Six months ago I downloaded Minecraft for my kid, the 10 year old.
Five months ago I imposed time limits on it.
Four months ago I drastically reduced those time limits.
Three months ago I reduced those limits again.
Two months ago I reduced them once more.
One month ago I banned the computer altogether.
Yesterday, I packed up the computer and put into storage.
Then I said to my kid, “When you look at that empty space, let it be a reminder of how much I love you.”
To which he replied: “And let it be a reminder to you of how much I HATE you!”
But drastic times call for drastic measures.
Once upon a time I cursed the sound of scraping Lego in the box, I lamented the holes in my feet caused by trodding on bricks littered about the carpet. But until yesterday I hadn’t heard the sound of Lego in months, my heels blissfully smooth. Because when the kid wasn’t playing Minecraft, he was sitting on the couch wanting to play Minecraft. He was sullen, moody, agitated and completely lacking in motivation and imagination.
And then I realised: He was addicted to the thing. Minecraft was like a drug and he’d get his fix even if it meant sitting on the couch watching the clock tick. The other two aren’t like that – they self-moderate to a large extent. Screen time gets boring eventually. If it’s taken away, they find something else just as, or even more interesting, instead. But the eldest kid is different. Enforcing moderation, I realised, was not only futile but it was also kinda cruel. Like taking an alcoholic to a bar and saying “Now, you can have just ONE drink.” The computer was always there, as soon as he came home from school, as soon as he woke up in the morning. It represented potential. Opportunity. The fleeting chance that Mum might, just might back down and let him on it (not a misplaced hope since in moments of weakness or guilt I sometimes did relent.)
The night before I packed up the computer I had the same wrenching feeling in my gut as I did when I held him back a year at school. The same bread-knife-raking feeling I’ve had at other times in my life too. The feeling you get when the Right Thing to do is also the Hardest Thing to do. Anyway, I digress.
The point is, The Pied Piper had stolen my kid and I had to bring him back, by whatever means possible and before it was too late. I needed to breathe life back into the 10 year old boy who once built a go kart out of scrap wood and a broken push chair (well, it was broken after he took it apart, anyway). The same kid who could find a flat white 5 piece in a bucket of lego bricks faster than a gun slingin’ cowboy. The kid who wrote and performed his first song on the guitar at 7, who couldn’t read until he was 8 but could recite whole passages of books before he could properly pronounce the letter “D”. The kid who never came across a cardboard box he couldn’t use.
If it means he hates me, it’s a price I’ll pay.
*Postscript* There were tears, there was hair-pulling (his, not mine), there were outrageous accusations that didn’t exactly not-hurt. All of it inevitable. But then, life went on. There wasn’t enough milk for the cereal in the morning. The post came. The cat from next door shat all over the doorstep. The boys scrapped with their sister about a rubber dinosaur. They played on the trampoline. And then, the kid dug out his skateboard. He got down a recipe book and made pancakes. He sat at the empty desk and spread out, drawing pictures all over my expensive printer paper, leaving pencil shavings all over the floor and felts without lids. Then I stood on a staple. And it was bliss.
Minecraft = 1 Mum = 2
*** This post was written a long time ago but was recently reblogged and as a result has attracted a lot of new attention, most of it negative and some even quite aggressive – something completely foreign to me as a blogger. Apart from the offensive or anonymous comments which I have and will continue to remove, I have tried to reply to all of the comments. It is, however, proving an impossible task… not to mention repetitive! So I’m going to stop responding – instead, here’s a summary of what I’ve said to detracters below.
In taking away the computer and Minecraft, my intention was only to teach my son moderation in the long term. I had played Minecraft and I have a good understanding of what it’s about. My only goal was to ensure that he developed interests in other things as well. I am not scared of technology in fact, I’m pretty sure the kid inherited much of his love and fascination with technology from me. I’m always making cool stuff on the computer – building websites, videos, photobooks and slideshows etc. So there wasn’t a huge divide between us – but as an adult I know it’s important for me to do other stuff as well; that reading books, socialising, working etc, are also necessary and enriching life experiences.
So We had a clean break from computer life (even for me) and made an effort to do a whole lot of other things: some of them old school (card games and the like) some of them sporty, we even began watching cool technology documentaries on netflix and old Steve Jobs talks, as well as seeking out YA fiction about IT and online life (there are some great novels on these subjects coming out now). He read Steve Jobs’ biography (the kid’s version) and walked me through his life blow by blow, which was hugely entertaining. So you can see, even when Minecraft wasn’t around I still found ways to support and endorse and share in his passion for everything technology.
Then, after about 6 months we reintroduced the computer and Minecraft. The kid’s interest is still as keen as ever, but he’s much calmer and moderate with it. Time limits aren’t stressful to enforce. He willingly and of his own accord goes off to do other things.
All I ever wanted to teach him was the importance of moderation. It’s hard for a 10 year old to work that on their own – I felt like it was my job as a parent to try and show him. A clean break to begin may have seemed harsh but we had exhausted all our other options, and I guess my post was simply a shout out to other parents out there like me…. because all of us, at some point, come to a crossroads and know we must do the hard thing, the difficult thing, in order to do right by our kids in the long run. It aint easy, but no-one said parenting would be. You may not agree with the approach I took and you are entitled to your opinion, but what I can tell you is that the solution worked for us. Life is better, post Minecraft-wars.