The Washington Post
Kids and the outdoors user experience
Adapted from an online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Occasionally, a neighbor kid will come over and ask my son to play. He’s overweight so his parents make him play outside more — not a cruel amount in my opinion, just enough to get more exercise.
I feel bad when the neighbor kid comes over and my son declines in favor of the screen. They are friends and do play together. But all the other kids prefer screen time, so a lot of the time he’s by himself. Inviting him in is not really an option because his parents want him outside.
When my son does go out, he has fun and usually forgets about whatever he was doing on the screen, but I also worry forcing him will make him resent his friend. Thoughts?
— Feeling Bad
Feeling Bad: I’m inclined to let the kids work out when they play. I do feel for the neighbor, but having managed long stretches of solitude in my own childhood, I can’t endorse the idea that having to entertain oneself is a uniformly terrible thing. Resourcefulness has many roots.
Can we talk about how depressing it is, though, that a neighborhood’s worth of kids is inside on a screen except the one kid forced to go out? Anyway.
Maybe the neighbor can inspire a conversation with your kid about being a good friend. Certainly it’s not your son’s responsibility to make his friend happy — that’s the emotional-boundary side — but it can be a gesture of friendship to think beyond just ourselves and what we want, to what might bring happiness to someone else, thereby in many cases, lifting the joy factor for all. This could be a really mind-opening topic, especially if you do less speaking and more listening. Readers’ thoughts:
A screen-time limit might l help him choose to play with the kid when he knows he can’t be on the screen much longer anyway. Then hopefully the fun he has with his friend is reinforcing in and of itself. No judgment whatsoever on the screen time, by the way, but just an option if your goal is to get him playing outside more without resenting his friend for it.
Does your son understand l this friend can play only outside? Maybe spelling that out would help.
Dear Carolyn: What is the best way to handle a partner who wants to take part in household decisions and feels bad when you end up doing most of the work . . . but then doesn’t follow through? We need to find a pediatrician for our baby, due soon. They’ve had a list of three potential practices (and questions to ask) for two weeks now and they haven’t called.
I’m afraid to press because they’re very sensitive about this and dealing with anxiety. But we seriously need a pediatrician.
Nag?: I think the conversation now isn’t “Call the pediatrician or I will,” it’s, “Obviously there’s an obstacle here. Do you know what it is, so we can deal with it?”
While domestic imbalances are So Freaking Real, there’s also another reality in play: that we all gravitate to some things and shy away from others. With an avoidant partner, the first thing to look for is the gravitateto/run-from list. You want to delegate to foot-draggers anything they enjoy or are good at. If there isn’t enough there to make for a fair division of labor, then put on their list whatever they don’t actively resist.
So, you don’t entrust phone calls to, say, a phone-hating introvert with anxiety. Scheduling/shopping/paying online? Yes.
This sounds infantilizing as hell, but it beats splitting the list counterproductively and then reaping eternal resentment. Figure out nature/nurture/ neuro inclinations upfront and divide accordingly. Emotional labor goes on your side of the ledger, too, when you’re figuring out what’s fair.
Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@ washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/gethax.