Welcome to 2019! I hope you had a good break and that your children’s return to school is going smoothly. So far the New Year is off to a good start for my kids, however, I stumbled a bit with my parenting.
Over the break, we let our son spend A LOT of time on his screens. Much more than usual. Many of his friends were not around to hang out and he was not excited about many of the family activities we planned. So we let him play on his computer and phone as much as he wanted.
The evening after his first day back at school, I found him to be a bit cranky and uncooperative. He also wasn’t getting off his computer when he was supposed to at the end of the day. You see, in one of his games, he came across a dragon that was giving him important information for his quest and he wanted to hear the whole message – really important stuff! He also wanted me to watch it with him. I decided to show some flexibility and said that he could hear the whole message but he had to give me his phone in exchange. But I was not going to stay and watch. He said he wanted to keep his phone so he could listen to music while getting ready for bed. Once he was done brushing his teeth, he promised he would give me the phone, per our usual overnight arrangement.
When he said he would not give me his phone, I panicked. In my head, I started freaking out about how he was addicted to his phone, how over break he had missed out on time to work on his social skills, and I was envisioning him as a college student holed up in his dorm room skipping classes and starving to death because he was glued to his games. In this moment of panic, I impulsively grabbed his phone off his desk. Needless to say, that did not go well. My actions provoked a shouting match between the two of us and our fight, including the necessary cool-down period, lasted much longer than if I had just let him finish up and get ready for bed as he requested.
He decided to cool off by playing solitaire, which I was really happy about – what a great choice! While I was cooling down, I thought about what was going on with me in the moment I went off track with my parenting – I was second-guessing my past parenting choices, projecting into the future, and acting in reaction to my fear instead of processing it and using it productively. I was also hung up on being righteous – I kept telling him how flexible I had been by letting him finish up what he was doing, and that he was being inflexible and unreasonable. However, I was missing some signs from him that I should have paid more attention to.
I forgot that when my son asks to spend time with me at night, right before bedtime, he usually wants to talk about something that is on his mind. Now that he is a teen, he does not do that as much as he used to. It turned out this was one of those nights he wanted to talk. Once he calmed down, he came to my room to apologize and asked, this time directly, if we could talk. I apologized too and agreed to talk with him. Once we processed how we each handled ourselves during the fight, we were able to get to the previously unspoken thoughts and feelings we each had that had fueled the fight.
He opened up to me about feeling depressed and isolated because he has been spending so much time playing video and computer games lately. Wow. I was blown away. He was actually talking to me about the very thing I was most concerned about. I was so caught up in my own head that I almost missed an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with him about the very issue I have been most concerned about. I also shared with him some of my concerns. We were finally communicating more authentically and we were also really listening to one another. We talked for a little while longer – it was getting late and we were both getting pretty tired. While we didn’t come to any big conclusions or solve the challenges ahead of him, we did start a collaborative process of addressing the problem together.
Appreciating that opportunity and taking the first steps on a new journey with my son feels like a great way to start a new year.