My friend's son is up at 4am playing videogames; should I step in?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s media expert and director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Last week Rich commented on video game systems with access to the web, which can make tracking a child’s online time more difficult. This week, Rich offers advice to a mom who is concerned her friend’s lax attitude about her son’s excessive video gaming  may be causing the child harm.

Michael Rich, MD, MPH
Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Q: My friend allows TVs and computers in her young childrens’ bedrooms, and she does not limit or monitor her kids’ media use at all. I never comment on her choices, which are different than mine, but I recently heard that her 4-year-old gets up in the middle of the night (2 or 3 a.m.!), goes into the family room, and plays video games. My friend jokes about it and thinks it’s funny. I’m worried that he’s possibly addicted to video games and, of course, about his sleep deprivation. Do you have any suggestions about addressing something like this with her? Or is it just a parenting choice that I should mind my own business about? I hate to come across as the snooty, media-conscious mom, but I really am worried.
Concerned Parent in Boston, MA

A: Dear Concerned Parent,

The issue of what is our business and not our business when it comes to other people’s kids is really tough, and not one for which I have an easy answer. Whether or how you comment on her parenting depends most on the nature of your relationship with her. Although “it takes a village to raise a child,” some parents welcome and openly share parenting strategies, while others get angry or embarrassed when others comment on their parenting styles.

One tactful way to bring up your concern would be to share some solid scientific evidence, rather than criticism, and let the child’s mother come to her own conclusion. For example, the next time she mentions her 4-year-old’s game playing habits, crankiness, or sleepiness, you could express concern by saying something like, “You know, I just saw an article about how researchers found that kids aren’t getting enough sleep to grow and learn well these days, and that TV & video games might be one of the big reasons why.” If you plant the idea of media and sleep being related to each other without openly criticizing her parenting, she might think further about when or how often her child plays these games.

It is okay to respond honestly when you hear stories of the child being found awake at 4:00 a.m. If it upsets you, show that it upsets you—don’t laugh along. Express everything in terms of your concern for the child rather than from a standpoint of being a better parent. In other words, “Getting a good night’s sleep is so important for little kids, that makes me worried” rather than “I would never let my own child do this.”

Whether it’s by providing her with information and strategies to make better parenting decisions or by showing your true reaction to what you are hearing, hopefully your friend will get the message that this is not something to laugh about. But even if she doesn’t, at least you will know that you’ve done your best to look out for a child in your village.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician