Some things catch me off guard as a parent. One day we are traveling along well as a family and it seems like out of nowhere we are stressed out and arguing regularly about a particular issue.
However when I look back I can see that the problem has built up over time. The most recent example is my younger son’s time spent playing computer games. In my family we have a policy of no screen time during the week, except for homework, and I limit time on the weekends as well. My sons are also very active and love being outside. I never have to ask them to get out and do something, they are always kicking the footy, playing tennis, swimming or riding their bikes. So it’s not like he is spending hours and hours on the computer. The issues are more about the content of the computer games and how we are interacting with each other when problems arise.
There are a few areas where I get overwhelmed when it comes to computer games. One is that I chose to have my children get everything done before they get on the computer. Now usually this is a good incentive to get the jobs and other various things done but I find if I’m not on top of it things can escalate pretty quickly. So then when it is time to move on to the next thing I have not only the battle of getting my son off the computer but also running late because my son is not ready.
When I think about this I can see that most of the angst is around how I react to things not being done when they should be. It really isn’t necessary to get stressed and let it affect the whole family. What I feel I should have done is have something in place for when things are not done when they are supposed to be. Then I can just remind my son (who has decided to be referred to as 'Fred' in my blog posts) of the consequences and do my best to remain calm, thus taking the emotion out of the situation. I can now do that and hopefully this will make things easier for everyone.
The other thing I think is very important is to not be too hard on myself. So things slide a bit from the ideal, that’s ok. The main thing is that my children know I love them and I am doing the best that I can. If we need to realign ourselves from time to time, this is just a part of life. Especially when the issue is a small one.
Another thing that crept up on me was the length of the computer sessions. I began with a half hour on Saturdays and Sundays, then it was also on Friday and then the half hour was never enough. There always seemed to be another level or one more thing that had to be done. Fred and I found two solutions to these problems. The first was that I gave him a heads up five minutes before his time was up, giving him time to finish what he was doing and save the game if he wanted to.
For second problem, that he wanted a little more time on the computer now that he was getting older I came up with a creative solution that I am happy to report worked well, because I was very skeptical. I could see that it was not unreasonable that more time should be given, as you get older. What I decided to do was to come up with a point system for any time on top of the original hour. Fred is naturally good at math but would like to be doing a bit better in math class. So to improve his skills and his self esteem in the area we decided that for every half hour he spends on math web sites he can get 15 minutes of bonus points for the weekend. Now of coarse I wasn’t too confident about this plan because he is on the computer doing the math. However, he is really enjoying the math, where he doesn’t seem to enjoy it as much when it is sent home on paper. Fred has discovered that he can do math problems well above his grade at school and that he really, genuinely likes math. Another reminder that as a mother I need to remain open to different approaches and take cues from my children, especially now that they are older.
There are other, more broad concerns over computer use and specifically computer games to consider. Too much time in front of the computer is linked to obesity and social isolation. We all know that in general Australian children need to get outside more. I would also add that they also need time outdoors, just being kids. Organised sport is great but the old adage, 'everything in moderation' comes to mind.
When Fred first became interested in computer games about a year ago I really struggled with the concept. For the most part his friends introduced them to him and I didn’t know what any of the games were like and again I had no system in place to handle the onslaught of violence that was coming our way through the computer screen. I knew that violent games were linked to aggressive behaviour in young men and I wasn’t comfortable with the shooting up and blowing up style of a lot of games. It was easy to say “No violent video games.” But it did prove challenging to find games for the boys to play that were not violent. It involved sitting down with the children and having a look at the games. This proved a wonderful opportunity to see what kinds of games kids are playing and be able to discuss what was going on and why I didn’t approve. Sometimes he could see what I was on about and sometimes he thought I was an overprotective nutcase. I think it’s ok for your kid to think you are nuts once in awhile.
Just like so many things with growing children, my rules and regulations around computer time is a work in progress. My older son now wants to be on social networking sites, which poses a whole new set of issues and concerns. Fortunately I have learned a few things on this ever-changing parenting path and I feel a bit more prepared for that. I think the biggest lesson I have learned is to stay current. It is important to know what kinds of things your children and their friends are likely to be interested in so you are prepared when the onslaught of requests hit you. Fortunately there is so much information out there about what kinds of things teens and preteens are up to there is no reason not to keep current. I have also found it helpful to ask friends whose children are slightly older than my oldest one what their kids are up to and how they have handled particular situations. And most importantly talk to your children and take the time to listen attentively to what they have to say.
This post was originally published on the original theCloverPages.com site in 2009
image coutesy of fooyoh.