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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Does your child 'channel' a brat?

By John Rosemond

Q. My best friend's 7-year-old daughter is an only child and a spoiled brat. She screams at her parents when she doesn't get her way, always has to be first at everything, is bossy, and cheats at games so she can always win. For whatever strange reason, my children want to play with her, but I place strict limits on the relationship. How can I discourage the friendship?

A. When our daughter, Amy, now a 32-year-old mother of three, was in elementary school, she had a friend who was absolutely obnoxious toward her parents. She sassed them, openly defied them, and even called them names. The parents did nothing but act dramatically exasperated. Willie and I noticed it was difficult for Amy to play with this child without becoming "infected."

We decided not to interfere with the relationship, feeling Amy needed to learn to think for herself, and the earlier the better. We told her that she could play with her friend all she wanted, but the minute we saw her "channeling" the child's misbehavior and disrespect, we were going to punish her by sending her to her room for the remainder of the day. As I recall, it only took two or three such confinements before Amy was able to play with this child without becoming her "twin."

As a general rule, I recommend parents not interfere with their children's friendships unless those friendships constitute some real and present danger. Oh, by the way, your children will probably always have friends you don't particularly like. You need to get used to it.

Q. At least twice a week, my son's first-grade teacher sends home assignments he should have finished in class but didn't because of dawdling. It's obvious the teacher doesn't, and won't, penalize for this. I feel we should penalize him at home. Do you agree?

A. Yes, I agree. Obviously, lack of ability is not the problem. You have an opportunity here to nip in the bud a problem that will, if left unchecked, only get worse over time. I'd recommend making it a rule that if he brings unfinished work home one day of the school week, he'll be restricted one weekend day — i.e., confined to the house with no television and no visitors.

If he brings unfinished work home two or more days through the week, he'll be restricted through the entire weekend. That should constitute an offer he can't refuse (but because he's a child, he will refuse it, at least until he becomes convinced you are serious).

Q. I know you feel television is bad for children, but what's your opinion of children playing computer games?

A. I don't think computers are as nefarious as television, but I don't think a child should be allowed unlimited access to a computer, which means I don't think children should have computers in their rooms.

I've spoken to several computer programmers lately who tell me they don't even have computers in their homes! These folks feel, as I do, that children are prone to becoming obsessed with computer games (and the Internet). Their concerns include the fact that these games require no creativity and are asocial if not anti-social in terms of content.

I agree with them; nonetheless, my attitude is moderate. At the very most, I wouldn't let a child play computer games for more than 30 minutes a day. I would not allow any games with violent content, and I most definitely would not allow even a high school age child to "surf the 'Net" without adult supervision.

John Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 1020 East 86th Street, Suite 26B, Indianapolis, IN 46240 and at www.rosemond.com.