Dear Abby: I’ve been dating a wonderful woman for two years. She has a son in high school I’ll call “Jon.” Like many teens I see, he is constantly on his smartphone, his school-required tablet or playing video games on the TV in his bedroom.
On a recent vacation, I decided enough was enough. Jon had headphones on and was watching videos online while we were at a restaurant. His mother was on her cellphone as I sat there wondering how long I’d wait. Jon’s grades have dropped and he doesn’t sleep well. I can see he is so connected to his electronics that he’s disconnected from people.
While I don’t want to seem controlling, I now feel I have a vested interest in the boy. I care about him and see that the constant stimulation is affecting much of his life. I’m not sure he even knows how to make friends.
Should I push for his TV to be taken out of his room? His mother is excellent at setting her own boundaries, but because of her divorce, I think she’s reluctant to set boundaries for him. – Needs Help In Chicago
Dear Needs Help: If you haven’t discussed your concerns with Jon’s mother, you should, because they are valid. If his grades are suffering and he isn’t getting enough rest, it’s time for her to step up to the plate and start acting like a parent.
When the three of you are having a meal together, the electronics should be put away, and you and your girlfriend should make a point of including her son in the conversation. At his age, he should be informed about and have an opinion regarding current events. As to removing the television/gaming from his bedroom, his mother should warn him in advance that it will happen if his grades don’t improve.
Interacting with others doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Developing these skills takes practice. Learning to make eye contact, carry on a conversation and pick up on social cues are skills people learn in person, not by texting. This is a conversation I have had with more than one mental health expert, and it’s something parents need to remember when interacting with their children.