Dear Kid Whisperer,
My 10-year-old regularly does not want to eat dinner with us. I’ve told him how important I think family time is and that I want him to eat with us, but he just wants to eat in his room. Sometimes I demand that he eat with us and this is a daily battle. Any suggestions on how to handle this? My son is in his room almost all day playing Roblox or watching TV. He does get out for some breaks, but I’m not sure it’s often enough. -Sara, Kitty Hawk, NC
Let’s profoundly simplify things right up front. There should be no screens in your kid’s room. Never, never, never. Ever. This is for the same reasons that your kid shouldn’t have hard drugs in his room: they’re highly addictive, they hurt the brain, there is no positive upside for kids having them, and if they have them, kids will be much less likely to want to be part of real life.
Your kid is going to get upset because you have allowed him to use chemically addictive devices non-stop all day every day. You are going to have a recovering addict on your hands. It’s going to be very annoying for a long time.
Here’s how I’d put your kid on a diet of cold turkey.
Kid Whisperer: Oh, dude. I owe you a huge apology. I am so, so sorry. I have allowed you to become addicted to screens. I apologize with all of my heart. Parenting is hard, and I’ve made a mistake.
Kid: You are being weird. What are you going to do?
Kid Whisperer: I have removed your computer and your TV from your room. I returned your smart phone to the store.
Kid: No, seriously. What are you going to do?
Kid Whisperer: Oh, dude. You are really going to hate this. From now on, you will be allowed to watch thirty minutes of TV and play thirty minutes of video games per day, the content of which will need to be approved by a parent, and this screen time will take place in the living room. This detox time is going to be hard. I love you and support you and I know that you’ll get through this.
Kid: What in the world am I supposed to do for fun!!!!!!?????
Kid Whisperer: Anything else that doesn’t bother anyone would be fine. Also, breakfast, lunch, and dinner will each take place every day. Those will be your only chances to eat and they will take place at the dinner table, unless we have a special movie night when we will eat in front of the TV. You certainly don’t have to eat, but those will be your three chances to eat. We do require that you come to the table, without any technology.
Kid: What if I simply do not accept this nonsense? What if I refuse to come to the dinner table? What if I do one of my signature temper tantrums and break everything in my room? What if I raid the pantry and live on a diet of breakfast cereal and candy? What then?
Kid Whisperer: Oh, dude. I suppose that you will be able to have the excitement of trying those things and seeing what happens.
Kid Whisperer silently takes out the locks that he got at the hardware store and starts putting them on all pantry, freezer, and refrigerator doors.
Tantrums that include the breaking of objects result in Kid being charged for said objects.
Tantrums that result in messes result in all items of value that are out of place being donated to Goodwill or a similar organization and Kid being charged for trash pickup.
Kid not coming to the meal table results in hunger and having to practice coming to the table until he gets it right.
Allow Kid’s life to be put on hold until he can detox and be ready, once again, for polite society.