Virtual Reality Bites

We took the month of September off of video games. Well, when I say we, I really mean the Taz. And to be totally fair, it was originally his idea (even though he came to regret it the very next day when reality hit).

Thing is, he had been sucked into the games hardcore. This was nothing new. Playing video games has always been his favorite way to spend his downtime. But it’s been getting way out of control. Every time I couldn’t find him, I’d just have to open his door to find him belly down on his bed with a controller in his hand.

It was like a drug he wasn’t able to quit.

It got to the point that I couldn’t even hold a conversation with him. All he’d talk about was video games. When I drove him home from school, he wouldn’t share stories about friends at school or anything that happened. Instead, he’d talk about stuff that happened in his video game.  He’d relay the story of the 5 year old killing zombies in his favorite game, or the guy who was hacking accounts and making everyone start from the beginning. He’d talk about the latest weapon he’d earned, or the cool secret place he’d discovered in the game. This had become his social world, and real life was taking second place. I saw it affecting his ability to think. His attention span was shortened. His fuse was as well. He’d become angry at the drop of a hat, losing his temper way too easy. He’d snap at me, his sister, anyone who made him angry.

It was on one night in the beginning of September when everything came to a head. Because he’s unable to manage his own time, we agreed on times when he could play, and times when he couldn’t. But there he was, on the video games when he was supposed to be doing something else. So I told him to hand me the controllers because he’d lost privileges.

The result was a total meltdown.

The Taz threw the controllers down. He screamed. He cried. He told me to just take it all away, that he’d had enough, that I might as well take everything he owned. He began unplugging all his electronics and pulling them from the shelves. He was angrier than I’d seen him in a long time.

My natural reaction would have been to lose my temper right alongside him. My blood boiled as soon as his volume raised. But I paused. And thank God I did! I was suddenly aware that he just needed to get out this aggression before we could actually sit down and have a real conversation. I unclenched my fists and my jaw, and stood calmly in the doorway while he had his temper tantrum. He kept glancing over at me while he raged on, eventually quieting to a cry on his bed. I entered the room and sat next to him. This is when he admitted to me that he needed a break from the games. They were making him feel out of control and stressed out. It was affecting him too much. He conceded that he was so drawn to them that he couldn’t keep from playing, even when he didn’t want to. He asked me to take them from his room, and told me he needed a break.

More than anything, I was totally amazed at the maturity my son had in understanding his own needs, and voicing them. And I was also astounded that by keeping myself calm, I gave him something solid to grab onto when he was reeling out of control. It was a huge lesson for both of us.

Like I said, he regretted his decision the next day, and every day after that this month. He spent the first week totally bored out of his mind with “nothing to do”, begging me to give them back. It was painful for him to endure life without electronics.  However, I held my ground, and held him to his word.

After a couple weeks of being lost without his electronics, this past week there’s been a sudden turnaround. He’s been riding his bike more. He’s found a dozen uses for a huge cardboard box in our backyard. The other day he sat outside and carried on a 15-minute conversation with one of our older neighbors over the fence. He’s found a passion for a series of books he’s been breezing through in his downtime. And he’s discovered Origami.

Yesterday he created a 16-point ninja star to join the hundreds of ninja stars he’s already created. Oh, and did you notice the bling he made too?

Yes, that is a dollar bill ring. Yes, I think my son is brilliant.

He gets his video games back this Saturday. And now that he’s suddenly discovering all the cool stuff he can do without electronics, I am really dreading it.

“I’m afraid you’ll forget everything you’ve been doing to have fun,” I admitted to him, and he agreed that the past few weeks really have been great being away from the screen while he learned new things. Our conversations have been excellent since he’s been talking about real life instead of video games. And his temper has been under control as well. I worried aloud to him about losing all of that once the video games resumed.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” he reassured me. “I don’t want to stop doing other things either. I promise to only play during the times I’m allowed, and do other things when I’m not.”

I’m a realist. Time will tell whether that will really be the case. But I see hope in the enthusiasm he’s showed, as well as a difference this time in how he’s learned to have fun.

However, I have a note to any of you parents reading this: If you haven’t already bought your child video games, hold off on buying them for as long as you’d like to carry a real conversation with them.


4 thoughts on “Virtual Reality Bites

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  1. I totally understand where you are coming from. It got to the point where the kids are only allowed to play on Friday nights (1/2 hr each) & 1/2 hour on Sat & Sun morning & afternoon. It’s so great that Taz was able to realize he need to move away from the games for awhile….I wish my son had realized it before we had to start limiting his time.

  2. I agree with most of the article, except that he *is* holding a conversation — just not on the topics you’re used to talking about.

    It’s normal for a pre-teen/young teen to not want to talk to their parents about their social/school life, and to focus emotionally/verbally on a ‘safe’ interest. The only difference is that in our day, the topics most kids picked were physical, like pop bands and sports teams.

    A tip about the obsessive usage, which I have a big problem with (I lose track of time VERY easily online):
    Establish a ‘rule’ where the kid has to go do something else they enjoy for 10 minutes every 1.5 hours. You might make activity cards with the kid in advance so they can just pick a random card rather than have to decide.

    Also, as many people got their start (as writers, artists, etc.) this way: have creative activities where he depicts moments/adventures from his games, to help him learn what he likes, what he’s good at and so forth.

    If he’s interested in the industry, having a retro-gaming-only weekend once or twice a month coupled with having him research what modern versions/updates have been created by fans (what did they make? what tools did they use? etc.) could be very beneficial for similar reasons.

    In other words…if you want him doing more than playing those games, then *use* his love of gaming to get him interested in developing his other skills! 🙂

  3. Xyzzy, I love your suggestion! I actually talked to him about it this morning after reading your comment, and his eyes lit up just thinking about all the possibilities in learning more about the behind-the-scenes aspect of video games, etc. I definitely think I’ll explore your suggestions further. But still, I can’t help but notice he’s much clearer in his thought process since he’s been away from the games. We’re just going to have to find a happy medium so that he’s happy, and I’m not viewing him like one of the zombies he’s trying to massacre.

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