Computer and Video Games Make My Boys Forget Homework and Even Dinner!

Filed under: Opinions, Expert Advice: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Teens

Dear AdviceMama,

Once my sons are on the computer or video game, I can't get them to come to dinner or do their homework. They say they aren't hungry, or that they have to use the computer to do their homework. What can I do?

Tech's Taken Over

Dear Tech,

I often equate the adrenalin rush and enjoyment of video games (or their close cousins, the computer and Internet) to a heroin drip. Dramatic, I know. But despite the many wonderful things that technology has given us, there are addictive elements to it that are causing profound disconnection in families. Here's my advice:

• You may not like hearing it, but the solution to this problem begins with you, the parents. If your kids see you glued to your BlackBerry or iPad, they will think it's OK to mimic your behavior. Are they watching you engage in conversation without stealing a side glance at your smartphone? Do you take time to play music or read, or are you on your computer at every spare moment? I often say, "Live like your kids are watching ... because they are." Take an honest look at how hooked in you've become to your devices, and take steps to unplug.

• Schedule a family meeting and tell your kids that if you have to call them more than twice for dinner, or argue about starting homework, the next day they won't be allowed to use whatever device made them late. Create guidelines that you're willing to stick to (that means no negotiations) and be prepared for tears.

• Have a family "Unplugged" night once a week where no one uses their devices after 6 or 7 p.m. (This means any computer-related homework need to be finished early.) Have leisurely dinners with extended conversations. Play board games with your kids. Listen to them share their hopes, dreams or the mundane matters of their day. Or just curl up in the living room with books, reading aloud now and again. It sounds terribly old-fashioned, but one of the best ways to teach kids to become less device-dependent is to promote family activities that don't require electricity.

Don't be afraid to pull the plug on video games or computers if your kids get so hooked that they don't know how to hit the "off" button when it's time for dinner or homework. It's OK for kids to be upset (they probably will be), but it's better than having them forget how to live life unplugged. Most of all, model a healthy balance in your own lives with technology, while you create rituals that teach your kids that there are ways to have fun without being plugged in.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.