My Boys Played L.O.L. but I Wasn't Laughing
I have made peace with the screens in our house – all 16 of them. Small, medium or large, they no longer have the great power over me they used to.
I should say that screen time only became a problem as my two sons entered their tween years; before that, Harrison and Jake were on pretty tight leashes. As they grew older, though, my ability to use power faded -- they flouted punishments or might sneak around to avoid them and they really didn't care for my rewards. I hated the sound of my nagging and did not feel I had influence.
Lucky for them that, about the time they started playing the game League of Legends, I started learning P.E.T. My transformation from a controlling and stressed-out crazy mom to a chill, “Yeah, I can be around her” kind of presence was due, in no small part, to the box at the bottom of P.E.T.’s Behavior Window.
A Values Collision exists when we want to change a value our child has even though we have to admit that, actually, her acting on that value does not prevent us from meeting our needs in any concrete way. L.O.L. is so clearly a Values Collision but I resisted that categorization at first: how could it be that my boys playing L.O.L. in their free time had no concrete and tangible effect on me WHEN . . . I . . . COULD . . . NOT . . . RELAX??!!??!!
Later, I came to see that just because L.O.L. fell in this box, it didn’t mean that I was powerless. I learned and began to apply the relevant skills.
Confront and Listen:
By using Confrontive I-Messages and then Active Listening, I started to understand the whys of their behavior.
When I confronted them about not liking it when dinner got cold while they continued to play, they explained that going AFK (“away from keyboard”) in the middle of a battle would leave their team members in the lurch. I must say I agreed with their sense of duty and loyalty.
When I confronted them about their off-the-mark estimates of how long a game would take, they patiently described how they were utterly unable to predict an ending time – a battle could last between 20 minutes to an hour.
I got all this; since they were ongoing issues they would warrant a Problem-Solve (see below).
I also just plain listened -- I learned about terms and players and just why they loved the game so darn much. When I tried to use a vocab word in context, they were delighted. I also spent some time watching in awe of their dexterous moves.
As part of learning this skill, class participants ponder three questions:
- What is my value?
- Where does it come from?
- Why do I want to keep it?
I couldn’t honestly say my value was balance. My prejudice against screens as “a total waste of time” would never accept a work-play balance that was 50-50, 70-30 or even 80-20 if the play all involved screens. In my mind, free time had to be “productive.”
Thus reading classics, working on sports skills and hand-eye coordination, cooking for the family, knitting and playing the piano were acceptable; TV sitcoms and video games were not. Not all screen entertainment was evil -- Little House on the Prairie or The Sound of Music were ok if indulged moderately. (Yes, you may gag.)
My value was betterment at all times! (AKA no rest for the weary.)
How did I come to be such a taskmaster? Since my mother was relatively laid-back, I suppose it came from somewhere within -- a sense that I was not allowed to relax, a sense that I always had to prove myself by getting things done, a sense that I was not enough.
It was the third question that really gave me pause. Did I want to keep living by this harsh value and pass it on to my sweet and happy children? I started to realize the answer was no.
A turning point, for me, was a serendipitous exchange with none other than psychologist and boys expert Michael Thompson (author of Raising Cain; Mom, They're Teasing Me; Best Friends, Worst Enemies and more). He spoke at my kids' school and during one of the Q & A’s, I got to ask him: “What do I do when my son is starting in on his second hour of video games?” Dr. Thompson asked, “How old is your son?” “14,” I replied. “Has he finished his homework?” he inquired. “Yes, he only plays once he’s done,” I told him.
Dr. Thompson looked at me with an uncanny Santa Claus-like twinkle in his blue eyes, “Can you allow your child to spend his free time the way he chooses to?”
“Oh,” came my shocked response. Recovering, I had to ask to make sure, “Ok, so then I should just go to sleep?”
“No!” came his emphatic response. “That’s where I draw the line. Parents have a duty to help their children get enough rest during their growing years.”
My boys began to feel pretty grateful towards Dr. Thompson when I stopped sliding behind them to monitor and register my complaints (although perhaps they came to resent him a little when they saw how adamant I was about bedtime -- "Michael Thompson says so!")
Problem-Solve & Consult:
Though it was clear that their devoting free time to L.O.L. had no concrete or tangible effects on my husband or me per se, Harrison and Jake still bought that the game did sometimes interfere with family operations. They also accepted that we genuinely cared that they strike the right mix of 1) homework 2) family time 3) personal responsibilities 4) exercise and 5) L.O.L.
Since we had been working on listening to THEM, they were willing to listen to US. They agreed to a Method III Problem-Solve and did not protest too rigorously when we threw in a little consultancy.
- As consultants, we shared the following: the effects of too much gaming; recommended age-based limits; the importance of trying hard in school; the link between reading more and writing better; and how screen light leads to non-optimal sleep.
- We Active Listened their fear that we would take away too much of their playing time.
- Together, we brainstormed possible solutions to meet their needs for fun, choice and companionship (what I liked especially about L.O.L. was that they played with their friends and even their father) and our needs for acknowledgment of our concerns, efficacy as parents and fairness for all members of the family, including their little sister.
- Our solutions: Harrison and Jake would play one game on weeknights after finishing their homework; if that game interfered with bedtime, they would forgo it. On weekends, they would have more leeway but would use their best judgment. They would actively seek me out to ask when meals would be served.
For the most part, the solutions stuck. And when they didn't, I asked myself whether there truly was a negative effect on me or the family. If the answer was yes, I would confront gently or maybe even revisit the issue in another Problem-Solve. If the answer was no, I took a deep breath and did . . . NOTHING. "This can be extremely difficult to do. . . " says the P.E.T. Workbook on page 107 but, I promise, it gets easier!
Well, my husband and I present two very different models. Until recently when I began my website and Facebook page, I was rarely on my computer except for word processing. Even now, I really like to wind down with a book.
My husband does SO enjoy his games, and who am I to judge him when the boys report that all their friends envy them their dad? We don’t have our teenage sons with us for very much longer – bonding over a battle strategy or joking about “skins” gives them a shared language and world that will last a lifetime in their hearts.
One Year Later:
Though many parents would probably say that we were too generous, I know we made the right decision to give Harrison and Jake more say and freedom to gauge their own gaming behavior.
The hugest upside was their deep appreciation that we had respected them in this way.
Besides that, Harrison has since twice erased L.O.L. from his computer, each time because HE was disappointed in his grades. In the second instance, I picked him up from school after he had just gotten his report card. As I drove, I Active Listened and offered Silence and Acknowledgments (all P.E.T. Helping Skills) while his soliloquy wound its way to a conclusion that L.O.L. was again a major culprit. Once home, Harrison strode into the house, announced his decision to his brother and father and, with a gentle groan, removed the beast from his back (I mean, computer).
Each erase lasted only a week or two but they were exercises in SELF-discipline, a goal most parents see as high priority, as does Gordon:
Now League of Legends is almost a non-issue. Over the last few months, both boys have been playing less and Facebooking more (their version of the long telephone chats I had growing up). A couple of weeks ago, as the 7th grade wound down, Jake told me he was going to stop playing altogether because L.O.L. was a “waste of time.”
I nearly laughed out loud.
Other resources: Check out P.E.T. master trainer Kathryn Tonges' insights and tips in her article: "Screen Media Time: Source of Conflict or Opportunity?" Also, Dr. Laura Markham gives over 100 non-screen ideas for in "Why Boredom is Good for Your Child."
Credits: L.O.L. image at http://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/league-legends-earns-600m-2013-still-comes-second-online-revenue/#!4CkVB