Everyone likes to relax. But are some teens and preteens taking it to extreme?

Thursday, July 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Patrick Wyatt enjoys being a bum.

The 15-year-old loves to kick back on the couch, grab his trusty remote control and watch really bad television shows.

It doesn't even matter what it is. A soap opera or Sesame Street. Anything will do.

Whenever he musters up the energy, he drags himself to his computer, where he plays video games the rest of the day. And by the time The Three Stooges signs off the air at 11 p.m., he's in bed.He emerges 11 or 12 hours later, and the whole routine starts over again.

"I love laying around," Patricksays.

His mother, Susan Wyatt, is used to this behavior. She's seen it in her 16-year-old son, Chris. And now her youngest child, Brandon, 13, is walking the same path.

"It seems like they're just tired all the time," Ms. Wyatt says. "I know that young teenagers don't have a lot to do, and there's so much to do in the house. I have to realize that it's just a phase."

Everyone likes to hang around the house and veg out sometimes. After a long week, there's nothing like lounging, channel surfing and eating from the ice cream carton.

But some parents are concerned when kids take this to an extreme, barely setting a foot outside the house during summer break.

Some people refer to this behavior as preteen-vegetable syndrome. Others refer to it as pure laziness. But child development experts say it's a normal part of growing up.

Research shows that children between 12 and 15 tend to need a lot of sleep. It is the age when youngsters are physically and emotionally growing even more than when they were toddlers, says Dawn Hallman, executive director of the Dallas Association for Parent Education.

"The only people who get less sleep are mothers of newborns," she says.

Additionally, preteens are in a constant self-struggle over whether they are still kids or if they are emerging as adults. They just need time to sit back and figure out who and what they are.

"These kids are in flux. It can be a huge emotional roller coaster," Ms. Hallman says. "They have their feet in both worlds. They're starting to think like adults, but they aren't adults."

Pre-adolescence and adolescence are hard on kids, says Donna Persaud, a pediatrician and an assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"Their sleep patterns change - they stay up late and sleep late. They have a wide flux in their appetite," Dr. Persaud says. "They're growing, so they experience some clumsiness. They're spinning all over the place."

While it is normal for adolescents to want to slow down during the summer, Dr. Persaud says there are some signs to distinguish vegging from depression.

"Sleeping excessively is not necessarily a bad thing," Dr. Persaud says. "If they're having dinner with the family and interacting, that's OK. But if they tend to withdraw and avoid contact with friends and family there may be larger problems."

Denise Collins has seen the vegging-out phase with her 15-year-old son, Jeff. From the time he was 11 until about six months ago, all he wanted to do was stay at home, watch TV and talk on the phone.

Ms. Collins has watched her son emerge from his cocoon.

"He's become a social butterfly," Ms. Collins says. "As soon as I get home from work, he's meeting me at the door, wanting me to take him somewhere."

But her 12-year-old daughter, Jenny, has just entered the vegetable zone. She can't even muster the desire to call friends on the phone, Ms. Collins says.

"I know it gets on some parents' nerves, but I don't think we need to push them," she says. "They're adjusting to so much hormonal stuff. They're trying to discover who they are, and that takes a tremendous amount of vegging."

Jeff Petty, however, isn't quite so understanding.

A single dad of two preteens, Mr. Petty gets frustrated by coming home from work and seeing his children in the same position they were in when he left - lounging around doing nothing.

"I would think they could use the imagination more," Mr. Petty says. "When we were kids, kids would come together and play real baseball. Now it's something played on the computer."

But times have changed since then. With more mothers working and larger safety concerns in society, kids' activities are often restricted to what they can do at home. Kids also make friends in larger arenas, such as church, school and sports, so a best friend doesn't always live in the same neighborhood.

"How would you feel, cooped up with no friends to see?" Ms. Hallman asks. "This is a time when friends, next to the way you look, are the most important thing in life."

Even active kids hit the wall in the waning weeks of summer.

Patrick, for example, says that once school begins he's on the go. He's involved in football and the Japanese Club. He doesn't even spend the weekends lazing around. That's the time he and his friends head to the local bowling alley.

"Kids go from doing, doing, doing during the school year that they really need the downtime to focus on who they are," Ms. Hallman says. "This may not be a conscious thing. They may not be pondering the meaning of life in their head, but subconsciously they are assimialating this over and over again.

"Plus, I don't think our culture is too kind to 13- to 14-year-olds," Ms. Hallman adds. "Society is telling them to grow up and we parents are telling them to slow down."


You can help kids get moving

Is your child turning into a human vegetable? Experts say adolescents go through a stage where they need to do nothing as a way to figure out where they fit in the world. So don't worry, it's normal. Still, here are tips on how to motivate your 12- to 15-year-old to get them active before summer ends.

Be proactive. Find things to get them out of the house. Enroll them in art camp. Send them away to church camp or basketball camp.

Be creative. If both parents work, make deals with older kids or with other parents to take them places. One of the problems keeping young teens tied to the house is they have no mode of transportation.

Be patient. Chances are they'll snap out of it by the time they're 16.

SOURCE: Dallas Association for Parent Education