For the Love of Parenting: So your kid’s discovered video games and phones. Now what?

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Editor’s note: For the Love of Parenting is a local parenting advice column coordinated by Krystal Arnot, director of the Little Learners Center in Eureka. When parents have questions, she’ll share strategies here.

Q: “My son was active in sports and other activities in middle school but since he started in high school, all he seems to want to do in his spare time is play video games. How can I encourage him to be more active in other things besides so video game- and phone-focused?”

A: “When my son was 13 and 14 I had no idea what to do with him or how to talk to him. My sweet and loving boy was suddenly always grumpy, tired, complained constantly of aches and pains, and snapped at me no matter what I said. Most of the time it didn’t seem like even he knew why he felt or reacted the way he did. Always an avid reader, suddenly all he wanted to do was play video games or look at his phone. I lamented getting him a smart phone and read with growing horror about how addictive they are. I despaired of getting him outside ever again. At my wits’ end, I bought a pile of books on the teenage brain, talked to my friends, and went to a class for parents of teenagers. Parents need connections with other parents to normalize what they are going through. When I heard friends describing their teens, it helped me realize that my family was experiencing the normal developmental trajectory of a child.

“The teenage years are a time of rapid growth and dynamic change. Teens are primed to innovate, take risks, test limits — but their prefrontal cortex, which governs things like impulse control and judgement, are still not fully developed (and won’t be until age 25). Managing all that is exhausting when you add in the social pressures, hormones and school stress that kids experience. Sometimes they want to escape into screen time, just like adults do. The challenge we face is helping them develop limits and find balance.

“The most important things you can do (besides remembering to breathe!) is maintain communication and connection. Say I love you. A lot. Initiate conversations, even if you only get monosyllabic answers. Set reasonable limits that you can all live with for screen time. Share tidbits from your own life during moments of togetherness such as driving, putting away dishes, walking a dog. Insist that they do something with you some of the time — a walk to the end of the driveway after dinner was sometimes all we got, but the message was consistent: We love you, we value you. And as the parent of a 15 year old who is now reading books again, teaching himself guitar and has an active and positive social life, I can attest that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

— Star

Have a parenting question? Send it to letters@times-standard. com with “Parenting” in the subject line.

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