[This letter has been condensed -- Ed.]
I have an 8 year old son, and 3 year old daughter. Both children are considered by others (teachers included) to be very well-behaved and polite. My daughter is a bit more active than my son was at 3, and doesn't listen quite as well to directions and house rules. However, she is definitely age-appropriate. I know my son gets frustrated with my daughter at times. When the kids aren't getting along, I try to address each of their concerns, but often don't know who started what, and sometimes they both simply state that they are just playing.
The other day we were out at a restaurant and the two children were seated next to each other. The younger child kept poking the older under the table. The older child drew a picture on a napkin. The picture contained a stick figure of my daughter lying on the ground with crosses as eyes (her name was written above the figure), and there was another stick figure of a boy holding a gun. Dotted lines were coming out of the gun and hitting the stick figure. It was when we saw the completed art work that we understood what was going on (the poking was under the table). When my son was questioned about the picture, he stated that it wasn't a gun but a 'poking machine.' I didn't quite believe his answer.
We have limited video games and TV, two hours per week total). We have some Lego Wii games that are a bit more on the shooting theme than I thought they should be when I purchased them (Star Wars).
Our personal approach to misbehaivor is a progression from re-direction, to tim-outs, to consequences with age. However, we aren't certain how to address this picture with our son. I did tell him that I was disappointed about the picture and talked with him about how important siblings are to each other, and have a zero tolerance policy about teasing/name calling. I also want to cut out the video games.
My question is whether the drawing is a normal 8 year old behavior, or should we be concerned? I didn't like the lie about the poking machine, but didn't know quite how to address that one either. Any advice?
From: Curious, Lancaster, PAREAD MORE
My 5-year-old stays at her aunt's house now and then but pretty infrequently (2 or 3 times a year). I recently heard that my sister has a new Wii video game that she's excited about and is interested to play it with my daughter the next time she stays over.
We are a household that prefers going out to play instead of virtual electronic play. I also would like to wait on video games until my daughter cares about them herself. I don't really want the adults in her life pushing them on her.
I'm debating about whether to say anything to my sister or not. After all, she stays infrequently and it could be a "treat" she gets to do at auntie's house. But at the same time, I am sure she will be overly exposed to video games throughout her life and would prefer she do so on her own time.
Am I over-reacting or should I say something before our next sleepover?
From: Wishing to stay unplugged, BostonREAD MORE
I am a single mother of a 15-year-old son. He never leaves the house to see friends or go places with me. He just wants to play video games all day on the computer. He does little chores seeing how my house is rarely messy. I want to reconnect with him but not to sure how anymore. Can you help?
From: Victoria, Garden Grove, CAREAD MORE
Any ideas on how to limit my children's almost obsessive interest in computer time?
They are ages 12, 13, and 15. Only our 15 year old has a cellphone. They all have ipods. Thankfully, they spend much time reading. We get them out of the house, to the beach, to visit family as often as we can. However, they have a lot of down time and are constantly fighting or negotiating for computer time despite the limits we have set. They are well behaved, but this computer time issue has pushed me to the limit. Even when they have a friend over they only want to play computer. Our 15 year old babysits and has a little more freedom, but it is difficult to entertain the younger two. I miss the days when they would play in the backyard for hours!
From: ML, Arlington, MA
A new study by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation shows that kids age 8 to 18 spend more than 53 hours a week online or in front of a TV screen. That's a little more than seven-and-a-half hours a day during which they're viewing or clicking away, not just at the computer, but on smartphones and video games as well.
Of course, they're multitasking, too; thanks to cable modems and cell phones, kids can be texting with one hand and typing or playing games with another, so they're managing to cram nearly 11 hours worth of multimedia content into those seven-plus hours, according to the report, which was released yesterday.READ MORE
Hi, my 15-year-old son is a very bright underachiever. He's a sophomore and taking several honors classes (Algebra 2, Geometry and Chemistry). He did well last year, A's, B's and 1-2 C's, and continued like this with his last report card. We just got his progress report and he got an F in English (he got an A last semester), a D in Algebra 2 and the rest were C's and B's. The teachers comments were "Does not work to potential, Effort has deteriorated, and Inconsistent effort." He's a great kid, does not get in trouble, we know his friends and their families well and like him do not get into trouble and generally do well in school. The only issue we have is his lack of motivation and we don't know what to do. We are afraid this problem is going to affect his future and his chances to get into college and pursue the career he's chosen (he wants to be a commercial pilot). We've punished him when he hasn't met expectations, but I don't think it really works. When we do his behavior changes until the next report card, but eventually he starts slacking again. The only thing he seems really interested in and passionate about is playing video games. If there was a class on playing PS3 he would have an A+.
What worries us even more is that his father and I were also bright but lacked motivation when we were teenagers and young adults. We're afraid he's headed down the same road. Life has been very difficult for us because of the choices we made, especially now with the economy the way it is. Neither one of us finished college and at first we had good jobs and managed to move up to middle class, but now things keep getting worse. Our incomes have gone down. If we were just getting started now I believe things would be much harder. How do we help him understand that his choices are going to have serious consequences in the next 2-3 years? Should we try and transfer him to a vocational school so he'll at least have a trade when he graduates?
By the way, we have an 11-year-old daughter who is just as bright but is very hard working. She is honor roll student and we never have to motivate her, it's just who she is. We've raised her the same way. We know she'll do well because it's not how smart you are, it's how hard you willing to work. Please help, we're getting desperate!
From: Diane, Chelsea
(The following is from a Boston.com Q&A with Child Caring writer Barbara Meltz.)
Question: How much computer time should I allot my 8 year old? He's been obsessed with video games, but I thought if I maybe curb it to two hours a day, I'd feel better about his health.
Barbara Meltz: I don't blame you for worrying. ... By your question, your son is obviously spending more than 2 hours a day on it, and that's cause for concern. I think even 2 hours is a lot at this age, if it's all in one stretch.
Rather than simply lay down the law, however, lay out your concerns for him: that too much computer time takes away time spent playing with friends; getting exercise; reading a good book. That it's also potentially bad for the eyes and for the body and that it can be addictive.
See if you can't agree together on a set of rules for when/how much he uses it. That you are seeking his input on this will make him feel you respect him, which will be something he will appreciate.
Readers, weigh in on your opinion in our Comment section. If you have a question for Barbara Meltz, make sure to check in during her Boston.com chat on Monday, Sept. 29, at 1 p.m.
One of the raps against teens playing video games is that it takes time away from other important developmental tasks, like socializing and homework. Turns out -- and maybe this shouldn't surprise us -- that even teens who play a lot of video games manage not to let it interfere with socializing. Homework? That's a different story.
In a study published in this month's Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, researchers say parents are right to worry about the negative impact of video games on school-related activities. Compared to non-gamers, kids who played video games spent 30 percent less time reading and 34 percent less time doing homework.
My advice for parents? (1) Put computers and TVs in public spaces in the home, not in bedrooms. It's not just a matter of what's on their screens, but also of how much time they spend on them. (2) Establish rules from the start about how much screen time is allowed, and when it happens: after homework. And if you're establishing rules for the first time now, make it clear that these are summer rules, not school-year rules.
The younger your kids are when you start these habits, the more likely they will internalize them and therefore follow them as they move into adolescence.
About the author
Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.