I procrastinated a long time before writing this report on my family’s back-to-school rules around tech time. I doubted I was the right person to testify to the positive power of parental controls, or to offer advice on how to make guidelines stick. Why? Because when it comes to my 16-and- a-half year old son (who we’ll call Elder), I’m not holding the reins anymore.
Last year, Grade 10, was a demoralizing, non-stop battle over Elder’s gaming habits. I kept the desktop passworded and shut it down at 10:00pm, after which time he was supposed to do homework (I’d long given up on trying to get him to do homework before gaming) and get some sleep. Instead Elder created admin profiles and other workarounds that would allow him to log back on after I went to bed. Once he even wired his iPod to the chandelier to film me typing in the password. (Someday I will find this hilarious, I know—just not yet). Or else he would start a session of League of Legends minutes before the curfew, and then bluster and rage about losing his standing if I forced him to quit. I spent 30 or 40 minutes each night trying to reason/cajole/bully him off the computer.
When worst came to worst and I made good on my threat to strip the house of tech altogether, he left. He stayed at friends’ houses or sat at McDonald’s all night on the free wifi. I wasn’t sleeping, Elder wasn’t making it to school, and our mother/son relationship was reduced to jailor/prison-rioter. Not a sustainable situation for either of us!
So sometime around May I gave up altogether on trying to control his tech. And what does back-to- school look like, three weeks in? It looks like this: Elder comes home from school, sits down at the computer and stays there until one or two in the morning—sometimes even later. When he tires of gaming, or not enough of his friends are on Skype to play with him, he watches YouTube or downloads a movie. Most mornings he gets up for school, so long as I don’t have to leave for work before he’s showered and breakfasted—otherwise he’s more likely to crawl back into bed. Homework does not exist, even though this same philosophy pulled him low Cs last year, and he knows that Grade 11 grades “count.” On Tuesday, a spontaneous innovation: he snuck out at 3:00am to play some Pokémon Go.
(Meanwhile, 12-year-old Younger sweetly complies, as ever, with his tech rules: homework first, limited iPod hours on weeknights, switch to a book in bed at 9:00pm, lights off when you’re tired. He’s a different kid than his brother, and his whole life I’ve been grateful to him for exemplifying the fact that parenting strategy is only part of the equation.)
What does freedom look like? I find myself asking myself this question over and over, lately, in the context of my role as Elder’s mom. What would it feel like to be free to live my life, and to set my son free to live his?
This is what I’ve got so far: there would be less chronic worry, less guilt, less nagging, less lecturing. There’d be more humour and hugs (well, attempted hugs). There’d be a deep belief that this bright, competent, iron-willed kid will come out okay, and there’d be a way to act on that belief every day.
I love you. You got this. Let me know how I can help.
That’s what I would say.