We tried. Really we did. We started the year off strong and united. We were determined and resolute. We were ready to stand up for our decision in the face of the inevitable anger thrown at us like a hurricane.
We were not going to let our son play video games on his Xbox on school nights.
It made sense. He was adjusting to a new school, a new schedule and new demands. Why add another distraction?
Everyone was doing it. Docking rules and school night free video games appeared to be the norm.
He should be doing something else. Reading! Creating! Exercising! There had to be something better he could do with his free time. Something that would nourish his soul and would me to feel like a great parent.
And you know what? It didn’t work.
He was miserable. He felt isolated from the friends he had made through gaming – a group of boys we are actually planning to meet IRL in April – particularly during the week when he needed someone to talk to about how school was going (and he didn’t want to talk to us).
He was struggling. The transition to high school was difficult – a new schedule, new kids, new expectations – and his grades and his attitude reflected his difficulty. And he wasn’t using the time to study more, read more, create more – instead, he felt isolated, untrusted, and unheard.
He was disappearing. Because he couldn’t play during the week, he felt (not unreasonably), that he should be able to play as many hours as he wanted during the weekend. Which made him a no-show in our family – a specter, living in our basement, wandering through the kitchen at random times of the day in search of sustenance.
He was still on screens. If it wasn’t the Xbox it was the Switch, or the phone, or the television. I tried to justify the time spent watching television together as a “shared media experience,” but really it was just four of us on a couch with the tv on, watching our individual screens.
We were all miserable. We were tired of arguing about a rule that, at my lowest points, felt arbitrary. Forced upon me by society and by my own expectations.
And as we considered what was happening in our family, Steve and I realized that we need to let go of those expectations, and instead listen to what our son was telling us. That he needed the outlet during the week to relax. That he needed to connect with his friends. That he needed us to trust him more to manage his schedule. That he missed us and wanted to spend more time together on the weekends.
So we gave up and gave him back video games. And a funny thing started to happen.
The fights stopped and the conversations started. He began talking to us more, often calling me on his way home from school to tell me about his day.
We are spending more time together as a family, implementing “Family Sundays,” where one of us gets to pick an activity and we all have to participate.
And then the really surprising thing happened – his academic life also started to improve. He’s been getting up in the morning with little argument (he’s still a teenager, so let’s not take that too far). With help from an amazing team at his school, he has become more engaged in his classes and invested his grades.
He’s been empowered. We’ve explained to him that if we continue to see him progress and improve that the video games are not at risk.
I still think he’s spending too much time playing video games – I’d love to see him reading a book, or breaking out the drawing tools – but I’m sure he thinks the same about my Facebook habit and his father’s Candy Crush addiction (at last check Steve was on level 1,100-something).
But I also can’t argue with success.
(Or this article from Pew Research related to teens and video games)