JCMMD

DON"T PANIC

Teach Your Children Well– FROM WSJ

Posted by jcmaziquemd on November 27, 2010

This week, it’s the readers’ turn to speak out. They’ve got plenty to say.

Last month, for instance, I wrote about how we’re trying to make sure our 7-year-old daughter doesn’t become as addicted to videogames as our 14-year-old son is. I noted that I blame myself for his addiction, since, in my job as work-at-home writer, I too easily allowed videogames to serve as a baby sitter.

But I also wrote that cracking down on our daughter raises the issue of fairness: She complains we are treating her far more harshly than we treated her brother.

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That column generated lots of reader commentary, including several emails from high-school students in a world-history class in Colorado Springs. These were kids who clearly knew what they were talking about. Been there, done that.

One of the students, 15-year-old Bryce Bishop, warned: "Do not let your daughter start the road you regret letting your son go down. At the same time, to show fairness, get strict with your son. It will hurt to do so initially, but trust me, he will thank you."

Bryce said that he, too, was addicted to videogames, and that his parents "warned a punishment would come my way, and it did." Everything was taken away for two days, and Bryce said he gained respect for his parents because they stuck to their threat. That last part was key, he said, because he was looking for any opening he could find.

"All I can say is make the punishment severe and don’t waver," he advised.

Most parents made the same point — and were disappointed with my apparent inability to stand firm when punishing my son. Meaghen Hoang, in Northfield, Minn., called my parenting skills "horrible," adding: "You lose all credibility when you write a column like this."

Ms. Hoang noted that she, too, is a work-at-home parent and sees no reason to use videogames as a baby sitter. She said she spends at least two hours with her kids after they get home from school and before she begins the evening chores.

"Work after dinner if you must," she wrote. "Work all night. Eat lunch at your desk. But don’t plop them down with your electronic baby sitter. I do everything in my power to clear my schedule for those two hours [and] just monitor their homework, communicate and be with them."

Bob Bergstrom, in Fullerton, Calif., agreed. He said parents like me "should effectively train your youngsters to stop playing videogames when requested."

Mr. Bergstrom’s plan:

1. Set a timer to go off when they have played for the designated amount of time;

2. From the moment the timer goes off, they have one minute to stop playing the game;

3. If they comply, they can play again the next day. If they don’t, they lose the game for a day.

"This requires only a minute or two of your time," Mr. Bergstrom says. "If applied properly, the children will learn quickly. With compliance there will be less strife and arguing. Let the timer and the rules be the bad guy rather than you, the parent."

* * *

A number of weeks ago I wrote about an incident in which I noticed a small expense on my credit-card statement. It was one I had never authorized, but I knew who had: my son.

I had plugged my credit-card data into his videogame system to pay for something at one point, but never double-checked to see if he had removed the data, as I had instructed. The next time he wanted to buy something, the credit-card data was in there, and he clicked "buy it now."

Kate Perkins, in Warrenville, Ill., took me to task for trying to whitewash the episode.

"Face up to it," she wrote. "Your kid stole from you. He used your credit card without your permission. You’re the one pretending this is something else. You can make excuses all you want, and say that ‘point and click’ isn’t the same thing as money to your kid, or that he has a ‘one-track mind’ and was just too distracted to ask permission. You’re not doing him or the rest of your family any favors by rationalizing his behavior like this.

"Your kid has lots of friends and only two parents. Sometimes parents have to be the unfriendly sheriff and lay down the law. I can tell from this and other columns that you have trouble being an authority figure to your kids, but that’s the job being the parent."

* * *

And finally, there’s Nancy Muench in Avon, Conn., who wrote to say that a recent column on kids and fairness is "probably one of the worst lessons you could teach."

The column was about our daughter being upset when we took her brother to see a movie that was too graphic for her. She called her mom on the cellphone as we were driving to the theater to say, "You and Dad are not being fair."

The question I asked in that column is how parents can balance their kids’ need for fairness, even when ages and interests are separated by many years.

Ms. Muench said that "one of the best lessons my dad taught me was ‘Life isn’t fair, the sooner you get used to that, the better off you’ll be.’ That phrase has always served me well and it helped me get through those circumstances when life wasn’t fair.

"We can’t always run interference for our children. The unfair lessons are valuable ones. And you just have to pick up the pieces and move on and not allow it to get you down."

—Jeff D. Opdyke writes about investing and finance from Baton Rouge, La. Email: lovemoney

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