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Your son rushes home from school, not to head out and see which other guys want to play pickup basketball, but to head to his room, don his headphones, and spend the hours between now and dinner “connecting” to his friends playing Fortnite. Gone are the days of telling our teens to “turn off the tv and do your homework.” Homework, gaming, social media, research for school, Netflix, and even phone (FaceTime) calls are all intertwined and consume almost all the waking hours our students are not in school. A new study by Common Sense Media found that teens are spending an average of nine hours a day using entertainment media. Tweens had an average of six hours a day.

Average amount of time a Fortnite player spends with the game per week:   6-10 hours

Percentage of Fortnite players that are students that have skipped class to play it:  35%

Percentage of Fortnite players that are aged 18-24:  60%

Does it surprise you to think that your son or daughter, who claims not to have time to mow the grass, eat a family dinner, or spend an hour with Grandpa on the weekend, is spending 6-10 hours a week playing a game? This is one area where we would be thrilled to have a child who was below average. But what if she was above average? More than 10 hours a week? Yikes.  

What is a parent to do? There is something you can do. It is simple, but just as anything with teens, not necessarily easy. says the antonym for “social media” is “real presence.” The first obstacle to overcome is creating opportunities for our students to have real presence with us and with others. If the allure is powerful enough, it can overcome even the enticement of online gaming.  

Five simple steps to increasing your teen’s real presence quotient:  

1-Have a discussion.  Using an app like Moment can be eye-opening for you and your teen to see how much time she is spending on different apps or activities. Having a discussion about time management and what your family guidelines are regarding screen time is a great first step.

2-Create Online Free Zones/Times. Using a parent control app like Our Pact, a Circle wi-fi router, or the built in Screen Time on the iPhone can allow you to block certain hours each day or each week that will be internet free. If your teen is older, allowing them to manage this themselves builds trust.

3-Invent Fun. Creativity really counts here. Connect with other parents and choose a weekly time for teens to gather. Willingness to drive them to a park with sports fields or courts available might be key. Offering to have them all over for pizza and a game night (board games, not online games!) would be another option. Asking your son or daughter to brainstorm activities with you might create good ideas. A scavenger hunt in the neighborhood or at a safe local gathering place is highly interactive and fun.

4-Call the Gang Together. Getting students to buy into this idea may take some work, but see if you can offer to order their favorite pizza or make their favorite meal as a reward for coordinating schedules with their friends to make this happen. For them it is as easy as initiating a group text.

5-Schedule the Next Gathering. When you have the group together, make sure they coordinate the next week’s plan. Offer a prize for the winner of the chess/checkers/ping pong/pool tournament. The winning scavenger hunt team can pick the next sport outing. Within the group does anyone have a pool table, corn hole set, swimming pool, or other incentive to hang out? Try coordinating with that family to host the group.  

If your efforts result in your teen having two to three hours a week with real presence instead of online presence, you have been successful. We are not going to eliminate the internet or the allure of gaming. But with a plan and persistence, we can encourage our teens toward face to face relationships. We all know real relationships are not only beneficial for building friendships today, but also valuable for developing skills to enhance their future.

Being able to share toys and snacks is a key social skill for toddlers and preschoolers. Of course, your child should learn to be polite and friendly. Knowing how to share is important.

But there are times when sharing isn’t appropriate, even though children might be asked to do so.

These seem to be sensible rules. Yet many parents on the playground seem to have other ideas. I have seen – probably you have seen this too – mothers demand that a child give up a toy to make her own child happy, without regard for the fact that child has the toy brought it from home or that there are many other equally nice toys available. Parents say things like, “It’s our turn now” or “You’ve had that long enough,” as if there were a time limit to play.


But there’s not. So long as there are other play options for other children to enjoy, there’s no reason at all for a child to give up what he’s playing with, on demand. Other children do not have a right to insist on it. Certainly their parents don’t have that right.

It makes a difference if the plaything is the only one of its kind.  If there’s only one baby swing at the playground, don’t hog it the entire morning, but give other parents and babies a chance. If there’s only one plastic shovel in the sandbox, help your child to give it up after a reasonable interval. But if there are many shovels and your child is digging with the only blue one but there are other shovels around, then she should be able to keep on digging without interruption. And without being made to share.

Naturally, if your child brings a toy to the playground and it is so wonderful that everyone wants to play with it so that it’s causing difficulties, the solution is to put that toy away. Remove the source of the problem, as a courtesy to other parents and in recognition that little children have an imperfect understanding of ownership. But even then your child is under no requirement to share.

If your child does decide to share her brought-from-home toy, then she must share it equally. She shouldn’t use the toy as a way to exert power over other children or to discriminate among them. Better to put the toy away and play with it at home than to cause outrage and sadness among other kids.

But usually the problem is with parents. It is they who express outrage and sadness when your child won’t give up a toy and their own child is unhappy. Some parents will give their children anything, even giving their children your own child’s stuff. You do not have to go along with this. Helping your child refuse doesn’t teach your child to be selfish. It teaches your child boundaries and how to stand up for what’s right.

Practice these words and step in if another child or another parent insists your child share what is his: “We brought that from home. It’s ours.” Say this with a smile and don’t back down.

When another child or parent tries to limit your child’s play with a toy when there are other toys available, say, “When we’re done with that, we’ll let you know.” Smile again. Do not give in.

And if you are the “other parent” remember that expecting something to be given up on demand isn’t sharing. It’s bullying. It’s not what you want your child to learn how to do.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.