I have two kids, ages 14 and 11; you may have met them at Stony Brook. We have three PC’s at home so that we can work at the same time and play together using our home network. The PC’s stand one next to the other in the same room. This way we are together even when each one works on his own things, and I have control over the sites they visit on the net. In general, I do not allow telephones/TV/PC in bedroom: all devices that can cause a family member to be locked in his room must be located in public areas.

A couple of days ago my older son asked whether he can purchase his own laptop from his own money. Why do you need a laptop? I would like to write stories, and it is difficult to concentrate in the room-with-computers. Correct answer, for which I have no counterarguments. Yet so far he did not write so many stories, and he does not have much time to write stories anyway. Anything else? I may also read my e-mail. Wrong answer; this is exactly what your father is afraid of. You can use my laptop. Your laptop is not always available, and I cannot use it when I am at mom’s house. That’s correct. I am afraid that you will use the laptop for other activities, be locked in your room and we will never see you again. I can delete Internet Explorer.

So here is where we stand. The kid wants a laptop, I know that writing stories on the laptop is just the first step, and that even if now he will use it only for that goal, in some years he will use it for games, surfing, chatting, and all the things that kids in his age will do, and we will see him only for meals. I may fight windmills, like Don Quixote, and in few years anyway he will be locked in his room, but I have hopes that I can keep some social activity even when the kids are 17-year old. I also do not exclude the possibility that writing stories is nothing but an excuse: a reason he came up with so that I allow him to purchase a laptop, but in fact he wants the laptop for other reasons.

What should I do? Any suggestions?

And, Eran, this is one example for the use of strategic thinking in raising kids. Once you think of the consequences of your decisions, and try to figure out the reasons for you kids’ requests, you enter the zone of game theory. Others may use different terms, but, after all, each one uses the terms that he knows.