Month: March 2018

Screen Abuse – Part II 14,600 Hours

It’s fair to say that people are more addicted to their electronic devices than ever before. Gaming addiction is at a record level, Netflix is achieving its highest viewership levels, and as you can see from these Cell Phone Deal Statistics, the average daily app usage has been increasing for years.

Last week we discussed young Noah who was “raging” because things were not going so well for him on his video game and Logan who had logged in approximately 14,600 hours of screen time by the age of 15 (see, 14,600 Hours Logged In).

Reflecting on the current state of affairs brought me back, to a long time ago in a galaxy far away. Then, Saturdays were the best days of the week. Usually there was endless fun. No school. No parents. Playing touch football in the street (two on two or three on three), going to the local woods or church playground, studying Batman and Superman comic books, were the main activities. Sometimes we went inside and played ping-pong or ran aurora cars around a track. We built model planes with real model glue (and still no parents around to supervise)! Around noon we had to go home for five minutes to wolf down a lousy bologna sandwich (on white bread, mind you) that was waiting for us, before rushing out the door to go back to what we were doing.

The Days Were Are Just Packed,” said the title of one of the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon books (boy do, I miss them). Indeed the days were just packed – eight plus hours of kid driven fun.

Now, Saturdays are either adult-engineered (e.g., soccer, karate or whatever) or if there is no adult steerage then the kid retreats to a day on Xbox (or its equivalent). Weather is irrelevant in the decision making. Sunny days don’t mean much in video land. Mind you, the Saturday of XBoxing is on top of the five or six hours from the night before.

If you are a parent under the age of 40 or so, my guess is your Saturdays were more like the latter description spent engaged with adult driven activities or some type of screen activity, so perhaps this type of day described doesn’t bother you that much.

The over 40’s are worried.

They should be.

Upon reading the 14,600 hour blog, a colleague sent me the results of a large study that showed teenagers who logged in five or more hours a day of screen time were at greater risk for depression and suicidal thoughts. It was speculated that their increased depression was related to their decreased sense of connection with others.

I wish I had the formula for you in terms of what to do about all of this. My best advice is that you need to set your values clearly.

When my son was young we would have what I call our talks, “another in the ongoing series of values clarification discussions.”

It was in those values clarification sit-downs where parental expectations were laid out. (By the way, they started around the age of six and continued right into college!)

Here’s an example that I would have with Logan the boy we discussed last week, said slowly and very measuredly:

“Logan, we need you to understand something (pause). Playing your Xbox is a privilege. It’s not required that we give you this privilege (big pause). We are required to feed you and provide shelter. Your mom and I pay the bill for Xbox and we let you have it. Right now, we feel that you are abusing the privilege and taking advantage of us (very big pause). We don’t like that. We are very unhappy about it. Here’s the deal. If you continue to abuse the privilege by playing 5 or so hours a day, then your mom and I are going to take a serious look at curbing this privilege. we don’t exactly know what that means at the moment, but we can tell you that your game playing will be cut way back or we will have to shut it down altogether. You need to think about it seriously. It’s your call.”

Think about it. If the kid at 17 is given the keys to the car and you find out he is abusing the privilege (e.g., driving recklessly, coming home past agreed upon times), what would you do?

Of course. You would curb the privilege. You might shut it down.

Abuse of screens is no different.

Takeaway Point

Food and shelter are requirements. The rest are privileges.

Time to start having your, “Ongoing Series of Values Clarification Discussions.”


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14,600 Screen Hours Logged In

When you work with kids, you can’t help but reflect on the state of childhood, parenting, society and their intersection.

This week’s musing started with an article that I read talking about parents concerned about their children (i.e., boys) addiction to a video game called “Fortnite.” I had never heard of the game, but as it happened, I had a flow of teen age boys this week talking about their “gaming” habits who were able to schooling me about Fortnite and their daily reality..

Child number one, 14 year old Noah, told me how he was “raging” (kids are now using the term regularly as a verb fairly) when things were not going his way while playing a game. As it was told to me, he was losing a game and throwing his controller at the wall while cursing. His parents told me that they made some half-hearted attempts to tone down the “raging” but it wasn’t having much of an impact.

Noah explained his anger to me, admitting that he had screamed at his father to “F-Off” (said more explicitly than than that).

Listening to each side of the story I frequently feel like I am in the position of being the “People’s Court Judge” passing down a verdict.

With Noah I hadn’t declared him “guilty” until he got to the part of the part of the story where he told his father to “F-Off.”

The second child, Logan, age 15, was trying to tell me he wasn’t really addicted to playing video games.

“On average, how many hours do you play on video games each day,” I asked Logan.

“Maybe four or five,” Logan responded.

I got out my calculator. “Let’s see. So you told me you started playing when you were seven,” I said to him. “So, that’s 365 days a year multiplied by five hours a day over an eight year period. That comes to 14,600 hours of video games that you’ve played to date give or take a few hundred.”

Logan looked a bit stunned with that number. Of course, he had tried to reduce the number of hours played on games such as League of Legends by using a service known as unranked smurfs. These companies play your account for you, so you can reduce the amount of time you spend playing on the “boring” parts of the game. You might be interested in creating league of legends smurf accounts first before you get unranked smurfs to play for you. By creating this account for yourself you get to have way more fun with the game. But it’s up to you, if you don’t have the time to play then get someone else to play it for you. However, if you want to experience the game in it’s full glory then get a smurfs account for yourself. But be prepared for lack of sleep, if you’re wanting to play the game yourself and experience every part of it, you could use guide websites like Warcraft Tavern to help you through some of the harder obstacles within the game.

I continued. “If you factor in sleep, (we played with some more numbers and multiplied 8 hours of sleep over eight year period), you probably have played video games for about one fourth of your waking life from the age of five.”

While I am not a scientist and have not conducted a formal or valid research study, I can say with pretty good certainty that there isn’t one boy over the age of 10 who isn’t logging in significant hours on their screens.

When you include playing on the iPad, which most kids are starting to do around the age of four (or younger), then the numbers change dramatically.

Parents all the time that they are “limiting their child’s screen time.” I know. I know.

One last point. Of the 14,600 or so hours spent playing Fortnite, Minecraft, World of Warcraft, or whatever, that means they are not socializing or playing outside (quaint activities that children used to do). However, parents must also realize their kids aren’t just glued to their screen playing on their own, they could also be socializing thanks to the online multiplayer aspect of many of these popular games such as these Epic Minecraft Servers that allow Minecraft users to play online together, children may not be going outside to play with their friends, but they will be playing with their friends on their favorite gaming platform.

Takeaway Point

Take out your calculator and play with some numbers.

Like Logan, you will probably be stunned.

(Next week, we will build on this topic.)


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The Pacing of Things

Sometimes it’s not easy being a kid.  This is especially true if your brain works at a pace that is qualitatively different (i.e., slower) than the other kids around you or than the expectations that are being put upon you.

Take Jordan, a 10 year old fourth grader.  Jordan’s already on a stimulant medication, having been “diagnosed” with ADHD.  For Jordan keeping up was a constant challenge, even with the medication.

For almost every task that he did, it took Jordan double, triple or even quadruple the amount of time that one might expect for the given task.

His teachers always attributed Jordan’s poor class performance as “just not focused enough” or “not paying attention.”

We worked with Jordan for over three hours and there was never a time that I thought he was not paying attention, but there was a pervasive quality of inefficiency to the way he went about things.  This was true whether he was copying designs or shapes, remembering a series of numbers, answering different questions or solving problems. Across the board Jordan was inefficient.

It was less that he was distractible, but more a matter of Jordan’s internal clock speed.  In other words, Jordan had significantly slow “R.P.M.s” (revolutions per minute, as in a car engine).

Parents always want to know what to do about the Jordans of the world and their slow clock speed.  They feel beleaguered by the difficulty in getting homework finished and undergoing the nightly ritual of frustration.

They frequently ask, “How do we fix it?”

I wish I could send parents to the equivalent of the “Jiffy Lube Brain Shop,” to fix the problem, but  to date I haven’t known any to deliver  on their claims (even though there are lots of programs out there very willing to part you from your hard earned money).

There are few things I would be thinking about relative to a Jordan type:

First, I would politely move the teacher away from the “not paying attention” perspective and talk to her about “clock speed,” in the hope that she can accommodate Jordan so he’s not being penalized.  It would seem (at least from where I sit) that as long as Jordan is putting forth good effort, then he should not receive bad grades.

Jordan should also not have to take all kinds of work home that he could not complete in class.  (If Jordan had a bad leg he wouldn’t be held accountable for not running fast enough).  That would seem to be unfairly punitive.

Jordan’s parents also need to make sure they aren’t on his back too much, as these kids will pull for a lot of negative parental attention.

The parental mindset would be something like, “Jordan, you give us a solid hour (or whatever us reasonable for your child’s particular age and grade) with good effort and we will talk to the teacher about not getting penalized.”

Finally, the Jordan types usually are very disorganized and lack an internal sense of structure.  Sit down with him before he starts his work and map out (with him) in a simple list how he should proceed with his work.

Then set a timer and when the session is done, Jordan is free to go do what he wants.

Then pour yourself a drink and forget about it. 


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Challenging & “Opposite Children”: Part II – “Off With Their Heads”

Last week we talked about a young girl, Olivia, an 8 year old who was extraordinarily demanding in her style, with the image of her mom as a nervous servant desperately trying to please her. (see, “Off With Their Heads”).

We talked about two groups of kids.  The first, Group A, is flexible by temperament and generally able to handle “curveballs” or the word “no,” whereas Group B is the opposite – rigid, inflexible and difficult.   “No” is a particular anathema to this group,” and a word that is not easily tolerated.

I know there are lots of programs or therapeutic modalities claiming to tame these challenging kids in short order, but I’m not so sure.

The fact of the matter is that difficult is difficult.

Children with Challenging Behavior -“Opposite Children”

Apropos of that, there was a young boy, Martin, I observed many years ago in preschool.  A challenging child on many levels, I remember that Martin was what I called an “opposite child.”  That is, no matter what the group, teacher or family wanted to do, Martin tried  to do the opposite.

You know the concept of “going with the grain.”  Not Martin.  He was the definition of going against the grain.  Martin was a grain rubber.

A lot of work took place after the observation and assessment of him to help the parents manage his challenging behaviors and to set appropriate limits, but it wasn’t easy.  Martin continually pushed parental buttons to try and have his demands met.

I lost touch with Martin and his family, but just last week Martin’s dad came in to say hello and update me.  Now, a 25 year old medical student, Martin has come a long way.

But in the story the dad told of the adult Martin, there were signs of the four year old “opposite child” self.  Periodically challenging his teachers when he felt they were wrong about something and coming across to his peers like he was superior to them, Martin continued to be someone who wasn’t taking the easy route.

No one thought of him as a flexible person who went with the grain.

How to deal with a difficult child

If you have relatively young children, what do you do if you have an Olivia (“Off with their heads!”) or an opposite child like Martin?

My best piece of advice is that you watch your reactions.  Try to not add fuel to the fire, but don’t feel you need to cater to every whim.

For example, if your Olivia is making her demands (“I want to go to the store tonight for markers.”), don’t take the bait.  Pull back a little.  Let her make her demands, but be careful about not being a “Gumby parent” with no backbone.  (“Sorry, we are not running to the Target tonight to get the markers you wanted.”)

With opposite children be clear in your explanations, but again, watch being held hostage by their demands.

The children who are “opposite” or demanding in temperamental style are very difficult to please and trying to do so is often a losing battle.

Takeaway Point

Steel your nerve as a parent.  Challenging kids are an ongoing challenge.  You can change the odds though.  Practice being firm, clear and matter-of-fact in your style and you will feel less depleted as a parent and more in charge.


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