Dear Your Teen:
I’m a stepmom and my stepson is 14. How can I get him to stop playing hours of video games?
There may be no bigger family challenge than step-parenting! I hear your concerns about your son, and how important his health is to you. It’s wonderful that you are so engaged.
There are some other wonderful aspects to your story that are clear from your question.
Your step-son is answering your questions!
When you talk to him about going outside, he gives you some reasons why he doesn’t want to do that. They may not be all of his reasons, but he is having this conversation with you when it would be much easier (from his point of view) to ignore you. That is respectful communication, and it is lacking in a lot of step relationships, so you’re obviously doing something right.
You’re talking to your partner about your concerns
Co-parenting is a challenge for all couples, and can be even tougher when the child is from a previous relationship.
You know the value of balance
Worry over the way our kids spend their time is not a new parenting issue. It’s as easy now to sit and play hours and hours of video games as it was to listen to endless records of rock-n-roll two generations ago. But you recognize the importance of having more than one interest, and more than one set of skills.
So, what can you do about your teen’s video game use?
Remember that your stepson is working out a lot of questions. How does he want to spend his time? Which adults should have the most influence on his decisions? What is a good reason to do something that makes him uncomfortable? Here are some concrete actions you can take.
Model the balance you recommend
Teens really do watch and learn. Even more than children, they are likely to form opinions from observation. Also, they are constantly on the lookout for hypocrisy. If you are recommending he get up from the screen and be active or go outside, you must do the same. Even if he waits months or years to try it, you will demonstrate to him the health and well-being that comes from spending time on a variety of pursuits.
Talk to your husband about his hopes
He may not share your concerns about your teen’s time. By asking what your husband hopes and wants for his son, you can better understand if the gaming he does is drawing the teen closer to those goals. If it doesn’t, that is a great way to discuss it with your husband. Look for ways that the two of you can give the boy the skills he needs to achieve.
Ask your stepson what he loves about gaming
Without any sarcasm or derision, get him to teach you about the games he plays. The fun, the competition, the social aspects, the personal challenge, the entertainment, the dexterity—all of these are great reasons for him to game. The more he knows that you understand and respect—maybe even share—his love of gaming, the more likely he is to listen to what you value and try to see the good in the activities you enjoy.
Kudos to your for investing time and energy in your family. And if you’re looking for a great book on co-parenting, I recommend Co-Parenting 101 by Deesha Philyaw and Michael Thomas.
Dr. Deborah Gilboa is a pediatrician and author of Get the Behavior You Want . . . Without Being the Parent Your Hate. For more advice from Dr. G or to ask a follow-up question, visit her website at askdoctorg.com or tweet her @AskDocG.