Q: My two granddaughters are 10 and 12. Their school provides iPads for students, and they constantly use their tablets to play games. The eldest one uses her tablet when she should be doing homework and during the bus trip to and from school. She forgets important things, such as homework assignments — even large projects. She is not working up to her abilities and thinks that a "big push" in the last two years of high school will get her into a top college. She is being medicated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but says her medication isn't causing her problems.
Her parents have limited her tablet time and forbid it after 8 p.m. They've even taken the tablet away, locking it in their bedroom. She has gotten a key, gone into their bedroom after they've fallen asleep and taken the tablet. It consumes all her waking attention. She uses it when she should be sleeping and leaves early for the bus stop so she can play on the tablet.
There are also family problems. Our son was fired from his job 10 months ago because of drinking. He tried a 12-step program but says he has figured out how to manage his alcohol intake without the program, which means that he is still drinking.
I've suggested that the parents lay down the law and take away the tablets when homework is finished and not let them have their tablets at all until their homework and other responsibilities are completed satisfactorily and other requirements are met consistently for a month. My son says that would result in terrible backlash behavior and would require much supervision time from him. My daughter-in-law is a teacher (not in the same school) and must go to bed quite early so that she can be ready in the morning, and the parents don't have much private time together. Their relationship has been strained by the whole situation but is generally strong and loving.
I think the whole family needs to get a grip and start toeing the line as far as personal responsibility and integrity go. I have only offered my opinions briefly after my son tells me the latest peccadilloes. Would you please offer some guidelines for how the parents can deal with this and what I can do to help?
A: As more schools provide iPads and notebook computers to their students, video game addiction becomes a greater problem. Providing boundaries at home is more complex for all families. Parents have to be not only united but also positive and consistent. If they overreact and overpunish, children dig their heels in and make a battle of the issue — one in which they are typically the victors because they are often technically more astute. Exhausted parents who are struggling with their own lives typically give in or give up. In your case, either may be happening.
You probably can't help your son and his wife unless they are willing to become involved in a serious counseling intervention. That could work, but I'm not sure you could make it happen. Suggesting to them that they go to counseling about their daughters could get them started.
One alternative could be asking them whether you could plan something with your eldest granddaughter to help her reverse her underachievement. You might be able to see her weekly and help her to strategize and organize her work. You could develop a plan with her and combine a summary of her week with a fun time out and even a reward plan for her hard work. If she can earn some positive attention and fun that makes her feel special for earning better grades, it could motivate her to be successful. Her sister might also want to become engaged, and if you're not too busy, you could plan two separate meetings a week for review and fun. Busy, successful parents have often thanked grandparents for their positive efforts and support. As you work with the girls, be sure to say nice things about their parents. If they feel that all adults are on the same team helping them, that will accelerate their success.
Please also be sensitive to the research that tells us that too much video gaming changes the brain and makes it more difficult for children to concentrate. Your granddaughter's ADHD could be a direct consequence of her many hours of screen time, and it's likely that her prescribed medication is really needed by now, although motivation trumps all for attention.
Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com. Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or [email protected] To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.