….or so he says.
It all started innocently enough, a new video game my 10 year old daughter heard about from friends and asked if she could play, too. We checked it out and didn’t find anything alarming, so we said sure and off she went. She’s never been a gamer, so we were fairly amused and intrigued to see her hunkered down with her device, building all sorts of intriguing virtual creations, via the world of Minecraft. All so very innocent and innocuous…until her little brother caught the fever. He’d never done anything online before, was pretty much consumed by his Lego’s, so we saw no red flags warning us….Stop! Don’t Do It!
If only we’d known then what we know now.
Maybe summer hit at the wrong time in our son’s Minecraft love affair. Maybe he had too much time on his hands. Maybe it was just too hot outside to do much running around outdoors. Or…maybe…he’s just a whole lot like both of his parents: Type A, OCD, all-in…whatever you want to call it. He started out playing on his iPad, but quickly evolved to the X-box–and before we knew it, our 6 year old was utterly consumed by the world of Minecraft. It was all he wanted to do, all day long. It was all he talked about–even in his sleep. Even, on occasion, racing into our room in the middle of the night to tell us some cool nuance he’d just discovered or wanted to try out. Oiy.
Now, that’s not to say there was no good, because there was. Lots of it. His imagination took flight, and we soon discovered we may have a budding architect on our hands. Or a natural-born storyteller (ahem). Maybe both…but definitely a gamer. By the end of summer, our earlier fascination had turned to frustration…and some other less than attractive emotions. Because for our son, playing Minecraft was not passive. It obsessed him. Consumed. He would talk to his world as he played. And fuss. Complain. Yell. A perfectly happy kid could sit down to play, transforming in a very short time to a grumpy grouch. And his now soured mood would transfer to every other aspect of his life. Heaven forbid we told him it was time to put the device down and come eat dinner…run an errand…take a bath. And don’t even get me started about group play. I quickly learned there are reasons that, technically, Minecraft is for older kids. Yes, from a technical standpoint, younger kids can easily navigate the world of Minecraft (and do really cool stuff). But from an emotional maturity standpoint, they’re just not ready for someone else (a sister, a cousin, a friend) to enter their world…and make mischief (which is, in all fairness, an intriguing part of the game.) If he spent hours (and I do mean hours) building some master creation, only to have his sister slip in and catch his world on fire….OMG. The rest of the day wasn’t only ruined, but drama and fighting would ERUPT, and our blood pressure soared.
Which brings me to the end of summer–and our decision. By the time July rolled into August, my husband and I had not only had enough, but we realized we had a problem, and it was up to us to solve it. We did some research on the game, as well as on kids and screen time, and, after talking with a friend who goes “device free” during the school week, we decided that’s what we needed to do, as well. Our 6 year old was starting kindergarten, and we couldn’t have him obsessing about a video game day in and day our, not when our schedules were getting busier, and sports were starting up. So. We announced that Monday-Friday were going to become “no screen time” days.
Needless to say, he freaked. Shock quickly gave way to anger, to yelling and screaming and gnashing of teeth, to absolute mania. We couldn’t do that! We didn’t understand! We were being mean! And yes…we were ruining his life. His LIFE, I tell you. RUINING it.
But we held firm. This was one of those occasions where we knew what needed to happen, and we weren’t about to let any amount of ranting change our mind. It was time to be the parent, not the friend. And so school began, and the devices got put away.
For the first week, he begged every single day. He pleaded. He tried negotiating. Deal-making. And…yes…threats. But we held firm (and let him know in no uncertain terms that threats were NOT going to be tolerated around here.) Then week two rolled around and…nothing. No pleading. No whining. No negotiating. It was like he finally realized we were dead serious, and there was no getting around our decision. And then, glory be, other changes began occuring. The Lego’s came back out. He began drawing pictures again. Making forts. Doing all those things that I once thought drove me crazy (and, yeah, probably still do, but at least they engage him physically and mentally and he’s not glued to a device.)
Now, a month into the school year, and it’s rather stunning how dramatically the “device-free weekdays” has changed our family. Our son is more relaxed. He’s not amped up and talking Minecraft 24/7. And he’s REALLY gotten into his taekwando classes. He’s about to test for his first “color” belt–a yellow–and he’s (on his own) practicing like crazy.
Does he still long to play Minecraft? Yes. Does he count down the days of the week until Friday afternoon, when he can dive back into his virtual world? Yes. Does he squeeze in Minecraft as much as he can on the weekends, between soccer and softball and t-ball games? Well, yeah. But come Sunday evening, the devices go away, and peace returns.
Did our decision ruin his life? He might still tell you yes, but as for the rest of us-my husband and 10 year old daughter and myself-we’d tell you our decision was one of the smartest we’ve ever made.