John Rosemond - Parenting Expert
Video games contribute
to under-achievement in school
Q: Our eighth-grade son is obviously intelligent, as demonstrated by the fact that he’s in his school’s gifted and talented program. Furthermore, he scored in the top 5 percent on his last national achievement test. His grades, however, have been consistently average and have recently gone from bad to worse. The problem is not only his grades, but his attitude at home. He refuses to discuss his school problems with us and is often defiant and disrespectful, especially when we try to talk to him about our concerns. His favorite pastime is his XBOX, which he probably plays to excess. We don’t have these problems with our other children and are at a loss as to how to motivate him. Suggestions?
A: Your son needs a major wake-up call, but he’s not alone in that regard. Underachievement is epidemic among today’s youth. The factors involved in this torpor include a sense of entitlement (which they have come by honestly), grade inflation, parent over-involvement in homework, and electronic diversions. It is significant that nearly every time I hear of a boy who is performing well below his ability level, I also hear that he is spending disproportionate time playing video and/or online games. (For girls, the equivalent seems to be instant messaging.)
My first suggestion, therefore, is that you make the XBOX disappear, permanently. After my recent column on the 17-year-old boy who was obsessed with playing online games, I received several letters from counselors and addiction specialists thanking me for pointing out what they have known for some time: video games are addictive—not figuratively, but literally. The problem is that unlike a drug problem, this particular addiction is legal. As one counselor pointed out, “Parents seem to think that as long as their children are at home and safe, then they are okay. They don’t seem to notice the subtle declines in creativity, affect, motivation, and simple thought processes (associated with video game addiction).”
Take that nefarious device and toss it in a dumpster that’s at least five miles from your house. When your son comes home and wants to know where it’s gone, say, “Your priorities are obviously out of whack, and it’s obvious that you don’t realize they’re out of whack, so we have taken the first step toward helping you get them into whack.”
When he’s calmed down enough to listen to you (which may take more than 24 hours), point out that he does not seem and has never seemed to take seriously his academic responsibilities. You took his XBOX machine away because it was siphoning off his motivation and sense of decorum, and you are prepared to go even further, should further be required. In that regard, remind him that in two years, he will be eligible for a driver license and then say something along these lines: “Driving involves responsibility for other people’s lives, which is the biggest responsibility of all. The fact that you don’t work up to your ability in school doesn’t threaten anyone’s life, so it’s not as big a responsibility as driving a car. The way we see it, if you won’t deal properly with your school responsibilities, then we won’t be able to let you get behind the wheel of a car. For that to happen, your grades need to reflect your ability, and although you don’t often act like it, you are a person of significant ability.”
It’s time for your son to be confronted with Real World Principle Number One: If you don’t do what you’re supposed to do, you don’t get to do what you want to do. Come to think of it, that’s Real World Principles Two and Three as well.
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