Video-gaming excess causes family tension

My husband is very close with his sister, and our kids are close in age to hers. The cousins have grown up together and have spent much time playing together at family occasions and on summer camping trips. Unfortunately, her three boys have become increasingly involved in video games, which she and her husband allow them to play for hours at a time. Now when we visit them, instead of playing outside, our kids and theirs lock themselves away in a room with video games, some of which contain violent and sexist imagery. When they visit us, the video games come with them on an iPad. I don’t want my kids playing these games. My husband says he agrees with me, but he is hesitant to confront his sister. We are supposed to take a weeklong vacation together this summer. How do we keep the video games out of it? — Anonymous in Vallejo

Dear Anonymous: Ordinarily, Mensch likes to utilize expert opinion or halachah (Jewish law) when forming and backing up an opinion. And though there is a veritable cornucopia of research into the effects of video gaming on developing brains, there is not a clear consensus on what those effects are. And halachah is of little help in this instance, unless you think maybe a bit of idol worship is at play. So Mensch will go out on a limb and offer his own opinion.

Video games are vapid entertainment at best. Often, they are downright disgusting in their glorification of violence and anti-social behavior. Kids who spend inordinate time with them tend to be uninteresting and less physically fit (likewise adults who game). Kudos to you for wanting to do the right thing.

Tell your husband to let his sister know that video games are prohibited in your house. That piece is well within the bounds of acceptability.

It will be a trickier task to limit the gaming at their house, where you can either grin and bear it or ask your sister-in-law and her husband if they wouldn’t mind keeping it to an hour per day. If they refuse, or take offense at the suggestion, maybe you will want to cut back on your visits.

As for your summer vacation, you and your husband can plan a series of outdoor activities in which your kids are mandated, and their cousins encouraged, to participate. But don’t worry, we all know vacations with extended family abound with harmony and cohesion.

My husband and our kids are joining his parents and siblings on a vacation this summer at a national park. My husband’s brother acts as a “big brother” to a troubled teenage boy and is planning to bring this 15-year-old on the trip with us. This kid comes from a very rough background and was at one time in juvenile detention for stealing. I know my brother-in-law means well, but I am bringing my 13-year-old daughter on this vacation and am not comfortable with the idea of having her and this young man in close proximity for an extended period, day and night.  Can we ask my brother-in-law to leave his “little brother” at home? Should we decline to take the trip? — Arlene in Hillsborough

Dear Arlene: Your brother-in-law sounds like an admirable gentleman, and it would be a shame for either his little brother or your daughter to miss out on a trip to a national park. As the father of daughters, Mensch can certainly understand your concern and would, in your situation, incorporate extra vigilance.

You and your husband have every right to vet the situation and inquire of his brother as to the background and temperament of his young guest. Provided you are assured there is no propensity for violent or anti-social behavior, you can embark on this adventure with watchful eyes. Don’t hesitate to implement rigorous adult supervision and to remove your daughter from any situation that doesn’t feel right.

Having said that, Mensch hopes for the best and that this young man and your daughter (and her parents) will benefit from getting to know one another and sharing a diversity of experience among nurturing people in a sacred place.

Jonathan Harris
Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris is a synagogue administrator and writer-editor living in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters and an ungrateful cat. He can be reached at