Vulnerable post -
This mom of three boys is learning. All born after 2005, my young guys are digital natives and know nothing of life before screens were on the scene. Though the world around me and my childhood wasn’t screen filled, I do vividly remember my first Nintendo entering our home with Duck Hunt and Super Mario Brothers to entertain us on Friday nights. I can feel the excitement in me now when it was finally my turn to play. In addition, I also remember the heat in my face when my Mario guy died RIGHT before completing the level on my 19th try at that world. I couldn’t move on to the next level and had to redo that world all over again. I almost made it to the end - the rage!
I was a sister to four brothers and knew gaming well.
Now I’m raising three boys and oh how the gaming industry has evolved since the days of Duck Hunt. Of course, my boys do plenty of other activities. They love legos and the outdoors. Yet we also let them game. Someone asked me the other day, “Is it hard for you to let your boys play digital games knowing the brain science for kids in addition to knowing the business side of this gaming industry?” The answer: It’s a struggle. It is a letting go. It is a part of the parenting journey.
Isn’t life that way, though? Just as there are dangers and hesitations in handing your kid their first phone, handing them the keys to their first car, setting up their first social media account, saying yes to them going out with friends alone, sending them on their first date - there are these constant letting go’s we do during their life. Hopefully these experiences happen while our kids are in our homes so we can model, learn, guide and help set up healthy boundaries. Many times we don’t do these acts without guidelines, conversations, trainings even ( plug here: Smartphone Ed.) do we?
Yes, I know the research on gaming addiction. I do realize that Fortnite has hit more than $1 billion in revenue from people pouring their time and money into this game. I also study the neurology of how this happens in the brains of the players, in addition to elevated aggression while playing. I do feel the gaming industry has a hold on a generation that is not only distracting them from their lives, but dangerously changing their brains to survive in a virtual world apart from the place they are meant to thrive. This is the very reason it’s important for us to not run from the digital culture, but to face it, with common sense, life skills and healthy habits - whether that’s social media or gaming.
The truth is our kids want to be where their friends are and where life is happening. To hold them back from that and not give them age appropriate access while they are living in our homes can later prove to be a disservice to them. We can hold to our values, pass them on to our kids AND let them be on devices with their friends. It can happen, but it will take pressing through the challenges, setting up boundaries, keeping to your guidelines, giving consequences for tantrums, listening, questioning and a lot of learning. This is the hard and intentional parenting life. It is inconvenient. It disrupts our busy. It interrupts our numbing out. And it sets our kids up for a life of freedom.
Let me set the scene of a moment in our home recently when one of my sons mowed yards to save up for his first X-box. Most of his friends have some sort of gaming device and he wanted to be included in this fun. “FUN” being the important term here. As he and dad ran to get the Xbox, mom was typing out the “Wible Home Xbox Guidelines” :) You can roll your eyes there - he wanted to. He was very obviously not happy with the time limits, the 3 strikes of anger and your out rules and the simple fact that I had any say in his playing time. Through a few days of us back and forth on his frustrations with losing, even yelling at the game I finally sat down with him Tuesday night. I listened to his pleading for no boundaries like his school friends get and so on. I let him get out all of his frustrations with me and I finally said, “I hear you and I’m glad to know how you feel. You wanted this to have fun with your friends. You worked hard to pay for this, I know. I also know that your anger and aggression when you have to get off of the game is real. The aggression you feel when you lose or when something in the game is not fair is part of the reason I’m setting up these boundaries. Do you like those feelings when they come up inside you?” “No”, he says. I continue, “The longer you are on the game the more real and important the game becomes to you. So, no I’m not going to let you play for 6 hours. No, you can’t eat dinner and fall asleep to playing this game. Yes, I’m going to take the privilege away and push through your protests when you start violating the guidelines set up. Yes, you bought this with your money, but you live in the home that dad and I pay for so you are not in charge of these time limits. And most importantly, I love you, your mind and your life. I want you to learn healthy habits and until you can show us that you are we’re going to make the call. Maybe we can revisit these guidelines and re-adjust after awhile if we need to, but you will have to earn those privileges”. I felt a breakthrough with him. He felt seen, heard and understood at the same time as internally desiring those boundaries.
After that invested time things have been better. The other night before dinner he turned off his game and asked if he could make cookies. After they were done he tasted them and said I can taste every ingredient I put in these. This is my best batch. I love this kid. I know the deeper work of parenting isn’t easy. The inconvenient moments in our day will happen again and we will have to dig deep to help him move from aggression to real life perspective, but I will keep pressing in to what we stand for and allow our kid to hopefully be building skills that will help him when he is on his own.
For those of you raising your kids in this digital world, hear me say - we are learning. This is new to us all. You know how many moms and dads say that to me? The studies out there of social media and gaming attached to anxiety, depression and suicide are not to be ignored and are not to be feared. We don’t throw in the towel and numb out. We don’t run, hide, pretend the issues our kids are dealing with are not there. We don’t leave them on their own to deal with all this. We don’t take it all away. We model first. We listen - we learn - we guide - we dig deep and do the work of connection and relationships. Because it matters. They matter.
Last week I felt I was losing. Today I feel that I’m learning.