Dear Dr. Darcy:
My son was sent home from school last week because he was playing video games during chemistry. He’s been obsessed with video games since he was 3 years old. I’ve tried to limit the time he spends playing them but I don’t have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mother, as our family needs my income. I can’t control how he spends his time when I’m at work.
Here’s my question: Do you think the video games are going to have a negative influence on him and make him violent? If so, what should we do?
I’m less concerned about the influence of video games in his life than I am about your lack of control over what he does with his time. In today’s society, most parents are dual income earners out of necessity, which means that we must become more creative about parenting ~ not less accountable for it.
Certainly it would have been easier to influence how he spent his time as a toddler/ pre-teen than as a teenager, but I can assure you, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And it doesn’t involve punishment. It involves rewards.
He needs equipment to play video games, right (either a hand-held portable device or a computer)? When you leave for work each day, bring the home p.c. keyboard and the portable device with you to work. When he gets home from school each day, he has an opportunity to earn his device/keyboard, per hour, based on the number of chores he has completed. You and your significant other need to identify roughly 5 daily chores that will take him no more than 10-15 minutes each to complete, and each chore earns him an hour of video games. You should also work in homework rewards, encouraging him to complete his homework before you come home from work so that he can earn more video time at night.
What I’m proposing takes the nagging out of chores, because he needs to complete the chore in order to earn the privilege. If he doesn’t compete the chore, there’s no arguing, no fighting, no reminding. He simply doesn’t earn a reward. You can accomplish the same lesson by taking his daily allowance and dividing it by a nominal number of daily chores. No chores? No money. And in case you haven’t noticed, that’s the way the world functions. So why wouldn’t you model that system at home?
Your situation with your son is actually a blessing in disguise. You have something that he wants so badly that it can motivate him to complete chores. What you have is leverage. You just haven’t tapped into it yet. And you must tap into this fuel to ignite a sense of responsibility in him.
Parents, hear me loud and clear: Your children, regardless of their ages, NEED CHORES. Yes, I know it’s far easier to do the chores yourselves and it will likely take a fraction of the time. However, you have a societal obligation to raise functional human beings, which you accomplish by mirroring society’s expectations within your home. If your child has never had any responsibility other than doing his homework, how do you expect him to juggle household responsibilities when he’s in an adult relationship? Unless, that is, you’re planning on raising Archie Bunker, Ted Bundy or today’s equivalent thereof.