leaving the house stressful. That's not a sign something is wrong with him. He's just a little bit different. It's OK to let go of your expectations and the anxiety they're causing you, which I think is blinding you a bit to how you're coming across to us and to your kid.

You're trying really hard and you clearly love him, even if you don't always know what to do. That's OK, no parent is perfect.

FYI, the organization called AutismSpeaks is a really horrible group run by people who promote abuse & stuff that may or may not be abusive depending on how it's done. Last I heard, they'd run all actual autistic people out of the organization. They are not a trustworthy resource.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is something to be very wary of. It's frequently recommended for autistic kids, but often boils down to dog-stye training. Really dehumanizing and often traumatizing unless done extremely carefully. If anyone pushes you to do it, be wary of that person. Your kid is verbal and non-violent; your kid should not be subjected to that risk. Gentle, detailed etiquette instruction will probably do just fine.

Also, to other commenters, could we not use high / low functioning labels? They're really not accurate. Autism doesn't work like that.
posted by Ahniya at 2:39 PM on May 31 [7 favorites]

Could you find a group of peers for him to talk about Minecraft with? I'm thinking of these kinds of activities. Ideally a group would help him find people who appreciate him for who he is -- they also like to talk about Minecraft! They can monologue together! -- and also has some coaching about how to read the situation and figure out if the other people in the room want to talk about something else.

Sometimes those groups are paid for by insurance, the school district, or the state if he's qualified for services. Usually they aren't, unfortunately.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:03 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

Kind of out of the box, but there’s a video game called Mirror’s Edge which is basically Parkour: the Video Game. Maybe if you got him interested in that, it could get him more interested in doing parkour himself. Or at least give him a third game to discuss. ESRB rating here. Trailer here.
posted by cali59 at 3:38 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

Your son sounds like my husband describes himself at 9. He is 35 now, still plays a lot of video games, is very sensitive and caring, is very introverted, and has a degree in computer science. He is on medication to help control his anxiety, but it is still hard for him to be in large group settings. He monologues about video games on his YouTube channel. He is the most wonderful, caring spouse anyone could ask for, and he deeply resents his parents who saw his interest in video games as a problem.

My suggestion is to get your son a YouTube channel where he can monologue about Skyrim. There is a whole world of kids who want to hear his monologue, and when he finds them many of your other concerns may dissipate.
posted by hworth at 4:59 PM on May 31 [3 favorites]

Mother of three sons - youngest is 18 - which is about the only qualification I can provide on this issue.

What I noticed was that my sons were happier if they had been physically active - if we spent the morning working in the garden, cleaning the house, chopping wood, whatever - then the brain and the body seemed to work together and the rest of the day went smoothly. If the boys were not active - then their energy had no direction and would be used to annoy each other and me.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 10:08 PM on May 31 [1 favorite]

Perhaps you can increase the radius of the interest? Skyrim has incredible art; if you're into art, maybe work on a sculpture of his character. Prepare a dinner with him that re-imagines some of the meals you can see in the taverns. Maybe the pair of you can learn the music to play the theme song yourselves. Maybe archery lessons! Lock-picking would be an amazing thing for the two of you to learn. Build your own Lego Minecraft and learn tenets of architecture and design!

I get it (genuinely thought the age of pink princess ballet cats would never end). And I know this is advice for the symptom you see - I think you're more concerned about the obsessions and your son's ability to see the conversation needs to end than the game itself. But your son is talking to you as a friend! He wants you involved and excited, not tolerant and exasperated. I genuinely think if you gave a way to broaden this to include you, it would show him how to include others more in general...and both of you will have more to talk about than a great gear upgrade.
posted by katiecat at 6:32 AM on June 1

Get him into a Dungeons & Dragons group of kids his age. I'm not joking. It's age appropriate, it's along the very same lines of nerdiness as Skyrim etc, there is an endless supply of creative user made content (and positive online user communities that support it), and it's exactly the kind of thing a 9 year old who likes Skyrim would get obsessed with.

It's also offline, face-to-face, has rules to structure the social part, teaches people to work together collaboratively, and is massively creative in an offline way (or online way if his friends do it that way, especially now with quarantines). You can get a complete set of books and enough dice for all his friends to keep him busy for years for less than the cost of a game console.

This won't solve your problem of having to listen to him talk about it constantly (if he likes it) but at least it'll be about his friends, their adventures, the things they're writing/drawing/whatever.
posted by bradbane at 5:46 PM on June 1 [3 favorites]

It may be time to go to court and get a court order for his evaluation and a custody change. Maybe you have to go into big debt to do this but it could be the difference between a happy or a miserable adulthood. If he had some sort of physical disability it would look a lot different, societally, for his dad to deny him assessment and treatment but it is materially the same. Between a neglectful dad and a really loving mom who doesn't seem to get him and makes him do scary social and physical stuff he gets anxious about - perhaps because it's not fully accessible to him and he doesn't have any story to tell himself about his life except his own child's reasoning which could be about his perceived faults in his character - he is likely suffering regular trauma. It sucks, court sucks, risk and expense suck, but let him grow into an adult with the memory of a mom who fought tooth and nail to get him the professional evaluation and access aids that he likely needs. Having it burned into his brain that he's worth fighting for will help set him up well against the risk of being a victim of abuse, in work, relationships, etc, for his whole life.
posted by Mistress at 3:36 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]

Also, he probably talks to you about that stuff because he loves you and that stuff feels safe and he wants to share good feelings with his mom. Proper access supports for an autistic kid will be the scaffolding that could help him understand - and learn to pause and think towards understanding - enough to navigate social perception. But when everyone is demanding you change, do scary stuff, or be ignored by neglectful dad, all the time, change is hard. Fight for that assessment, and meanwhile listen to as much monologue as you can within your own boundaries, and then excuse yourself, but any parental effort towards changing his social skills really needs professional input and support. Fight for that input. You both deserve it. I can see how much you love him and I'm rooting for you and am happy to be a listening ear, whatever choices you make.
posted by Mistress at 3:42 PM on June 3

(sorry to keep posting I just now noticed your last sentence. I don't usually interrogate the premise of a question but for a kid, sometimes one has to question premises. The videogames at his dad's and his monologuing are potential symptoms of neglect, so it's worth the impossibly hard stuff. Explore the options. And if you truly can't - I know there are indeed many folks who can't access the courts - maybe consider ways to access assessment and treatment without dad knowing or needing to be notified.
posted by Mistress at 3:47 PM on June 3

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