I've watched parents raise children for 30 years (and raised four of my own), so I know how hard it is.
Here, I share a question that came to me as a pediatrician, as well as my answer to this parent. I hope this is helpful and insightful for other parents who may have wanted to ask the same question -- and who will appreciate some guidance.
Dear Dr. Meg,
Our son-in-law is completely addicted to his phone. They have four precious young kids who want his attention desperately -- as well as our daughter, who needs to know she is not invisible. He takes the phone to the bathroom and in all situations he is staring at it. It is so rude. Many others have commented about it. He is addicted so he doesn't see what it's doing to his family. Tough for us to say anything. What can be done? Please help!
Yes, your son-in-law does have a problem and those children do need his attention. Since you are the mother-in-law, you can't say anything to him, but your daughter (or his mother or father) can.
I would encourage your daughter to do a couple of things.
First, tell her to praise him for his strengths as a father. I'm sure she can find some.
Then, tell her that it would be so good for the kids to have "just Dad" time and see if he would be interested in taking one, two, or all of them camping. He could go away on the weekend or just put up a tent in the backyard. Have her ask him what he liked (or always wanted to do) as a boy and then encourage him to do that with the kids. I have found that if you can get men outdoors, they use phones and electronics less frequently (and it's best if he would go somewhere that internet is unavailable!).
If he won't go alone, tell her that she should plan a trip for the family which involves hiking, camping, canoeing, or anything like that. Then, he can go and see how much he enjoys the kids' company without the phone.
Addicts go into withdrawal when the substance (or thing) is removed and this will be a great lesson for him.
Tell her not to nag him because this will only backfire. She must approach him by telling him how meaningful he is to the kids. She can encourage him to read them stories at night (because the kids love to hear him read), say bedtime prayers (they like to hear him talk), and at dinner time, she should make a family rule that no electronics should be used at the table to encourage healthy dialogue between everyone. She can even have him tell the kids the rule so that he can't violate it. You get my point -- men respond much better to praise than criticism.
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If all this fails, she could just hide his phone. If he is that bad, I would hide it somewhere and play dumb when he asks where it is. This will force him to stay away. He will be agitated for a while but if she can hold out, he will come to see that he really has an issue. Addicts go into withdrawal when the substance (or thing) is removed, so this will be a great lesson for him. After a day, she should just have the phone reappear. But I wouldn't say anything to him because this will just cause a fight.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, "The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids."