Q: We would like to limit our 16-year-old son’s video game and cell phone time. We think homework should come first and then free time. He wants to relax with his video game and phone after school, which frequently results in homework not being done before he must attend a two-hour team practice at 7 p.m. That means he’s not done with homework until around midnight and struggles the next morning to get out of bed. What is a fair requirement concerning his electronics or an appropriate punishment if he cannot get up in the morning and be ready on time?
A: My initial thought was of a song first performed by the late, great Fred Astaire (1899-1987): “Something’s Gotta Give.”
Over the past five years or so, hundreds of parents have complained to me about teenage children who have difficulty getting out of bed on school mornings. Two observations are pertinent: first, at least 90 percent of these tales concern boys; second, nearly all of the boys in question have a problem self-limiting when it comes to video games and cell phones. In short, these boys’ priorities are out of whack, something’s gotta give, and it seems to me that the something in question should be the aforementioned electronic devices.
Your son is responsible for homework, team practice, and getting himself up for school in the morning. Playing video games and talking/texting on his cell phone are not responsibilities; they are recreations. It’s obvious that he’s unable to set proper priorities; therefore, and regrettably, you’re going to have to set them for him.
I’ll wager that you’ve talked yourselves blue in the face, nagged, threatened, and even yelled. You wouldn’t have asked my opinion if any of that had worked. What you haven’t done is confiscate the video game and the cell phone. Well, maybe you have, but then he’s promised to do better (and maybe even done better for two or three mornings) and you’ve given them back. If so, that’s an example of what I call “trying to stop a charging elephant with a fly swatter” — that is, responding to a big problem with a completely ineffectual consequence.
If you really and truly want your son to wake up and smell the coffee where his responsibilities are concerned, then I’ll venture that the only wake-up call he’s going to pay attention to is the (a) sudden and (b) long-term disappearance of his devices. His video game disappears when he’s at school tomorrow (in hesitation, all will be lost!), and you confiscate his cell phone as soon as he comes home.
Then, having obtained his full attention, you inform him that you will restore the devices to his possession when he’s had no problem getting out of bed on school mornings for no less than two straight months. If, during that time, you have to get him up, his two electronics-free months start over again the next day.
You won’t be the most well-liked parents in the world, but like Fred Astaire said, somethings’ gotta give.
Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.