Care and Feeding

My Nephew Is So Obsessed With Video Games That I Worry for His Health

A boy sits on the floor with a gaming device playing video games.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My nephew Nicolas is 9 and only plays video games. He wakes up around 2:00 pm doesn’t brush his teeth or shower and begins playing games. My sister thinks our parents were ridiculously strict and doesn’t want to push her own kid at all. My husband is a pediatrician and has a suspicion that Nicolas is malnourished. I’m pissed at my sister. Her other son, my 8-year-old nephew comes over my house and LOVES the structure and steady meals. I ask my sister to send Nic but she says he doesn’t wasn’t to come over, so she never sends him. Nic says I don’t have any way to set up his games and that my TV is old so he’ll never spend time with me. That does hurt me as an uncle but I’m more worried about his health! Nothing illegal is happening, so I don’t know what to do! Any idea?

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—Want to Help

Dear Want,

I’m sure you’re aware of this, but not all kids are the same. Some love structure, some don’t. Some love video games, others don’t. It’s great that your husband is a pediatrician, but he doesn’t know for sure if he’s malnourished unless he fully examines him.

Instead of wasting your energy being mad at your sister, why don’t you calmly talk to her instead? Talk to her about Nic’s hygiene and daily routine, and mention how it worries you as his uncle. If you approach her with a non-judgmental tone, she may be more open to listening. One thing to keep in mind is if Nic’s brother seems to be on the right path (according to you at least), then maybe she’s doing a fine job as a mom after all.

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Another thing to consider is upgrading your television to one more compatible for modern gaming. My niece is really into Pokémon, and that’s not my thing at all — but she would never know it based on my knowledge of the characters. Sometimes you have to take one for the team in order to help foster a relationship with someone, and it looks like this is one of those times. Nowadays, they’re relatively inexpensive and the memories you can create with Nic can be priceless. Not to mention, once he’s willing to come to your house, you can have conversations with him one-on-one to get to the heart of your concerns with him in an appropriate way.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I were both born and raised in New York, where we still live with our two sons aged 7 and 9. My husband is a light-skinned Black man, who is very proud of his Jamaican heritage. I am a Jewish woman who has not been an active part of the faith for my adult life. My husband is our sons’ hero, and mine as well. He’s truly the funniest, hardest working man I’ve ever met. Our sons idolize him and want to be exactly like him. The issue is that the genetic lottery produced two boys that are my spitting image. So I have sons that look like Ben Stiller but speak and dress like 2001 Jay Z. I have tried to speak to my husband privately about how our boys need to understand that they have a certain level of privilege by being white passing, but he insists that they are as Black as he is. I want my sons to embrace their blackness, but I’m terrified that they will be accused of cultural appropriation, or racism. My husband did concede to my point about the N word, as the boys have many cousins their age that say the word freely. We explained to the boys that they cannot use the word, but I think we really bungled the conversation. I have no idea what’s right here. My husband seems to have no problem with any of this. Am I being over sensitive? I want my boys to be responsible without making them feel like they have to “act white.”

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—Best of Both Worlds

Dear Best,

If your kids choose to identify as Black, even if they pass as white, there’s a solid chance they will be accused of cultural appropriation or racism by people who don’t know them. The key part is “people who don’t know them.” If you think about it, how many times have you been judged incorrectly in your life by people who know very little about you? This stuff happens all of the time, and it needs to brushed off. The good news is their close friends and family will have your kids’ backs in that regard. I should also mention that it was a very smart move on your part to get your husband onboard with your kids not using the N-word, because that could end very badly for them if they use it around the wrong people.

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If I’m going to take sides here, I’m going to be on yours. For the life of me, I cannot understand how a Black man in America like your husband cannot wrap his head around the fact that many people will view him differently (aka, worse) than they will view you and your white-passing kids.

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I grew up with a blond-haired, green-eyed boy who looked as white as can be, but he was a quarter Black. He had all privileges that whiteness often provides such as walking through department stores without being followed and talking back to law enforcement (which he did as a teenager without any repercussions). The lightbulb finally went off for my friend in college when some of his white classmates started making extremely racist anti-Black comments in his presence, not knowing that he’s part-Black. After that wake-up call, he realized how deep-rooted racism is in America and how fortunate he is to not have to deal with it directly.

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Please take it from a Black man when I say that your husband really needs to pull his head out of his rear end and understand that there are two different Americas: One for white people (and white-passing people) and one for everyone else.

Last but not least, please don’t use the phrase “acting white.” What does that even mean, anyway? Let your kids be themselves, and inform them that they have the incredible advantage of using their perceived whiteness to create a more equitable world for people like their dad

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and other people of color in America.

• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My fiancée wants to be a “tiger mom”. Neither of us were raised this way, but she likes what she has heard about it. We are now brushing up on the piano and violin, which our future children will be expected to master. We have cut down on compliments to each other, since praise must be earned. I like her determination, but I wonder how this would actually work out with a child of ours. Should I just keep rolling with this? She now wants to try for a baby as soon as we’re married, although it seems like we should first take more time to become proficient ourselves in the things our kids will be spending hours per day on.

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—Fear of Tiger Mom

Dear Fear,

I couldn’t possibly disagree more with this style of raising children, and it seems like more parents are resorting to these fad parenting styles instead of just trusting their gut—but thankfully your future wife isn’t in charge of raising my kids.

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It really comes down to whether you’re on board with this style of parenting, too. If you are, then you can have one happy tiger family together. If not, then this isn’t something you should just go along with. You have just as much of a say in this as she does and you need to ensure your voice is heard.

It seems like you’re bending to everything she wants and that is not the way you want to start a marriage and a parenting partnership. Get all of your concerns, hopes, fears, and dreams out in the open before you walk down the aisle. If you don’t, it could end up costing you a lot in the long run—literally and figuratively.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I need help discerning when to call CPS. I got a job working as a counselor at a day camp for low income pre-K through eighth graders. I interact with three sisters, “Pizza” and “Popcorn” (twins), and “Popsicle,” almost daily. They are in pre-K, pre-K, and Kindergarten, respectively. Popsicle has worn the same outfit every day for 2.5 weeks. She has a strong odor, and her shoes are 3 sizes too small, causing her to have to walk slower, which irritates the other children when we are on field trips. Pizza and Popcorn change clothes, don’t smell, and have shoes that fit them. They all live with their aunt and uncle, and while the aunt seems to be a normal woman, the uncle is disheveled and emanates the same smell as Popsicle. I feel like this could be neglect. The only thing that I guess wouldn’t point to neglect or strong favoritism is that the sisters get along great and Popsicle doesn’t seem resentful of Pizza or Popcorn. I know calling CPS is a serious issue, and I don’t want to burden the family if it’s not an issue of neglect, but I also don’t want to ignore the adversity this little girl and possibly her sisters could be facing. Help!

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—To Call or Not to Call

Dear To Call,

Look, I don’t want to be dismissive of a child who could potentially be in danger. I understand that you’re seeing red flags because of this child’s lack of hygiene and ill-fitting clothing. But contacting Child Protective Services is not to be taken lightly, and I have to say that what you’re describing does not sound the alarms to me. Please review guidelines to identify child abuse and neglect more thoroughly, and also, have you had a conversation with their aunt and uncle to share your concerns? I have to say, the dehumanizing nicknames you gave the kids gives me pause—while I’m sure your heart is in the right place, I think you can do better. Start with the guardians, get to know the signs of neglect more thoroughly, and get to know these girls. You are right that you can be a great help to this family, but from where I sit, you need to do a bit more thinking about what that help might look like.

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—Doyin

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