JImQ: Our teenage son is extremely intelligent. The problem is he only wants to play video games all day and night when he’s home. It’s a struggle to get him involved in any kind of physical activity or even just to read a book. How can I encourage him to do other things without completely taking his video games away?

Jim: You’re not alone. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that kids aged 8 to 18 now spend more than 7 1/2 hours every day using electronic gadgets, including game consoles!

I’d suggest it’s time to go beyond “encouraging him to do other things,” and actually set some limits. Sit down with him and explain your concerns in clear language. Tell him you feel things have gotten out of hand and that you’re going to start limiting the amount of time he spends gaming.

Point out that it’s important to live a balanced life that includes interests outside of video games — things like reading, spending time with friends, playing sports or enjoying the outdoors. Make it clear that you won’t allow any video games until homework and chores are complete.

Then, be sure to follow through! Don’t shrink in the face of whining and complaining. At worst, you might need to get rid of the game console for a time. Most parents who stay strong in this battle find that their teens will eventually discover that there’s more to life than pixels on a screen.

We’ve implemented this plan with our own two boys, and have also used an “earn to play” system. Both approaches have worked really well for us.

Q: Do you have any advice for how I can get my husband to talk with me? He has plenty to say around his friends, but I can’t get more than seven words out of him.

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: Have you heard of the horse whisperer, Nicholas Evans? Well, I’m going to make you a “husband whisperer” by helping you decode the mysteries of male communication. Here are some tips that should help encourage him to open up:

• Evaluate your expectations: Generally, women communicate to connect relationally, while guys are wired to give advice and troubleshoot. Understanding your different styles can defuse conflict and enhance communication.

• Learn his communication pattern: How does he engage others, and what things are discussed? When is he most attentive and receptive to conversation?

• Use conversational foreplay: Women can usually share their feelings more quickly than men. If you want a deep conversation, ask some “warm-up” questions first.

• Timing: Most guys don’t want to discuss their day right after work, when there’s “chaos,” when they’re tired and hungry, or watching a sporting event. We’re sometimes more receptive to conversation when tied to an activity like walking or driving.
• Don’t multitask: Keep it simple for us one thing or topic at a time.

• Offer him a “diet story.” Men process information differently than ladies. Trimming away some of the details or words will keep him engaged.

• Soften your approach: Guys are highly sensitive to criticism, disrespect or failure, and a harsh start-up emotionally shuts us down. Kicking off a discussion with a gentle voice, relaxed body language and kind words and facial expressions will keep us in the game.

• Accept “fine” as a reasonable answer: No matter the language or culture, women have a universal distaste for this word. But men tend to communicate factually with less emotion and description. So for us, “fine” means perfectly fine.

• Be direct in asking for what you want: Women can usually pick up subtle messages, but hints don’t work well for us.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.