Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Her Kid's a Gaming Addict

Posted By on Tue, Sep 27, 2011 at 7:49 AM

Dear Jack,

The other day I went to get my son up for school and found him playing on the computer. He hadn’t been to bed all night.

My son is an internet gaming addict. He’s a good kid, when he’s not immersed in his online roleplaying game. What friends he has left are also game addicts. If they’re not online at the same time, they’re over here, or he’s at their houses, watching each other play. If they’re not playing on the computer, they’re playing internet-linked video game console games. His grades are terrible.

I’ve talked to him and talked to him and it does no good. How can I get him to stop?

Fed Up

Dear Fed,

I have broken three addictions in my life. I have an addictive personality and I have made breaking my addictions something of a hobby. I pick a new one and quit every seven or eight years. The next one I plan to quit is my habit of getting married and divorced every five years or so.

I have known many people who have been addicts of one thing or another, and I know people who are still addicts. Each has his or her story of how they defeated their addictions. There’s no right way to stop. It all depends on the addict. The only way I am able to quit something is cold turkey. Many people can’t do it. My last wife quit smoking by using the patch and it worked for her. I just smoked while wearing the patch and doubled my nicotine intake.

Not knowing your son, I can’t tell you what will work. I can tell you what is true of all addictions – you can’t make him stop. He has to stop on his own, but you can help him by not setting him up for failure. The first thing you can do is take his computer out of his room. Move it to a common public area of the house so you can monitor his internet usage and nag the hell out of him when he’s playing too long. You can remove the internet access to his game console, either by taking the cable or blocking its wireless access.

That’s the easy part. He’s going to resent what you’ve done and hate you forever. He’ll go to his friends houses to play and feed his addiction. He’ll find ways to get around your blocks and checks — kids are like squirrels that way. You will have done nothing to stop him because you haven’t addresses his addiction at all. All you’ve done is punish him.

In order to adjust his behavior, you have to first create a shock moment of extreme emotion. That’s the taking-his-stuff part. Now, you must build ways to reward positive behavior rather than punishing bad behavior. When my kids were young, we used playing cards as a form of money. Each card was worth thirty minutes or an hour. If they did well, they got cards, which they could spend to buy television or game or movie time. They got cards, not just for good grades or cleaning their room, but also for things like going outside to play, reading a book, going to soccer and baseball practice and games. Anything that increased the time of their human social interactions or positive mental development. First we took away everything, and then we gave them the opportunity to earn the activities they craved. Before long, we no longer had to use the cards and video games weren’t their entire lives.

Your son is probably too old to use cards, but you can do the same thing on an honor system. Let him earn your trust and be rewarded for it. Let him lead a somewhat normal life and be rewarded for it. You’re not taking away his games forever, you’re giving him the opportunity to earn his game time. He’ll have to relearn how to live without it, because his access to it is strictly controlled. But at least he’s not quitting cold turkey. However, this will require a huge amount of discipline on your part. You are the one who has to quit cold turkey. You’re giving up the lazy parenting that allowed the situation to reach this point in the first place.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Monday, September 19, 2011

She's an Agony Aunt

Posted By on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 at 8:58 AM

Dear Jack,

My girlfriend is what is affectionately termed an "Agony Aunt." I call her a loser magnet, and yes, I am aware of the irony.

Take a room full of people and put her in it. If one of those people has a mental disorder, he or she will find and latch onto her, track down her phone number and where she lives and move into the room above the garage, all before she has even left the room. They usually promise to clean the house in exchange for rent.

The phone at our house rings constantly. We screen all our calls. The current loser rings up five or six times a day just to chat. Chatting consists of hours spent describing in excruciating detail the latest melodrama of her worthless relationships. Relationships this human derelict would rather die than end, as apparently she needs someone to abuse her in order to feel alive.

For the most part, these emotional vampires are sane enough to avoid permanent institutionalization. Mores the pity. I say "for the most part" because there was one who used to call from her hospital bed. So far, we've gotten lucky in that she hasn't attracted the attention of someone truly dangerous. So far, they've been relatively harmless idiots. But that can't last forever.

I have offered, many times, to resolve these situations for her, but my girlfriend has a heart that just won't stop bleeding. She cringes at the sound of a ringing phone or knocking door, but she can't bring herself to tell these people to go away. The few times I've intervened, it only made her mad. My methods work, but they are not to her liking.

How do you get rid of a bloodsucking leech without hurting its widdle feelings? My girlfriend would like to know. She doesn't want to be an agony aunt anymore, and I don't want to wake up one morning to find our cat nailed to the door as a warning.

Riding Shotgun

Dear Rider,

Yes, I can see your girlfriend has quite the problem on her hands.

The first step to getting rid of unwanted visitors and callers is to give up the habit of telling pleasant lies in order to spare their feelings. Most of them have already heard every lie in the book and will ask right away, "Well, when will you be done? When can you talk again? Can I call back in ten minutes?" And then you're stuck. It's often easier to sit quiet than make up convincing lies. That's what makes her an agony aunt. She's an easy mark.

If she wants to stop being an agony aunt, she will have to understand that what would hurt her feelings probably won't hurt theirs. They're used to rejection. Maybe she's already noticed that after they've told her all their stories, they stop calling quite so often. She may not hear from somebody for weeks, until the next crisis happens. She feels relief, rather than rejection, but the truth is they've already found someone new. They're only using her, so she shouldn't feel bad about saying no. They are used car salesmen of their emotions. They hear no all day, every day.

There is a fine art to saying no. Not everyone can do it. To do it well requires a certain level of grace, charm, and ruthless self-discipline. You have to define the limits of your life and never let anyone cross them. Don't be an ass about it. You can tell someone no and even say it with a smile. When the phone rings, you say, "No thank you, I can't talk right now, I'm spending time with my boyfriend." And then say goodbye, and hang up. Do that a few times and it gets easier every time. Do that every day and the phone will stop ringing. Eventually.

But before you go transmuting her heart of gold into a heart of iron, be warned. You may not like the person you create. She might start saying no to you, too. One day, she might even kick you out of the room above the garage.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The End is Near!

Posted By on Sun, Sep 11, 2011 at 9:00 AM

Dear Jack,

These days I find myself thinking more and more about the end times. I'm not a religious person, though I did grow up going to church and reading Revelations. I don't really buy into the idea that there's going to be this massive battle between good and evil, Jesus and Satan, or whatever.

At the same time, I don't see how the world can keep going the way it's going. Things seem to be falling apart, don't you think? I just having a feeling that it's all coming to an end. I don't know how it's going to happen. Maybe an economic meltdown, maybe global warming or a new ice age, maybe the supervolcano in Yellowstone Park, or a comet, or something.

I don't know how it's going to happen, I just know it's going to happen in my lifetime. My kids are going to grow up in a world I can't even imagine, provided they get a chance to grow up at all. Sometimes I wonder what I need to do to survive, other times I wonder why anyone would want to survive.

I know I shouldn't dwell on this, but I can't help it. My wife doesn't understand my anxieties, or my desire to stockpile and prepare for the future. She says we have enough to worry about today without finding things to worry about that aren't ever going to happen. She says I need to talk to someone, but I don't know who. I don't want to see a preacher, because he will only try to stick my nose in a Bible, and a psychiatrist is just going to put me on some pill.

Anxious About the End Times

Dear End Timer,

Your wife thinks you need to talk to somebody and you thought of me? Maybe the first thing we need to address is your decision-making processes.

My advice to you is to turn off the Discovery Channel. They ought to call it the Apocalypse Channel. The fact that so many television shows are dedicated to speculations about the end of the world should tell you that you are not alone, nor are you very unusual. You just haven't found a way to make a profit off your imagination the way they have.

The human species seems fascinated by disaster porn. I think it's hardwired into our species. Scary stories are our way of mentally preparing ourselves to face the worst, and there's nothing worse than the Apocalypse, is there? Historically, there have been dozens of disasters that wiped out entire civilizations. From an evolutionary standpoint, those who were mentally prepared to survive were the ones who survived. So it could happen. But just because it has happened, just because it could happen, doesn't mean it will happen.

Every generation thinks it's going to be the last. As we begin to face our own mortality, we just can't imagine the world going on without us. So we construct elaborate fantasies about the world's destruction. Why this should give us comfort, I don't know, but religions are founded upon these fantasies. The Book of Revelations, for example, was probably written with the expectation that the end was nigh. The early Christians certainly believed Jesus was coming any moment. All the signs pointed to it. As long as people have been people, they've been convinced the world was about to end. It hasn't ended yet.

In the end (ahem), you have to recognize the contradiction of the human condition and accept it. Your fear convinces you that something bad is about to happen. It's difficult to accept that nothing is going to happen, because that would be to admit that your fears are irrational. Therefore, because you are afraid, you must have a good reason to be afraid, otherwise you would be crazy. But you're not crazy. You're normal. Crazy would be to go out and convince other people that your fears are real.

Accept it, live with it, dwell on it if you like, even stockpile if it makes you feel better - you can always use those supplies when the Big One hits. But don't forget to live for today, too. Love your wife, hug your kids, eat a peach.

Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight: jack.wagg@gmail.com

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